Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Employee Engagement And Self-Service Checkouts

Do you know what it says to your employees when you replace them with a machine? It says "I don't trust you".

It also says, your job will soon be irrelevant. You are worthless. I can provide better customer service by removing you.

Many of supermarket chains are are increasing the number of 'fast' self-service checkouts, with the exception of Morrisons who thankfully did some research of their customer base and are removing them. 

At our local supermarket, instead of spending time at the checkout with a member of the Sainsbury's team, I am forced through the agonising self service process of bag opening, mis-scanning, being accused of theft, and waiting for approval for wine and before I can scramble out of the store. 

Sainsbury's have also reduced the number of people on the checkouts (naturally), so the queues build up, and just like animals heading to slaughter we are all forced into the zigzag of the DIY area.....

During a recent visit to McDonalds we found a new form of ordering system. Instead of ordering food from a person, big vertical screens were suspended from the ceiling, into which you can tap your order and it magically appears at the counter five minutes later. No need to talk to anyone if you don't want to. 

In our experience around 90% of the people coming in refused to use them despite staff begging them too. Note to staff - begging people to make you redundant is a bad idea.

Same experience at my local bank - Barclays staff now try and usher me to self service machines rather than spend time at the counters, and there's a move to keep me out of fuel stations by presenting me with a card slot at the fuel pump - the same story is true at my local train station.

Even more bizarre is the appearance of self service coffee machines from Starbucks - which is horrifying when you think that their value proposition is based around the quality of barista and bean. Why would I pay the same for a robot as the qualified barista?

While these are unlikely to appear 'in store' any time soon - the rise of the poor quality franchise outlet and the war for UK service stations between Costa and Starbucks is not helping quality perception.

Starbucks - remember this from 2008, when you shut all your stores in the US for the day?

"We're taking time to perfect our espresso. Great espresso requires practice. That's why we're dedicating ourselves to to honing our craft"

I suspect a little sub-note saying "but you can still use the machine at the gas station" would not fit.....

In common with 44% of the population (according to Retail Week), I prefer interaction with people rather than self service, and although retailers typically preach 'choice' and 'speed' as their reasoning, it transpires that the associated increase in theft is costing far more than the $125k installation costs and the staff salary savings.

These thefts cost retailers over half a billion pounds per year and as a consequence are causing greater investments in multi-sensory, anti-theft spying systems at checkouts, combined with an increase in security guards. 

Now I'm sure that there is short term pain investing in the technology, and the aim is long term savings by removing pesky humans from the equation (or at least reducing the number dramatically) - but none of these companies are thinking deeply enough about their brand.

Wake up. Your people ARE your brand. In an evolving service economy one of the very few things that separates you from the competition are the interactions your customers have with your staff. 

Here's a quote from a really great article by Kate Hilpern on brand value.

"Brand value is measured one brilliant customer experience at a time"

Machines do not give brilliant customer experience.  They provide short term novelty and the illusion of choice, but never long term relationships.

I am REALLY upset that my local Starbucks closed last week, I'll miss the coffee, and the meeting space, but much more than that I'll miss the team of human beings that have looked after me for several years (most are facing redundancy which makes it doubly hard).  

We've all been to 'good' and 'bad' versions of our favourite chains - and greater consistency can be achieved by a machine, but it's never going to ask you about your family and bring you an occasional free coffee, burger or kids toy. It also won't prompt you about a '2 for 1' offer you missed (that might slow the line).

More touch points between companies and their customers is a good thing - but so many companies are now flying in the face of common sense it bewilders me.

Self service machines are the exact opposite of employee engagement, they suppress any positive projection of culture and they reduce your value proposition. 

Stop doing it. Stop it now - think better of your staff, see past the cost and appreciate the enormous value these conversations, relationships and other interactions bring.

And we need to stop using the damn robots. You don't have to use them - in fact you can have great fun (and get even greater customer service) by proclaiming in a loud voice "Why would I use one of those, I like talking to others, and if I keep using a machine, soon all these nice people will be made redundant".

Try it and see. 

PS Great people really do make great companies, and I'm a big fan of both Starbucks and McDonalds for that very reason - read this blog for some more insight.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Do Gender & Age Influence Engagement?

I've had some follow up from my last blog on employee engagement, which raised some interesting questions around gender and age, so this one aims to dispel some of the common myths on the subject using 13,000 sparkling data points (otherwise known as people). 

Those of a 'non data' disposition should start to panic now, or at least skip to the summary at the bottom of the page.

So why bother with all this analysis? Primarily to save money and time - if you're aiming at saving a few million pounds (see here for details), it's nice to do so as efficiently as possible and target the right groups.

