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Does Employee Engagement Impact the Bottom Line?

July 31st, 2014 by Abby Smith
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“Everyone talks about building a relationship with your customer. I think you build one with your employees first.” – Angela Ahrendts

When Angela Ahrendts, now Apple’s head of retail, was new as CEO at Burberry in 2006, she put together an ambitious strategy to turn around the struggling company. An independent consulting firm hired by Burberry’s board gave her strategy a 5% chance of success. She proved them all wrong and achieved all of the goals in her strategy a year ahead of schedule. What she knew and the consulting company didn’t account for was the power of an engaged and empowered workforce. By focusing on engaging and empowering her workforce, rather than focusing primarily on the customer or the bottom line, she more than doubled sales during her time at Burberry.

Ms. Ahrendts isn’t the only leader to share this belief that employees should come before customers. It is one that is becoming more commonly embraced by leaders.  Southwest Airlines, for example, often takes an employee is always right approach to customer service rather than the customer. In fact, founder Herb Kelleher once famously fired a customer, who continuously sent letters of her complaints about the airline and its employees.

What these two leaders showed was that by focusing on their employees, engaging and empowering them, they’re also focusing on their customers. However, it seems like these stories are the exception with regards to employee engagement rather than the rule. The latest Gallup State of the Global Workforce Report showed that as many 87% of employees around the globe may not be engaged in their jobs.

Forum’s definition of employee engagement is when employees have a deep sense of ownership in the organization and strong feelings of involvement and commitment in one’s own work. This results in a strong contribution of discretionary energy from employees. That last part is the most important. The willingness of employees to spend extra time, energy and mindshare on their jobs, is what really differentiates a highly engaged workforce. It’s what has helped turn around Burberry and given Southwest Airlines loyalty numbers that seem unreal for a company in an industry as despised as commercial air travel.

Unless you’re employees are that 13% across the globe that are engaged (and if they are, bravo!), there are steps you can take to engage and re-engage your workforce. Forum’s research shows that there is not just one facet of employee engagement, and it’s way more than just social outings and an annual survey. Real engagement has three facets:

  1. A positive team climate. Climate is simply what it feels like to work somewhere, and that is influenced by everything from politics, history and fellow employees to the physical office space and computer operating systems. Research shows that the most important climate factor for employees is their leader.
  2. Trustworthy leaders and managers. Tying in closely with climate, trust is a huge aspect of engagement, and disengagement, in the workplace. We conducted a survey last year of over 1000 business leaders and employees on the topic of trust. Three clear characteristic emerged as to what makes a trustworthy leader: ability to listen and understand, walking the talk and encouraging new ideas and suggestions.
  3. Engagement needs being met. There are five main engagement needs, and while employees need all of them met, most people have one to two dominant engagement needs in their jobs. It takes a highly skilled leader to recognize that different people need different things out of their jobs. These needs are accomplishment, recognition, enjoyment, belonging and advancement.

By focusing on employee engagement instead of the bottom line, leaders will probably find that the bottom line improves anyway.

Interested in employee engagement? Forum is conducting a survey on how accountability impacts employee engagement, and we would love to get your thoughts. You can take the survey here, and we’ll send you a copy of the results.

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The Business Impact of Sales Coaching

July 24th, 2014 by Abby Smith
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Earlier this year, Forum and the Sales Management Association conducted a survey of sales manager and leaders from over 200 companies to discover the impact that coaching has on sales organizations. Many businesses recognize that sales coaching is one of the most powerful tools at a sales leader’s disposal, yet many fail to implement it effectively.

This infographic looks at the impact of sales coaching on the bottom line, challenges facing sales managers as they attempt to coach their teams, plus shares four practical tips to improve sales coaching.

For more information on the results of our  sales coaching survey, you can download the full report or watch an on-demand webinar.


