Stephanie Mello, VP at the Employee Engagement Group, shares what secrets she’s learned after helping dozens of companies with their engagement initiatives. We talk about employee surveys, and what most companies get wrong when it comes to engagement.
JACOB: Hello, everyone. I’m Jacob Shriar, Growth Manager at Officevibe, and today I’m joined by Stephanie Mello, who works at the Employee Engagement Group. I’m honored to have you here. Thanks, Stephanie, for taking some time to chat with me.
STEPHANIE: Thanks, Jacob. We’re big fans of Officevibe, so when you asked us to spend some time with you we were more than happy.
JACOB: That’s very nice of you to say. So, of course, you work at the Employee Engagement Group, so obviously we’re going to talk a lot about employee engagement today. Just for everyone watching, Stephanie is an expert in employee engagement experience and helping companies with employee engagement. So, first, maybe Stephanie, if you can just give us a little bit of background about yourself and as well, a little bit of background about the Employee Engagement Group and what you guys do there.
STEPHANIE: Sure. I’ll start off with me first. It’s interesting. So the short story is, I had a very lucrative career in software sales, but there was just something missing and I found myself doing a lot of leadership type work, just kind of on my own time, and through the help of a mentor, really brought me into this field. So, at 35, I packed everything up, moved in with my parents and went back to grad school and made significantly less, but, I’m finally glad to be able to do something that I love.
So I really do have the passion for this, and I think that’s true of everyone in our company, we kind of all have a unique story of leaving corporate and big paychecks behind to do something that we love. Of course, passion is a big focus area of employee engagement. So, we really have lived it here. So that’s a little bit about me. I’ve been here for four years, and the Employee Engagement Group was founded by a gentleman named Bob Kelleher.
We just came out with Employee Engagement for Dummies with Wiley, so you might recognize his name. We all left corporate behind, so we’re not lifelong consultants. We’re actually people who’ve been in these organizations, have worked on employee engagement initiatives, wanted to leave corporate behind and do this for ourselves. So we kind of all came together as a company. So, at a very high level, that’s a little bit about the Employee Engagement Group. I’m more than happy to tell you more if you have specific questions.
JACOB: Sure, well yeah, we’re going to talk a bit about the book. You literally wrote the book on employee engagement, and we’ll talk a little bit about Bob Kelleher, who is a legend in the employee engagement industry.
You were mentioning to me offline that you’ve had some really great opportunities to learn from him, so obviously I want to ask you more about that. So, first, let’s talk a bit about the book, Employee Engagement for Dummies. Can you tell us a little bit about what the book is all about and maybe why people should go out and get it?
STEPHANIE: Yeah, absolutely. Bob has a reputation obviously, as a very successful author in this space, so when Wiley called us, we first had a minute of hesitation with the “dummies”, because we didn’t want to insult anybody, but we quickly got over that by talking to Wiley and the branding and the reputation that they have.
The reason why I love this book, and not just because I co-authored two chapters, but it’s so practical. The Employee Engagement Group, even though we’re in Boston, we’re not academia. We help companies and individuals practice practical employee engagement initiatives that can drive results. So, we’re very focused on employee engagement for all the right reasons, but at the end of the day, we always correlate it to performance because that’s the only way that companies are going to be sustainable.
So people that want to learn practical ways to learn what they can do with employee engagement should buy Dummies. In fact, we have clients that we’ve worked with, and maybe we’ve done a keynote or a workshop presentation, and they’ll call us later and say, ‘How can we sustain this?’ And not always on a large budget. And we’ve told them, ‘Go buy one copy of Dummies and start looking chapter by chapter. That’s a very easy way that you can either start some employee engagement initiatives, or maybe even foster them a little bit more in a practical, inexpensive way’. So, again, if you want to learn practical things that you can do that will start to have an impact without a massive budget, told in an entertaining, Wiley sense of way, I would definitely go out and buy Employee Engagement for Dummies.