Myth 1 - men and women are just as engaged (or disengaged) as each other, everyone is an individual. 

Wrong. Sort of. In the last blog I divided the population into four segments (plus one for the totally disengaged). Mapping the gender distribution gives the chart below.

The 'middle' of the engagement spectrum remains the same. But there's a very large difference at each extreme. A higher population of women occupy the 'highly engaged' quartile with 25% of the female population in that quartile compared to 20% of the men.

Also take note that almost twice as many men reside in the 'disengaged' segment. We'll explore some possible reasons why later on.

Myth 2 - younger people are more engaged than older people.

Ermm.....sorry, no - wrong again. In fact the opposite holds true, the more advanced in years, the more likely you are to be a highly engaged employee.  

If you're looking for the most engaged employees in your company, then you're likely to find them in the 'over 40's' section of the population. Strangely, the 40's group has (marginally) the highest proportion of disengaged employees too, but there is a clear progression of engagement as the population gains maturity.

Myth 3 - everyone has their own way of getting engaged with the company.

No. Not true, in fact there are a few very straightforward and simple options that engage people much faster than you might think, and they are unlikely to be the ones you imagine (I could write a whole new blog on the myth of internal social media).

Here's some simple theory before we go much further. Typically people get engaged in five different ways - most of which are available (and measurable) in one form or another at every company.

There are learning opportunities - these are not limited to formal education programs, but rather learning about why there is a focus on employee engagement. Most companies are trying to improve this, but few communicate effectively what they are doing about it and why with the population.

There are technical opportunities - typically involving multiple interactions with technical infrastructure, such as the intranet.
Social opportunities also exist, voluntary interactions between individuals and groups within a company which may or may not be related to internal social media platforms such as Yammer and Chatter.

Active engagement opportunities involve more visible volunteering or action based giving within the company - going out of the way to give help or recognition to others.

Finally there are Visible factors, people who are recognised by others for their contributions. These are the hardest to measure, but often take the form of awards and recognition by peers and colleagues for their help, expertise or support.

Examining the engagement quartiles for our population shows a very distinct pattern of evolution. 77% of the least engaged group has engaged in some form of learning, but very little else.

Our most engaged group are participating in learning, technical and social engagement, and almost a third are showing active participation in driving the company forward. 13% are being recognised by others.

There is a clear evolution of engagement through each of the five as engagement increases.
The take home from this? Make sure you're communicating effectively why employee engagement is important and what it means to everyone. From that seed, other forms of engagement will grow - but if you can only do one thing, make sure that this one is done well, if only because it is the most accessible to the highest number of people.


I would encourage only data geeks to continue from this point in. Remember that we're trying to make more money than the competition by having highly engaged employees - everything else is a waste of time.

So in order to do this right, we need to really look at the population to and see if the quick theories described above work on a more granular level. Get this part right, and planning the next phase of your engagement project becomes more cost effective - because it will work.

In theory then, the most engaged employees are older, and gender makes no difference. Everyone can get on board with an engagement learning program, but very few become the visible evangelists.

The charts below bear that out. We have a couple of slight anomalies, most notably with the over 60's in quartile 3 demonstrating a lack of comfort with the social factors compared to their younger colleagues (that's the yellow 57% block) - and those men in their 20's who refuse to engage socially (the red 1% block on the top line).

The final chart shows the gender balance - and as before, regardless of quartile, the engagement factors remain the same.

The conclusion? Stop worrying about different age groups and genders interacting in different ways. The fact of the matter is (with the exception of men in their 20's) - this particular population all behave in a similar manner.
Many of the tools you need to create better engagement already exist in your company - the technical infrastructure, social enablements and the opportunities to participate are all present, but without creating an environment of understanding even your best efforts are doomed to failure.

Then go and ask a bunch of 20 something males why they don't like the internal social systems.......

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Employee Engagement Cuts Attrition Rates In Half

Why bother with employee engagement? Sometimes a question is so big, it's nice to break it down into a single, simple example rather than try for the 'big picture approach'.

Hence the reason for this blog. 

I've had the opportunity to work with an employee population over a number of years and see what effect engagement has in a number of different areas - one of which is staff turnover.

Conventional wisdom says that the more engaged a person is within a company, then the less likely they are to leave, and whilst this is true, that's not the whole picture. What is also often omitted from these discussions is that some attrition is actually desirable within an organisation for a multitude of reasons beyond the scope of this particular blog.