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Mid-year Review: Top 6 Blog Posts

June 26th, 2014 by Abby Smith
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top 6Seems nearly impossible to believe that we are already at the half way mark for 2014, and yet, here we are. So before I get all misty-eyed about where time has gone, lets turn our attention back to the matter at hand, a mid year review of our most popular posts. To date, our most popular posts have ranged from the importance of preparation to engagement to the future of leadership, but they all come down to a similar theme: Great leadership.  All of the posts below focus on the tools leaders can use to engage employees and become better leaders.

  1. How do Great Leaders Drive Employee Engagement [Infographic]. Forum’s research shows that there are three main ways that leaders can drive employee engagement: trust, climate and meeting needs. This infographic shows how those pieces come together to create an engaged workforce.
  2. Mid-Level Leaders: Key Stakeholders, Agents of Change or Both? In this piece, we take a look at the unique role that mid-level leaders play in organizations to both influence up and manage down. This makes them pivotal to organizations going through change.
  3. You’re not Listening to me! Sure, people are listening, but are they really hearing what you’re saying? With laptops, tablets and smartphones always at our fingertips, authentic communication in the workplace is becoming a rarity. This post shares tips for leaders to ensure that communication with their teams stays strong.
  4. In the Future, We Will All Have the Chance to be Leaders. Forum Executive Consultant, David Robertson, shares 10 predictions for what the future of leadership and the workplace look like.
  5. The Power of Prep. How do you get the most out of putting employees through training while also minimizing time spent away from work? Proper prep, of course.
  6. Group Effectiveness Lessons from Playing Santa Claus. What can leaders learn from a viral, holiday ad? Quite a bit about group effectiveness. This post shares three lessons leaders can learn from WestJet’s holiday campaign.

What would you like to see on the Forum blog? Share in the comments and maybe you’ll see a post covering your topic later this year.

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Manager Misconduct

June 19th, 2014 by Abby Smith
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Last fall, Forum conducted a survey of over 1000 business professionals from around the globe to see how managers gain and lose employee trust and and how that impacts employee engagement. In an open ended question, we asked employees to tell us what mistakes managers make that erode trust in the workplace, and seven clear trends emerged. In fact, these seven types of mistakes accounted for 80% of all the responses from employees.

In this article for T+D Magazine, Forum CEO, Andrew Graham, outlines the seven mistakes managers most often make that erode trust. For more on the data from this survey, check out Driving Business Results by Leading Trust.

Do you think this lists covers the main mistakes managers make? What would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments or join the conversation in our LinkedIn group.

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How Do Great Leaders Drive Employee Engagement? [Infographic]

May 20th, 2014 by Abby Smith
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The benefits of an engaged workforce go beyond just happy employees. A team that is engaged is more productive, produces higher quality work and directly impacts the bottom-line. However, globally, only about 20% of workers are highly engaged at work. What can you, as a leader, do to improve and maintain employee engagement at your office? Forum’s latest infograpic based on our recent webinars and whitepaper, outlines the steps leaders can take to make sure that they are driving engagement and impacting revenue.

Forum Infographic employee_engagement_design

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What Impact do First-Line Leaders have on Employee Engagement?

May 15th, 2014 by Michael Frisbie
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2014 represents a time of significant change for many industries – the healthcare industry is finding ways to engage new stakeholder audiences, an estimated 20-25% of the oil & energy workforce will be retiring in the next five years and financial services serve a more fickle customer base than ever before.

However, one theme remains constant: employee engagement resonates across all industries. In fact, the results were alarming – 53% of respondents in our recent survey indicated this was a top concern. You can consult this article for more comprehensive data.

Forum’s research shows that  are five key motivational factors that drive a workforce, and most people have one or two dominant needs. The five needs are

  • Accomplishment – “I am productive”
  • Recognition – “I am valued”
  • Enjoyment – “I enjoy my work”
  • Belonging – “I belong here”
  • Advancement – “I’m getting ahead”

It should come as no surprise that first-line leaders (overseeing  approximately 80% of the workforce) play a significant part in employing these motivators to get the most out of their people. This insight has led many of our clients to pose the following question: where do first-line leaders play their part?