JACOB: Great, great plug for your book.
Let’s talk a little bit about Bob. You’ve had the amazing opportunity to work with him and be taken under his wing, can you spend a few minutes, tell us what it’s like to work with him? What you’ve learned from him, really any insight that you can share I’m sure will be great.
STEPHANIE: What it’s like to work for him. I think first, it’s important to say that he’s one of the most generous human beings that I’ve met, and that can be unusual in the business world. So the type of person that he is is just the type of man that you want to be working for. Besides all the great personality parts, like I said, working at the Employee Engagement Group for four years, I feel like I’ve learned ten years worth of experiences, and the fact that he really includes me in almost everything, so we’re on the road together, we’re doing workshops together. Whether that’s at the Center for Disease Control or maybe a small non-profit in Boston.
So the opportunity to go with him, to see how he kind of shepherds organizations, because a lot of organizations will call us and say, ‘I don’t even know where to begin. I know I need to be doing something’, so I’ve very much learned how to help companies put a plan in place, or a strategic initiative that will, again, help them accomplish their employee engagement goals with, but always the focus on performance. Through the keynotes and workshops and editing things for him, planes, trains and automobiles, it’s been a great learning experience. I think I’ve really learned, that if I had to say one thing, is keep it simple, execute flawlessly.
So when we work with organizations that have these massive engagement plans, and they say they’re going to work on 20 initiatives a year, we already know that that’s not setting them up for success. We really come in and say, ‘Let’s be practical, let’s be realistic, don’t treat this like a program. If you’re treating employee engagement like a program, it will fail. And it will have the opposite effect. It will actually disengage your employees’. You really need to figure out where you need to focus, where you can focus, where you can make a difference, and pick a few of those. I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve helped companies be so successful and some of our clients, we can point to ROI, and we’ve done surveys with them and there’s actually a return on investments that we see and metrics and so that’s something that we’re very focused on as well. Always making the business case for employee engagement.
JACOB: Thanks for that.
You touched on a few things that I really want to follow up on. I guess the first thing that I’ll ask you is about employee surveys, like engagement surveys. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of them. I won’t really get into detail why, but I want to get your opinion on what are some of the flaws with employee surveys, are they good? What are the pros, what are the cons? Are they the first things you recommend? Really just talk a little bit more about the engagement surveys, if that’s okay.
STEPHANIE: Sure. I think the power of an engagement survey, not an employee satisfaction survey, and I’ll make that difference in a minute, but a lot of companies don’t know where to start. They know that they have issues, they know they have focus areas, but they don’t have a baseline. So if you’re really trying to understand where your organization is or it isn’t, a survey will give you a detailed plan of ‘these are the things that are working, these are the things that aren’t’. A lot of times it helps companies just kind of begin the path of where do we start, what needs to be fixed, and also, we tell clients this all the time, pick something, it’s like the Jim Collins, good to great, right? Pick something that your organization does well but could be doing better.
One of the most important things for the survey is to make sure you have some success, and if you try to take on the most daunting issues at first, it can be a little daunting. So it’s great for employees to see some quick, honest, genuine successes to help build the momentum to take some of the areas on. That’s why I love engagement surveys. It’s honest, it’s feedback and it provides the organization with a focus where we need to spend our time.
The single biggest flaw, I think to surveys are two things.
One of them is a lot of organizations, and Bob Kelleher talked about this when he was on the inside, companies often spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on a survey for bells and whistles, and then they don’t budget enough for action planning. So all you’ve kind of done now is invest a lot of money in asking people what they think, and how they feel, and then sometimes the budget is all gone. So when you ask people how they feel and what they want changed and you don’t do anything, you’re going to disengage them. So, even if you buy our survey, or you don’t, we tell every single prospect, it’s our recommendation to spend less on the survey and the bells and the whistles, because employees don’t usually come back and say, ‘Gosh, there was a whistle missing’, or ‘it was wasn’t as quick as I thought it would be’. All of those things are important, but it’s more important that you do something; and you need money for engagement. Even though there are low cost, practical ways to foster engagement, you have to budget for it. So, that is the single biggest thing I wish every company would think about more, is save more money for action planning.
