“If only I could get my organization to a state where our quality culture is embedded as a norm in every leader, contributor and partner. This would alleviate our constant trouble-shooting and reactive-stance dilemma. We’ve invested, stopped to ‘sharpen the saw’ multiple times, and while we have seen initial improvements, it’s very challenging to sustain.”
“We’ve made all the right ‘traditional’ moves by putting in place a mentoring program, defining accountability, consulting stakeholders, holding events, providing support and putting training programs in place. It seems though, that we experience diminishing returns and even I can’t remember the last time I took notice of the multitude of posters (some of which I sourced) dotted around the workplace.”
Sound familiar? If you’ve said it, thought it or heard it, maybe it’s time to think differently about quality culture and, more specifically, engagement in the context of quality and/or safety management. Engagement is absolutely not limited to a particular discipline or the workplace; it is core to all of us in pretty much everything we do. Are we engaged/present when in a family setting, with our friends, either as a group or 1-on-1 and, of course, are we engaged as an employee?
It isn’t easy to formulate an approach to spur and nurture engagement. In order to engage someone, you first have to get his or her attention. With the competition for attention at its most extreme in the history of the human race, the challenge is ever greater. Even in the workplace, messaging from one department can compete with messaging from other departments — safety versus production, for example. Plus, more and more often, workers no longer are centralized at one location. They might be working on site for a customer or working remotely from home. This means we must step up our efforts to engage employees.
Why does being engaged as an employee matter? Here’s Scott Gaddis, Intelex VP Global Practice Leader, Safety and Health, on engagement:
‘Engagement has quickly become one of the most important indicators of how we judge success in an organization. Studies have proven that organizations with high employee engagement have a higher success in delivering results. When employees are engaged it is said that they are enthusiastic about their work and likely to invest in the business plan, which leads to a higher-quality product produced or service rendered.’
A 2013 meta-analysis of a Gallup Poll summarized in the Harvard Business Review highlighted how engagement impacts quality and health and safety performance:
‘…higher scoring [in engagement] business units report 48% fewer safety incidents; 41% fewer patient safety incidents; and 41% fewer quality incidents (defects).
Utilize Software, Technology
Technology is not the silver bullet, but there are many advantages for a typical, somewhat modern organization to using quick, far-reaching broadcast tools with templates built in. One such advantage is that the potential audience is not limited to company personnel. It is easy to broadcast to contractors and suppliers on important, quality-related topics. Another advantage is that it promotes engagement for remote employees or those in the field who can feel dislocated from the corporate culture.
Starting by measuring the right thing and understanding the desired outcome is key. For a quality professional, this is perhaps a challenge, but performance in a particular area of production or service process would be a good start. You effectively are marketing a message to first, get the attention of the target and second, have them consume what you have to share. This could be the end of the pathway but ideally it would be a stepping stone to prompting feedback or an action to learn or discover more. You can use technology to broadcast, attract attention, track action(s) by the consumer and then analyze initial raw engagement results.
Ideally, if you are engaging on a specific topic with a well-defined target audience — for example, sharing a lesson learned from another plant that solved a particular problem in a stage of finishing — this can be broadcast with an immediate result returned for those who acknowledged the information shared. The baseline metrics around rework would be used to track improvement. Within this process, it would be ideal to solicit and capture feedback specific to the issue from the target audience. Broadcasting the results and value of the feedback closes the loop.
Topics and types of communication (individual or multiples as a campaign) vary and include (but are not limited to):
- Alerts (maintenance, process and general safety, weather event, security breaches, environmental releases, etc.)
- Awareness and education topics (includes micro-training or quizzes)
- Performance and goals (awareness and progress/challenges)
- Lessons learned with supporting materials, including actions
- Feedback requests for improvement suggestions
- Cultural encouragement and values reinforcement
- Notices and acknowledgement of physical or virtual events
Many organizations use email and other primary channels for this, but even a simple acknowledgment takes valuable time. Also, it’s difficult for a non-marketer to grab attention using email. Thus, a platform that already has templates, best practice guidance and the capability to push and track, serves the non-marketing savvy quality professional well.
Having a single place to track results, combined with tracking against a baseline of the original state will all help, and knowing what to do with the results is the key. The technology must make the execution efficient but there is serious skill involved. The strategy for engagement counts, and ideally individual campaigns aimed at addressing specific engagement challenges and affecting desired outcomes is part of a larger strategy.
With sophisticated technology, there is a demand for increased sophistication in planning and the education of those expected to act on results.
“Many organizations measure either the wrong things, or too many things, or don’t make the data intuitively actionable. Many don’t make engagement a part of their overall strategy, or clarify why employee engagement is important, or provide quality education to help managers know what to do with the results, and in what order.” Jim Harter Ph.D., a chief scientist at Gallup Research (https://hbr.org/2013/07/employee-engagement-does-more)
Moving the Needle on Engagement
Remember that we constantly are bombarded by demands for our attention. In order to have a chance to move the needle on engagement, thinking differently is crucial and so is utilizing platforms and delivery mechanisms that have a chance at reaching their target efficiently. Mobile is an obvious choice, but the message reaching the target is just one element. Grabbing attention demands creativity (ideally help is boxed with your solution).
One of the major and misunderstood pitfalls to some engagement campaigns is relevance. Never overreach with the messaging, particularly if your recipients feel that it doesn’t apply to them. If you do this, you have just taught a master class in why your attempt at engagement should be ignored in the future and that’s not good.
You should carefully plan engagement campaigns to not overwhelm employees. Consider imposing a limit on the number of broadcasts over a specific period (never more than one per day).
The intended action or outcome of the engagement campaign also should be clear to the recipients. Do they easily understand what is required of them (if anything)? Have you made it clear that you are sharing performance goals and results so they can see how well the organization is doing and that their contribution matters?
In the true sense of continuous improvement, learning from past engagement efforts and refining messaging (including timing and target audience) will yield results. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, but using technology to improve the engagement process is a good first step to breaking the cycle of diminishing returns.