Growing employee engagement with the network effect

Having employees sit through a presentation or meeting on sustainability probably isn't the best way to drive engagement. At GreenBiz Forum 2015, WeSpire CEO Susan Hunt Stevens suggested an alternative to the traditional "death by PowerPoint" approach.

Stevens said that WeSpire started out by looking for ways to drive sustainable actions though personal social networks of family and friends. But when it came to social networks, they found that they had been looking away from what was right under their nose.

"It turns out, workplaces are extremely powerful social networks," Stevens said.

Over two years, WeSpire worked with 30 companies to study how employee engagement spreads. By leveraging social networks inside a company, Wespire found that employee engagement could see exponential growth.

"It starts out linear, but then the exponential effect takes over," Stevens said.

That's great, but WeSpire had to perform a reality check to see what was causing that growth in engagement.

"Was it that that the program started to grow exponentially these are social-based programs and that can happen and is just the exponential growth in the program leading to exponential growth of the actions?" Stevens asked. "Or was it in fact a change in behavior of the people participating in the program?"

So instead of looking at the numbers of completed actions in the company, WeSpire looked at the rate of actions taken by individuals.

"When it first starts, the likelihood that a person will take an action is about 0.2 (times)," Stevens said. About a year later, she said, a person in workplace was five times more likely to perform that action.

Stevens attributes this to the power of social media butterflies instead of the hardcore users.

"Your power users, for whatever reason, can't get people to join the program," she said. "The social users get people to join." She did note that people who joined due to influence from a "power user" were more likely to perform an action.

"When you look at your second order effect and your third order effect, your socializers are your most important catalyzers in the workplace," she said.