What does an engaged employee even look like?

Saw this post today from Chris Jarvis on a recent study about best practices in engaging your employees around environmental sustainability initiatives. The top finding? Companies that have stated environmental policies are most likely to have their employees implement eco-initiatives in their operations. The other key? The role of manager support in encouraging and rewarding employee environmental initiatives. Although based on an academic study from a number of years ago, those aspects still hold true today.

But as I talk with other companies about trying to find new ways to engage their employees on sustainability and CSR, it’s clear that a holistic approach is required. There have been some nice pieces written on the topic in the past six months, including one from Kevin Moss and one from Bob Willard on the Natural Step blog.

Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a workshop with my counterparts at other companies last week organized by SustainAbility. I presented a case study on employee engagement around CSR/sustainability at Intel, and we had a very good discussion around best practices at the other companies which ranged from leading consumer brands to public utilities. Many people in the room talked frankly about how, while they viewed this as a key component to the overall success of their sustainability strategy, it was one that they struggled the most with or felt that there was still a big gap. Now, I personally thought a few people in the room (who I think have really great programs) were being hard graders on themselves, but I agree it’s challenging for a number of reasons. It’s often hard to define exactly what we mean when we talk about employee engagement, what are our objectives, how to best measure results, and what does success ultimately look like. When you combine that with differences across companies in terms of industry, size, and geographic diversity, it can get messy.

But I think the first question to ask and understand for each company is “why employee engagement?” My own view is that employee engagement and empowerment is critical to the objective of embedding CSR/sustainability more deeply into the business. It’s not only about volunteering (although that is a component), it’s about helping employees to understand how they personally can impact the company’s overall CSR strategy and goals. We also need to understand how it fits within the culture of each company. Intel has a strong engineering culture and is focused on innovation – so the extent to which we can provide employees with data and linkages with business results, engage them in innovating to improve processes to reduce enivironmental impact or develop new products, and help them share their engineering skills out in the community and to help address environmental and social challenges – that’s where we can have the greatest impact.

The second question is – “what do we want employees to do?” At Intel, we’ve been using a “Learn, Act, Share” model around engaging employees on our environmental strategy. We want them to: (1) Learn – Increase awareness of Intel actions and performance and know where to get information; (2) Act – Take actions to support our goals, incorporate into their decision-making, and enable action in their personal lives; and (3) Share – Exchange ideas with other Intel employees and act as our ambassadors externally with our neighbors and our customers, and ultimately be proud to work at Intel.

Circling back with the need for a holistic approach, we can look at employee engagement at three levels/approaches within the company:

- Strategic Alignment: Creating a consistent message through strategy documents, goals and compensation structures

- Functional group engagement: Leveraging business group execs as champions and finding the unique contributions different functional areas can make

- Communications: Reaching the broader employee base through social media, incentive programs, and recognition programs to drive awareness and action

On strategic alignment, we’ve done a number of things in the past few years – from linking employee pay to environmental goals to incorporating CSR directly into our global strategy document which is actively communicated by our CEO and senior management to all employees. In terms of functional group engagement, we’ve had a number of departments and employees across the company champion sustainability with their own teams – from our IT Group to our Supply chain organizations to our events marketing group -identifying the role that they can play (see video from our CIO, Diane Bryant). Finally, with 80,000 employees around the world, it’s often challenging to communicate across different business groups, cultures, and personal views on the relative importance of different sustainability topics. We continue to work to leverage social media to connect employees on projects and to exchange ideas, through our internal social media platform “Planet Blue,” programs like the Environmental Excellence Awards and Sustainability in Action Program, and support of employee-led groups like the Intel Employee Sustainability Network.

Perhaps the one true statement on employee engagement is that it’s never done. Admittedly, we still have gaps and opportunities to do a better job in this space. And our best new ideas may come from sharing best practices with other companies – from other tech companies like Dell, to companies outside our industry like Timberland, Ford, and Johnson & Johnson. A number of other good examples are included in this report from earlier this year from the National Environmental Education Foundation and beginning on page 72 of CERES’ 21st Century Roadmap.

2 Responses to What does an engaged employee even look like?

  1. christy says:

    Excellent summary, Suzanne. I would note that the study Chris Jarvis cites only surveyed European companies. While I suspect that corporate cultures there are similar to those in the US, I wonder if there are other studies out there that survey Asian companies to understand the engagement motivators for what may be a very different employee audience.

  2. christy says:

    Excellent summary, Suzanne. I would note that the study Chris Jarvis cites only surveyed European companies. While I suspect that corporate cultures there are similar to those in the US, I wonder if there are other studies out there that survey Asian companies to understand the engagement motivators for what may be a very different employee audience.