5 Companies, 5 Different Takes on Employee Engagement

Moki Tacub borrowed a Kill A Watt from his employer, The Fairmont Hotel Resorts Kea Lani, located on Maui. He planned to use the device at his home. The Kill A Watt meter is a simple tool that measures electricity consumed by devices such as appliances and electronics.

Tacub was surprised to learn that his electronics and appliances were huge energy hogs, even when they were not being used. With the data he collected, he made a few simple changes. He unplugged his washer and dryer when not in use and each night turned off the electrical strip for his computer, stereo, television and Blu-Ray player. He also replaced all of his light bulbs to energy-efficient compact fluorescents.

Although simple, these changes had a huge impact on his energy use. Comparing his home's usage to a baseline month, he cut his electricity consumption by a whopping 27 percent. Besides saving on his utility bill, Fairmont recognized his efforts. Tacub made the largest percentage improvement among employees participating in Fairmont's energy reduction challenge.

Tacub is like most employees (and most people, period), who waste a great deal of energy and other natural resources. Many companies provide tips on reducing one's personal environmental footprint, but some leaders are taking an active role in supporting employees.

These companies realize that despite good intentions, many employees are too busy to implement even simple changes. These leaders are finding creative ways to provide that extra nudge. While researching this topic, five approaches emerged.

1. Saatchi and Saatchi S: Encourage a Public Commitment

Saatchi's DOT program -- Do One Thing -- is a public pledge "to start a personal sustainability practice that is meaningful to the pledger," according to Kelly Petrich, Senior Strategist.

Saatchi works with organizations to help them establish DOT programs. They also set up a website where anyone can make a pledge. Some participants put their DOT on their business cards. That can be a smart move: Change management guru Robert Cialdini calls a public pledge as an ideal way to gain commitment.

Alliance for Climate Education (ACE), a non-profit dedicated to teaching high school students about climate change, has adopted DOT. Emily Adler, manager of strategic partnerships for ACE, reported that DOT is useful for newbies who are overwhelmed and enthusiasts who are plateaued.

ACE encourages high school students to use DOT. Even a small effort --- such as turning down the thermostat by one degree at home --- when multiplied can have huge impacts. In this case, if every high schooler were to dial-down, it would be equivalent to taking over a million cars off the road. The students are inspired to take action by seeing how their individual efforts connect to a larger impact.

No one will argue that DOT's alone will solve all issues. But DOT is a way to start to engage people in a small way so they can grow into bigger changes. "Commitment to a behavior," as Cialdini and Dr. Renee Bator observed, "can lead people to identify themselves as someone who behaves in that new way and lead to greater change."

Or as Saatchi & Saatchi S says, "Do Another Thing."

2. SAP AG: Define a Shared Vision

SAP, the business software giant, harnessed the power of a shared vision to affect employee commuting. In preparation for the scores of visitors that would arrive for the 2010 Olympics, Vancouver's transit authority asked for a commitment from businesses to reduce traffic by at least 30 percent.

"This was an excellent challenge for everyone to change their behavior slightly, and reap the rewards," Kirsten Sutton, vice president and managing director of SAP Labs explained. "We had a real opportunity to leave an Olympic legacy of eco-friendly commuting as a permanent change."

Sutton switched to public transportation and has continued to ride the bus. "You can teach an old dog new tricks," she confided. The results were outstanding; 66 percent use alternative commute methods, more than twice the Vancouver average.

The civic pride produced by the Olympic event was a boost to SAP's green commute program. Even without the Olympics, leaders can define a "big, hairy audacious goal" as coined by Porras and Collins in Built To Last, to motivate change.

3. Fairmont Hotels and Resorts: Provide Personalized Data

Fairmont's contest was a fun way to recruit employees -- and had some notable successes, as Moki Tacub's example shows -- but the distinguishing feature was helping employees understand their individual opportunities.