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The necessity to put your people first: employee engagement

December 1, 2021


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Martin Newman

By Martin Newman

The Consumer Champion


If you have a culture where staff fear failure and getting things wrong, which many businesses do, you will completely stifle innovation.

In my humble opinion, employee engagement is just about the most important thing for a business to focus on. As it is the one thing that will have the biggest impact upon the long-term success of the company. Why? Because every business is only as good as its people. It must be customer centric to not only survive but to thrive. And you can’t be that if you don’t put your own people first. If they are not truly engaged and simply ‘surviving’ from one pay check to the next, you won’t have a foundation for success.

Here are my top 5 tips for achieving ensuring employee engagement:

1. Empower your people.

If you empower your people to make decisions, irrespective of what level they operate at, you will drive better outcomes for customers and for all colleagues. There’s nothing more frustrating than not feeling as though you’re trusted to do your job. The reality is that in most businesses, you must go up the chain of command to get a decision. That not only slows things down, but it also often leads to the wrong outcome for customers, and it deeply frustrates employees as well as customers. Which in turn leads to the attrition of staff and customers.

One of the best-case studies for a business that does this is Timpson. No matter what your role is, you are empowered to make decisions without having to ask for permission or for a decision from your manager. This ensures that they are more productive, they enjoy their jobs better, and they drive better results and outcomes for customers and for the business.

To know more about Timpson and how customer centric this business is, I invite you to have a look at my podcast here:

2. Remove the fear of failure.

If you have a culture where staff fear failure and getting things wrong, which many businesses do, you will completely stifle innovation. Take a learning from brands like Pret a Manger. Staff are empowered to give out a free cup of tea or coffee to a customer when they think it’s relevant.

Pret’s core values are:

  1. Happy teams make for happy customers
  2. Never stand still – always innovating and evolving
  3. Amazing standards everyday
  4. Doing the right thing

These values are lived values and very much cascade down to the level of customer service and customer experience that consumers are exposed to day in, day out.

Their team is encouraged to contribute ideas for new menu items or changes. If an idea is adopted there is an award for the person or team who came up with the idea.

That’s the difference between a fear of failure culture and one that encourages its people to contribute ideas and to make decisions to help customers.

3. Pay them a decent wage.

It troubles me deeply when a business rips up an employee’s contract and re-hires them on poorer terms that make them worse off. It’s not only morally reprehensible and the wrong thing to do, but do we really think that person is going to go the extra mile for the business and for customers? Of course, they won’t.

In the retail industry it has been a race to the bottom for many brands as we pay people a minimum wage or even worse, give them zero-hour contracts. How can anyone feel good about working in an environment that doesn’t demonstrate that they really value their staff?

4. Train and develop your people.

If you train and develop your colleagues, you get better skilled people who can deliver better outcomes for the business. They stay longer, as they feel valued.

There are so many benefits of training and developing your employees. Even more so when it comes to those who are on the frontline serving customers: These are some of the main opportunities:

      ✔ You drive the top line – Great service drives sales.
      ✔ You increase the bottom line – Great service also improves profitability as it acts to reduce the cost to serve (Better service means less post purchase customer service issues).
      ✔ You build customer lifetime value – Well-served customers keep coming back.
      ✔ Average order values go up as happy customers spend more.
      ✔ Customers buy more units per transaction because of better cross-selling.
      ✔ Customer satisfaction increases.
      ✔ Frequency to buy increases.
      ✔ Returns reduce, as customers are sold and receive the right product first time.
      ✔ Word of mouth increases, and customers become brand advocates.

5. Prove to your team that there are opportunities for career progression.

As is the case with training and development, if you demonstrate there will be career progression opportunities in the business, you prove that you want your people to be there in the long-term. That engenders commitment.

shaking hands portrait

History is littered with businesses that failed because the founders were too slow to step back and realise when they’d passed their sell by date. Or, when the business was at a stage of evolution where it needed a different set of skills to take it to the next level. In these cases, this would affect the entire business as in all likelihood, there were many others who had held their jobs for too long, which meant there was nowhere for people to move up in the business.

Saying this, succession planning doesn’t always need to be about a promotion. It can also relate to enabling colleagues to try out learning new skills and working in other parts of the business.

The brands who are successful over the longer-term will be those who have a purpose and values that their people feel a strong affinity with and who demonstrate their commitment to their colleagues not through glib statements on their walls or in company presentations but by the actions they take to prove they are a people first business.


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