One possible solution lies in recent research Forum compiled on this subject, alongside key findings presented in Jim Collins’ recent work Good to Great. In the latter work, Jim Collins shares key data that highlights how truly great companies embrace challenge by fostering an entrepreneurial, ‘go-getter’ attitude within the workplace. In one example, Kimberly Clark was able to thrive not because its people feared P&G, but rather because they welcomed the opportunity to challenge such a market leader.

Supporting this insight, it is clear that first-line leaders are instrumental in channeling such spirit in their people. Moreover, they are most effective when able to manage the tension between organizational climate and the aforementioned motivators.

This is not an easy task. It is important for first-line leaders to know when and how to challenge thought and action. It is equally important for them to know when it’s best to support an employee’s ideas and suggestions for moving forward. First-line leaders must become expert in the art of coaching. Today’s reality dictates that it may no longer be enough to serve as a teacher or mentor: in-depth questioning to uncover each employee’s feelings and personal motivators is the only tried and true method for driving behavioral change and sustaining engagement.

Coming Full Circle

I encourage every stakeholder I connect with to consider how effective their first-line leaders are in 1) motivating employees on a personal level and 2) helping them assimilate into their organization’s climate. Is there enough clarity present internally? Is there clear commitment communicated from the organization to each individual and from the employee to the organization? What standards for performance are in place? What responsibility do employees have in their own future success and is there recognition for such efforts and successes? Finally, what role does teamwork have in the workforce? Such questions have helped our clients define how effective their first-line leaders are, and concurrently represent characteristics typically present in high performing cultures. Managing the tension between these disparate forces, albeit challenging, may not be as abstract as we once thought it to be.

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In the Future, We Will All Have the Chance to be Leaders

May 7th, 2014 by David Robertson
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I was asked recently to comment on the suggestion that organisations are becoming more social in terms of their structure and what this might mean for leadership development. I believe the move to flatter, less hierarchical, more project based organisational structures, where individual contribution is sought out by project teams looking for relevant experience and expertise, and where the ability to collaborate at all levels is critical to success, is slowly gathering momentum. Some of our clients are thinking about moving ‘beyond the matrix’ and starting to de-layer and considering about how to incentivise matrix contribution. It’s an interesting approach and I wanted to share some of my thoughts and the implications for leaders that I considered in my response.

Chart - future of leadership

What do you see as the implications for leaders as your organisations become more social? Are they ready to succeed in this emerging world?

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7 Simple Rules for Virtual Learning Success

April 30th, 2014 by Nanette Miner, Ed.D
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As we’ve talked about many times on this blog, when done correctly, virtual learning can have a huge impact. However, to make an impact, a lot of work needs to go into making sure that the learning environment is the best it can be.

Here are my seven rules, based on years of experience designing virtual programs.


Rule Number 1: Engage people immediately and on purpose

Typically we ask people to join our virtual classes ten or fifteen minutes early to ensure that we can start on time and also to overcome any technological obstacles that might arise.  You don’t want to punish the punctual student by then having them sit around doing nothing for those few minutes before the class officially starts; so give them something purposeful to do.  For example:

  • Ask them to answer a discussion question based on their pre-work
  •  Give them a fun interaction, such as a word jumble or a video or pictorial montage and ask them to guess what the warm up has to do with today’s class.
  • Ask people to declare one surprising thing about themselves that their work colleagues would not know about them.

Rule Number 2: There is no such thing as a five minute break-out. 

Break-out rooms are fabulously well received in the online classroom; they allow individuals to get together in smaller groups and really make personal connections with one another as well as the content.  If you choose to use the break-out technology in your virtual learning platform, use it to its best advantage.  In other words, don’t have people go to a break-out room for an activity that can be done in a large group with the exact same success rate.

Rule Number 3: Have a script.