The second thing is what I talk about before is almost survey overload; and you might find out you have seven areas that ranked really low, and I think the big mistake is trying to think that you can fix all of them or start to address them. We would almost say pick three, pick three, and this might be interesting, you don’t do another survey for at least 18 to 24 months. It’s not enough time to get something done and then once you do it, Jacob, you probably know this better than me, you have to communicate, communicate, communicate. Brand it. You have to constantly remind and brand what your organization is doing so your employees remember that. So I would say those are the two biggest pieces of advice that I have for engagement surveys, not employee satisfaction surveys. Does that make sense?
JACOB: Yeah, no, that makes a ton of sense and thanks for clearing that up and making that distinction.
I guess, one of my questions that I want to ask you is, based on all the clients that you’ve had the opportunity to be with, are there any themes and recurring themes? You’ve mentioned a few in a few of your answers, but I’m wondering if there’s any recurring themes that you can talk a bit about hopefully anyone watching this hopefully avoid. That would be great.
STEPHANIE: Okay, I’m glad you asked me that, because I can’t wait to tell you the answer. Always, 100%, people are going to say they’re not paid enough. And who wants to say, ‘Hey, I’m paid enough, don’t pay me more’? So I think no matter what industry you’re in, if you’re non-profit, if you’re a bank, if you’re retail, if you’re manufacturing, compensation is probably going to be one of your lowest areas.
What you have to make sure of, is are you paying fairly in your industry? You have to pay people fairly or it will be disengaging, but I wouldn’t become so alarmed, but I would absolutely make sure that I knew what are other people being paid in this industry, and are we on board? Are we paying people close to what our competitors are paying? We have to make pay fair, but always expect it to come back low.
The other areas we see almost always, communication, it’s always an issue. We always say here that no one quits because they say you communicated to me too much. There are some sort of communication breakdown in the organization. The other area that we always see is recognition. People want to be recognized more. And I’m sure this isn’t you, Jacob, but a lot of research will say out there than Gen Y wants to be recognized eight times a day. And whether you’re a Gen Y or a Gen X, like myself, or a boomer, again, no one usually quits because they say you recognized me too much. It’s also one of the areas that you can have an impact on without a massive budget. There are things that you can do. So recognition, compensation and usually feedback. Feedback is an area that we consistently see low scores on. And the good news is, these are two areas that you can work on, and they’re in your sight if you know some of the things to do. Always see that. Always see that.
JACOB: That makes a ton of sense and just to answer your question, I do. I need feedback. Not only eight times a day, maybe twenty times a day. I love constant feedback. I crave it, I guess, I don’t know.
STEPHANIE: Well, Jacob you’re doing a really good job.
JACOB: Thank you, I appreciate that.
One question I want to ask you, obviously, without giving away a secret sauce. I know for people it’s a big thing, when you go and consult with a client, but I just want to learn more about the process that you go through. So let’s say you start working with a client, what happens exactly on day one? You go into the organization, just walk me through that flow if you can. Without giving away too much detail, maybe, just kind of walk me through that process of how you start to engage with that client.
STEPHANIE: Well it’s really a good question and there’s a lot of different answers, so I’ll try and answer it succinctly because a lot of it depends. Sometimes we have a large, large, large company call and they’ll say, ‘We want someone to speak to our organization and rally the troops’. And what is engagement? Why do we need to be doing this, and we really need to educate our organization, and sometimes, Bob goes out and he keynotes and they’re on their feet and they’re cheering, and sometimes that’s it.
We usually see that with the much larger companies. It’s very hard to turn the mother ship, and the larger you are, the harder it is. Sometimes in those cases, it will really be Bob speaking to them.
