Agencies today are facing challenges on all fronts. Technology continues to change the marketing landscape at a rate that often outpaces our organizational capacity for adaptation. We are under increasing pressure to expand our capabilities at the same time that our margins are shrinking. And the cloud of distrust and tension that has hovered over the industry as a result of the rebate controversy is likely to expand its shadow with the recent news that the Justice Department is investigating production house bid tampering. As reorganization, restructuring and reductions in staff have become the go-to response, job satisfaction, confidence in leadership and morale have plummeted, and career paths have become uncertain.
Never in the history of our business has it been more critical for agency leaders to engage in a meaningful way with employees, to mitigate uncertainty and instill confidence in the agency’s brand value and growth strategy. That is why 2017 must be the year that agencies take a page from the organizational playbook that many of our clients are increasingly following, and make employee engagement a core business strategy. We may be the experts in engaging with consumers, but the corporate world is way ahead of us is recognizing that employee engagement is critical to enterprise success. It has a positive impact on productivity, performance and employee satisfaction and retention.
Now before you say, "But we already have an employee communications program," it’s important to note that the key word here is engagement. The goal is not simply to communicate, but to connect and to effect and to incite reaction.
Employee engagement starts at the same point as consumer engagement—defining the brand. (Or in this case, redefining it.) Consider this verbatim from the 2016 Campaign Agency Morale Survey: "Leadership hasn’t offered marketing solutions that can make staff feel as if they have a real grasp of what the future of the industry is. There are too many people recycling ideas from the 1980s and 1990s in leadership posts." Agency employees need to know how their organization aligns with the new marketing industry reality—which means they need to hear less about the agency’s brand equity and more about its brand relevance—i.e., how your value proposition aligns with the marketplace today … and what the vision is for assuring it remains relevant tomorrow. And they need to know the role they play in delivering on that vision.
So start your engagement effort by working toward a very simple goal of enabling everyone in your organization to answer three very simple questions: What do clients pay my agency to do? What do I get paid to do? And, how do we/I do it better than anyone else?
Like any engagement strategy, a successful employee engagement effort is a combination of the right message delivered across the right platforms—which means that in addition to redefining the internal message architecture, you must also evaluate your internal communications infrastructure. If you’re still communicating with your employees primarily via emails or intranets, you are effectively underscoring the image of out-of-touch, behind-the-times leadership. Talk to them through the channels and methods they are using in their real lives—and that they spend their days helping your clients navigate—start thinking in terms of agency apps, stickers, Snapchat stories and even agency-branded games for training and orientation.
Keep in mind, too, that employee engagement is a dynamic mandate, so it’s essential to include tools that support ongoing, real-time measurement and feedback in your engagement effort. Easy-to-use mobile apps now make it possible to have instant access to employee engagement measurement data. According to HR Magazine, managers should view tools in three categories to gain employee engagement insights: "Emotion-Monitoring Devices" to measure the mood of the workforce and allow employers to swiftly address issues or make improvements in daily work; "Social Recognition Platforms" that amplify the achievements of employees, leading to better recognition, talent identification and idea sharing; And "New Generation Employee Surveys," instant tailored surveys for enhanced listening to make improvements in business processes, productivity and retention.
Consider too how you can leverage your existing operating systems to support engagement—a gamification platform, for example, which agencies like PHD have used to enhance creativity and global efficiency. In addition to enabling employees to more freely connect with one another, powering easier knowledge sharing and collaboration, gamification also provides agency leadership with deeper insight into what motivates employees, and turns the traditional agency hierarchy into a more open and interactive "wireacrchy" for both top down and bottom up engagement.
Is employee engagement a quick fix for a dissatisfied, demoralized and distressed workforce? No. Nor is it by any means a silver bullet. But it’s the best first step on the path towards a solution.