Very often a script is avoided because companies are afraid that the facilitator will then sound as though they are simply reading and if they are simply reading – why didn’t they just send the text of the class in an email so that the individual could read it themselves?  The purpose of a script is to ensure that the class is tightly timed; so that the same content is taught from delivery to delivery and so that any facilitator can teach the same quality class.  However it is imperative that the facilitator is so familiar with the script that they are not reading from it; they are instead using it as a point of reference, and are interacting more with their screen and their learners than they are with their scripted facilitator guide.

Rule Number 4: Use a producer.

A producer ensures that anything that might go wrong during the delivery of a live, online class is handled by an individual solely dedicated to trouble shooting.  Technology is not perfect.  Connections will be lost, individuals will drop off of the audio, break-out rooms may not initiate, and slides may suddenly seize up.  If a facilitator has to take their attention away from the delivery of a class and engaging participants in purposeful discussion in order to find the conference-call number and issue it again to one individual who has somehow lost their audio, it turns the entire attention of the class away from the learning.

Rule Number 5: Use a variety of tools, but use them purposefully.

Virtual classroom technologies allow for many interactive devices: polls, chat, whiteboard annotation, break-out rooms, etc.  But having a variety of tools does not mean you should use all of them.  Use only the tools that are necessary to “move the class forward.” You wouldn’t want to conduct an activity in a break-out room that could be done more simply by using the chat feature..  Ensure you understand how your tools work and how they can be used to further the progress of the class.  Don’t use a tool simply because you can.

Rule Number 6: Talk less.

Hearing the same voice, the same intonation, the same pace, contributes to auditory overload and participants eventually stop paying attention.  A better strategy is to use a variety of voices, perhaps by calling on participants to read or share their stories, or ask the producer to give the instructions for the next activity. The facilitator’s role is to ask questions that get the learners to contribute – not to lecture or provide his or her own perspectives and stories.  Rather than saying, “Let me tell you about a story I had with customer service on my recent flight,” you would want to say, “Who has a story they can share about a recent customer service disappointment they’ve experienced?”  The more the facilitator lectures, the more the learners will question why they bothered to show up to a live class.

Rule Number 7: Use less slides.

One of the ways to ensure that the facilitator speaks less and the participants contribute more is to have fewer slides in the presentation.  Typically a good online class will only include 10 to 15 slides.  This limited number of slides ensures that there is engagement and interaction at each slide rather than simply a lecture.  For instance, a slide with five bullet points means that a facilitator can spend 5 or 10 or 15 minutes lecturing and expounding on each of those bullet points; but a slide with a two column grid – pros and cons, before and after, features and benefits, ensure that the participants are contributing that content – there is no content until the learners add it to the slide.  Therefore, there is physical engagement via the learner’s using their keyboards to write on the screen, there’s verbal interaction through the facilitator summarizing the learner’s contributions or asking for further explanation of those contributions, and there is auditory engagement by hearing a variety of different voices, not just the facilitator.

By following these 7 Simple Rules for Virtual Learning Success your virtual, instructor-led training will develop a reputation as effective and engaging.  What rules would you add to this list? Share in the comments or in our LinkedIn Group.

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Group Effectiveness Lessons from Playing Santa Claus

April 23rd, 2014 by Deb Judge
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In the midst of the 2013 holiday season, a wonderfully heartwarming video made the rounds at Forum. The video documented the story of WestJet, a Canadian airline that made a flight full of passengers’ Christmas wish list dreams come true. How did this happen? Prior to departure, passengers conveyed their request to  a Santa kiosk set up in the origin airport, only to be surprised when their gifts came down the baggage claim (along with their luggage) at their point of destination. Little did those 200+ passengers know that behind the scenes, 175 West Jet employees were working diligently to fulfill their video requests.

As someone who has planned and managed large scale projects and events, I’m acutely aware of what it takes to pull together an event of that magnitude. What could have been a nightmare of coordination and execution was instead a seamless implementation of warmth and goodwill. It’s clear that WestJet mastered three major components essential for group effectiveness:

Unifying Vision

A clear, unifying vision is the glue that binds a group together regardless of size, purpose or duration. When a clear vision is lacking, it’s like being in a boat where everyone is rowing in a different direction. The end result is a boat that just travels in circles, getting nowhere.