Our sweet spot is with the smaller companies, maybe employee size 100 to maybe 10,000, right? So what a keynote will do, it will say and answer the what and the why. OK? If companies want to know more than the what and the why, then that could, I really needs assessment, Jacob. I spend a lot of time asking questions. What are you trying to accomplish? What’s your budget and what’s your time frame? How will you know if this is successful? Probably a lot from my sales background, and depending on what they say, we really put together a plan that’s customized for them.
Sometimes it’s just a large company with a keynote. Bob and I are always on the road doing workshops together, so while the keynote answers what and why, the workshop is the how. This is how you do it. So when we go in to do a day and a half workshop, we’ve been back to the Center for Disease Control for three years. We leave them with tools. We want them to fish on their own. They are left with tools ranging from communication, feedback, being a leader, individualizing engagement which could be generational differences, you know, on ten year diversity.
When people leave a workshop, they’re like, ‘I actually know how to get started. I kind of know what to do’. And that’s what we want to do. We’re working ourselves out of a job, but that’s how we know we’ve been successful. And the last thing, Jacob, is there are some companies, there’s a company out there called Beacon Communities in Boston, and we have worked with them for three years. Every year we’ve put together a year long agreement and they keep working with us, and that is almost, we call it our Fitness Plan, like our engagement fitness plan, because we are there to help you. If we’re there, we can keep the momentum going.
So for companies that are truly invested and improving their culture, like Beacon was, we’ll work up with them for three years on always putting in place the things that are important to them. And like I said, this is a client that did a survey with us in 2010 and then in 2013. So that’s great to look at those benchmarks to say, here’s how far you’ve come. Oh, and by the way, there’s still some areas that you have to work on. So there’s a client that we have worked with in a variety of ways from speaking and workshops and there once a month on tangible results that have improved their culture. Does that help?
JACOB: Yeah, no, that was great.
My last question for you is, besides the book, Employee Engagement for Dummies, what are some great resources that, if people want to learn more about Employee Engagement, where can they go to learn more? What are your thoughts on that?
STEPHANIE: Well, first I would say Twitter, that’s how we found each other. We put out a lot of free resources, so our Twitter handle on Emplyengagement. Twitter is a great resource, and our website is a great resource. We have a whole resources section on there, it’s completely free and everything from articles, from Gallup, OfficeVibe, leaders in the industry. Some of them we’ve written, but we’ve put a lot of other people’s work out there and, of course, cite it. We have videos up there that have been huge successes in our workshops and all of this is free. So go to Employeeengagement.com and go to the resources section. You can find data, case studies, videos that you can insert on your own to maybe kick off a meeting about engagement.
Our most recent YouTube video is called ‘Who’s Sinking Your Boat’, and I think it has 45,000 hits on it, and that’s a great free way for someone to open up a meeting about engagement. It has all the recent Gallup research done in a very cool way. We had a Gen Y BU student by the name of Anton help us put it together. So we wrote it and then he filmed it, but we’ve gotten calls from General Mills to large financial institutions asking us, ‘can we use your video?’ and we’re like, ‘That’s why it’s on YouTube. It’s free and if that helps you kick off discussions or awareness, we want you to absolute use that.’ So I would say employeeengagement.com, and then follow us on Twitter.
JACOB: Yeah, that’s amazing and I love how you gave them full permission to use the video and you threw it on YouTube. I love how open and collaborative and transparent you are, I think that’s so important. So that’s great, that’s great. I guess we’ll end it here. Stephanie, I just want to thank you so much for taking the time to have a chat with me. This was a lot of fun, and hopefully we can do it again soon.
STEPHANIE: I hope so Jacob, I hope you have me back, and like I said, we’ve been watching Officevibe for a while, so we were honored when you guys called us, and you’re doing some great things there, so keep it up.
JACOB: Thanks a lot.
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