Shift Happens

How to find your formula for employee engagement

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Like any large-scale change initiative, employee engagement is complex and takes time. It requires developing a deep understanding of your employee audiences and their work environment, and leveraging communication channels that are most effective for each audience.

As such, crafting a plan that suits your organization should include a cross-functional team in your planning phase as well as employees ranging from senior leaders to middle managers to the front line. To be effective, your plan must have a comprehensive set of tactics that work together for at least 18 to 24 months to embed sustainability in your organization.

What does it look like?

Don’t assume a one-off tactic that worked well for another organization will work well in yours. Take time to uncover what will work best for your culture. Engagement programs will vary across and even within industries. To give a flavor of the approaches, we highlight three organizations below to share how engagement comes to life for them.

For TD Bank, capturing the “green” hearts and minds of every employee was a top priority and essential to the organization’s goal to “be as green as our logo.” One audience of particular importance was the bank's network of retail stores (TD Bank language for its branches). It was a challenge to reach these employees, dispersed across 1,300 stores, while not distracting from their focus on delivering quality service to customers.

To reach store employees, TD Bank’s approach emphasized peer-to-peer interaction and personal accountability. It created Green Leader roles within each region to provide opportunities for motivated employees to step up and stand out. An important conduit to the retail network, Green Leaders are responsible for communicating corporate priorities to employees, and collecting success stories and challenges to share with other regions and corporate staff. By applying a peer-to-peer communication model and engaging recognized leaders across the retail network, TD Bank has been able to make the environmental priorities personal for employees and, in turn, their customers.

The program also has driven measurable results. Regions and stores compete with one another to see who can get the most employees to take the Green Pledge — seven simple environmental acts that employees can do as a part of their work day. The bank also surveys employees to measure their level of environmental awareness, and has seen a significant improvement in regions where Green Leaders are active. In addition to increased awareness, TD Bank has measured improvement in employees’ pride in, and commitment to, the bank. Read more about TD Bank’s story (PDF).

For Fairmount Santrol, “Do Good. Do Well” is more than a tagline. The leadership of the sand-mining company takes a strong stance that the company can be united in its “commitment to exceed all expectations while fulfilling (its) economic, social and environmental responsibilities.” To meet this promise, it is continually investing in endeavors to engage and empower all employees. Fairmount Santrol employs over 1,100 “family members” dispersed among numerous locations which include operations and processing facilities, terminals, research and development facilities, and administrative offices. The challenge is to help employees become aware of the company’s commitment to sustainability, feel connected to it and be a part of taking action.

Every three years, Fairmount makes a significant investment and brings nearly 60 percent of its employees together for three days: one day of reflection on previous year's successes, followed by a day of caring where employees work together to complete a community service project, concluding with a day of planning for the future. Using the Appreciative Inquiry approach, the employees generate ideas — from environmental footprint reduction to health and wellness programs to community investments. These ideas subsequently are implemented by cross-functional sustainable development teams that anyone can join.

Currently 13 teams, each with 20 to 100 employees, are making significant strides. In 2013 the company invested millions of dollars in employee-generated sustainability initiatives and more than doubled its investment in savings from these initiatives. Employee incentives are tied to teams and facilities reaching their annual sustainability goals. Read more in the annual corporate social responsibility report (PDF).

Thirdly, a large U.S.-based global manufacturer was struggling to meet annual factory goals of reducing its environmental footprint — energy use, emissions, water use and waste-to-landfill. Previous endeavors to deliver sustainability messages to front-line employees had failed, bringing about the realization that middle managers, tasked with spreading the message, were not advocates.

Speaking with leaders at all levels, touring facilities with significant opportunities and engaging frontline employees in focus groups finally caused a breakthrough. When sustainability and its impact on the company’s success was explained, both the middle managers and employees embraced it. Participants had great ideas for actions they could take, some with very little financial investment.

When asked what it would take to embed sustainability into the factory culture, employees said, “Help us understand sustainability, talk to us about it daily, ask us for ideas and reward our accomplishments.” The company is now crafting a two-year plan to do just that. Starting with a pilot program in a handful of facilities in order to develop an ROI before scaling to all factories, the company will use existing sustainability champions and communication channels in new ways to drive awareness, connection and action.

How can your organization get started?

TD Bank, Environmental Defense Fund Climate Corps and BrownFlynn recently collaborated to create a roadmap to enable others to benefit from a structured approach to engage employees in sustainability. The paper builds on the experiences of TD Bank, describes a process to develop an engagement program tailored to your organization and takes the organization through three critical steps. In brief:

Start by knowing what you are trying to accomplish. Define your company’s long- and short-term vision and goals, and identify the behaviors that this requires at all levels of the business and how you will measure progress.

Know your audiences and ask something of them. Understand who they are, how to reach them and what they will find compelling. This involves finding ways to build a connection to the goals. Then ask them to take a first step and get involved.

Harness your most engaged to reach others. As employees become engaged, they want to deliver more results and naturally ask their customers, families and communities to join them. Leveraging their enthusiasm can achieve business and environmental results.

To learn more, read the Environment Employee Engagement Roadmap (PDF), which includes a self-assessment and checklists as you roll out or ramp up your own employee-engagement program.