3 essentials for authentic employee engagement

There are challenges for managers and employees alike in creating a culture of freedom that pays dividends in the area of customer service. Here’s how your organization can pull it off.

I read a Forbes article that discussed the distinction between employees’ authentic engagement versus scripted service in creating an unparalleled customer experience.

One quote from that article really jumped out at me:

Of course, this [creating authentic engagement] is more challenging than doing things by rote: challenging for the employee and challenging for the manager.

This immediately reminded me of a poignant example that we discuss in our book, “The Power of Thanks.”

In one interaction at a Fairmont Hotels & Resorts Rocky Mountain property, a room attendant overheard the children of a guest ask about roasting marshmallows in the room’s fireplace. When the family returned to the room later in the day, they found a basket of s’mores ingredients and a handwritten note from the employee saying, “Because we know how much you like marshmallows.”

A quote from Fairmont’s executive leadership captures the challenge of developing that kind of behavior across the company: “You can’t engineer that kind of creativity.”

Why is it so hard? Here are three reasons:

Challenge 1 (for employees): Moving beyond scripted service

It isn’t difficult to see how “doing things by rote” would be the easier path from the employee perspective-service that involves making sure that the room is clean and towels are stocked.

Even if performed to the highest levels, these services wouldn’t have nearly the sticking power for this family or for the organization. Creating authentic engagement, on the other hand, is much more powerful—but also more difficult to achieve and sustain.

For the employee, work becomes much more than the job being performed. It involves not only being open to opportunities like the one above and being prepared to engage the customer, but also in having the support of the organization to behave in creative and authentic ways.

In the case of the Fairmont room attendant, it was being attentive to the guests’ experience during their stay and being prepared to deliver a little extra to make the experience even better.

Challenge 2 (for managers): Supporting creativity and authenticity

As the executive notes above, management’s challenge lies in nurturing that kind of individual creativity and authenticity throughout the organization.

There isn’t a policy or manual that will work for that or even other similar situations. The solution instead lies in developing a solution to recognize these types of moments and integrating them into the company culture and its values over time. Managers also must attract, hire and retain employees who want to make those types of moments happen.

Still, the challenge may be somewhat easier in the hospitality and other customer-facing industries, where an employees-first mindset drives superior customer experiences through authentic engagement.

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Challenge 3 (for everyone): Enhancing meaningful interaction

Does this distinction matter for groups or companies that are not primarily customer-facing?

As Adam Grant (of “Give and Take fame) said in this Knowledge@Wharton article: “Everyone has an end user.” That brings us to a third, broader challenge to authentic engagement, which is identifying who that end user is and opening the appropriate lines of communication and interaction.

Research summarized by the aforementioned article suggests that employees who understand just how their work makes a difference for its beneficiary are happier and more productive than employees who lack that understanding.

Recognition helps create these lines of sight on several fronts. Let address each challenge in turn, building from the bottom up:

  • Recognition allows beneficiaries to reach out directly to the people whose contributions were helpful to them, resulting in increased happiness and productivity.
  • The behaviors and data generated by employees recognizing each other gives managers a powerful tool to help sustain the types of creative behaviors that stem from authentic engagement.
  • Finally, employees can learn from vivid examples of others’ engagement, expanding their own repertoires of creative behaviors, so they are ready and supported when opportunity knocks.

Do you remember a time when you were on the giving or receiving end of an authentically engaged moment at work? How did you go about recognizing that moment?

A version of this article first appeared on RecognizeThis!

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