A strong vision, however, provides a clear compass by which a team can navigate and ultimately lays the foundation for group cohesion. The appropriate choices become clear and the team moves together in congruence rather than cross purposes. In the case of WestJet, that unifying vision bound the team together in a common value (doing good for others) and provided both inspiration and motivation. This effective team culture is an important attribute that can help teams overcome the challenges that can be inherent within large, complex projects.

Group Structure

Group structure ensures the right people are on the team in the right roles in terms of the appropriate skills, knowledge and abilities necessary to get the job done. Each team member has a clearly defined role laid out by their leader and a set of responsibilities that harmoniously blend together for smooth and seamless project execution. An effective group structure allowed the WestJet team to move in concert to ultimately deliver those wished-for presents in the destination airport. Teams that lack group structure often suffer from duplicative effort, inefficiency and an inability to deliver results on time or budget.

Group Processes

Effective group processes provide the ground rules for the team in the areas of communication, decision making, problem solving and conflict management. Without clear and effective group processes, the airline employees could have easily become caught in cycle of unproductive conflict, poor decisions and ineffective choices. Instead, the WestJet team worked together cohesively to get those presents bought, wrapped and delivered to their destination.

Next time you need your team to execute a initiative seamlessly, think about the WestJet elves and the hallmarks of high performing teams: a unifying vision, clear group structure and group processes. Your team may not create the experience of a lifetime for 200+ families at Christmas, but it could improve your bottom line.

Think about a time when you were on highly effective team. To what do you attribute your team’s effectiveness?

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10 Ways to Maximise your Return on Learning

April 16th, 2014 by David Robertson
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Return on learning (ROL) is a key measure for organisations and illustrates the impact and effectiveness of learning initiatives in making a real contribution to business success. A robust and proactive measurement strategy is important to capture the data you can use to calculate ROL, however up front you need to design a programme that drives value for the individual and the organisation and impacts the key business metrics. Having designed solutions for our clients for the past ten years I am often asked for tips for maximising return on learning investment (ROL) and so thought I might share my own top ten:

  1. ROL takes time. Recognise that individual learning and resultant behaviour change is often a slow process. You need to create context, ignite the learning, provide opportunities to; act, explore, reflect and then evaluate, socialise and integrate – this does not happen in a single event or session and requires an engaged learner.
  2. Clarify Business Impact: Know and understand the business issue(s) you want to impact; use it as an ‘anchor’ and create a measurement and communication strategy around it. Then actually execute that strategy!
  3. Know your Audience: Review any generational, regional and cultural differences with regard to learning; preferences, support and application and take account of these in your learning design.
  4. Align around Value: Find opportunities to build and sustain alignment with all stakeholders (Learners, Line, Sponsors, SME’s etc.) around the business and learning context and clarify the value of the learning experience for stakeholders and the business. This keeps the focus firmly on ROL for the individual and the organisation.
  5. Engage Early: Engage learners and stakeholders early through sharing stories and providing opportunities for dialogue and feedback—use this to create positive momentum for the ROL.
  6. Engage the Line: Encourage line coaching prior to any event to help focus learning on real priorities and personalise the learning experience. Engage line in the development and ownership of the measurement strategy.
  7. Blend the Journey: Build capability through creating an appropriate blend of experience over time in a way that stretches and challenges the learners – create a learning journey that engages all stakeholders and respects their needs and realities.
  8. Think outside the Event: Provide opportunities and support for learners to collaborate outside of the event to socialise, share and get feedback on their learning experience.
  9. Build a community: Encourage development of a learning community to curate and share best practice, e.g. an internal collaboration site or a regular reconnect webinars. This dynamic social database can really help to sustain the ROL
  10. Structure informal learning: Sustain the learning experience through intentionally structuring application of learning in the workplace. This is where you activate your ROL

What might you add or change in this list? Do you have your own top ten? Share with us in the comments or join the conversation in our LinkedIn Group.

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