So let's take a first look at our population and break it down into some typical 'quartiles' - except in this case we're also going to break out the totally disengaged folks. Those that simply do not participate in any of the people metrics we can gather (and in this case sixteen different measures where used).

Without getting too geeky here, the chart below shows the number people in each engagement quartile - if you imagine a scale of 0 to 100, with the most engaged people scoring 100 - then there are on 38 people in the 75-100 band and 9,770 in the lower 25.

This may come as a surprise to some, but it's a fairly typical pattern. The 38 at the top of this distribution are the 'superstars' of engagement, the culture ambassadors, brand fanatics, cheerleaders and motivators that exist in all organisations and have huge impact on morale (you may know one or two in your company).
Typically, between 5-15% of any organisation are disengaged. They are the people who will tell you (should you ask) that they simply want to come into work and do their job, they don't want their contribution to exceed their role, or gain promotion. This should never be read as a 'happiness' indicator, but accepting that they cannot be more engaged is an unacceptable conclusion. The challenge is in the amount of effort that is needed.

For the sake of statistical stability, and to take some of the 'emotional' interpretation out of this - we'll divide up our population in four (almost) equal quartiles, while keeping our disengaged population separate - and see what happens to each of these groups over two years.

And this is where things get interesting.

In the very first quarter, attrition is four times greater in the completely disengaged group. Although the rest of the population is approximately the same, there is a noticeably higher attrition rate in the lowest engagement quartile too (but no where near as significant).

By the end of year one, the disengaged group attrition is approximately double that of the rest of the employee population, and after two years that pattern is consistent. The chart clearly shows that the more engaged people are, the less likely they are to leave the company - but the significant finding is that even the smallest amount of engagement is enough to halve the attrition rate.

Let's try and quantify this - there are a number of studies that analyse the cost of employees leaving, and the associated recruitment costs. I'm going to use this one by Oxford Economics, published in HR Review last year. It takes into account cost of lost output and recruitment costs and calculates a cost of £30,614 per employee. There are many less conservative estimates which place recruitment costs at between 30-50% of salary, but let's think about that for a moment.

The charts show that zero levels of engagement lead to twice the attrition. Move the engagement needle just one notch, and that problem can be addressed. More importantly that £30,614 cost can be avoided.

1,467 people in this sample were completely disengaged. In the first quarter of this analysis 107 of these left the company. Do the math: 107x£30k = £3.2m.

Stop and think about that for one moment. We know that even the slightest amount of engagement will halve the number of people leaving. Half the number of people leaving = £1.6m.

Not paying attention to employee engagement? Maybe it's time to start.


Geek Note: The relationship between engagement and attrition shows a strong negative Pearson correlation coefficient of -0.61, Kendall's Tau of -0.75 and Spearman's Rho is -0.85.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

If You Want Increased Sales Productivity - Focus On Culture Fit

Can you place a monetary value on the strength of a corporate culture? Is there any way to prove the value of employing people that fit?

I recently had the opportunity to look at a group of sales people and see if their culture fit predicted quota achievement for the year. 

This is an effective test that relies on some 'hard' data from the finance folks, and some 'softer' data from the HR team. A positive correlation proves that people who align more closely with the organisation they are part of will perform better, especially in high pressure situations. 

Below are illustrations from two sets of data, one taken at mid-year, showing quota achievement against the culture fit of the individuals in question. The second one shows full year results.

The first chart shows a group of 37 sales people making a flying start - everyone over 40% of their quota lies in the top half of organisational culture fit, while not a single person from the bottom half is doing well.

(For the statistically minded this whole distribution shows a weak, but positive correlation using Pearson's method)

The second chart shows the full picture for the year, again illustrating that those in the top half of the organisational culture spectrum are outperforming those in the bottom. In this case 38 people achieved more than 100% of their designated quota, while not a single individual in the lower half made their target.
Note that the actual financial rewards are not shown, these have to remain confidential - but over 30% of revenue came from that top right quadrant. Naturally hiring processes have changed at the company in question - who now place a great deal more emphasis on how potential employees fit with their culture and working practices.

You may also notice that there are no 'brilliant jerks' in this analysis. No high flying sales person with a terrible culture fit. This is clearly a company that took Reed Hastings advice to heart.

If you're paying really close attention, you may also notice the grey markers on the charts - these are people who left the organisation. In the first half of the year, these were generally at the higher end of culture fit with low to medium quota achievement, in the latter half they were predominantly the under-achievers (this is after all a sales organisation).

Culture fit is no cast-iron guarantee of sales success, but the probability of better results increases when you find people that share common values, behaviours and aspirations with the rest of the organisation. 

Defining that fit and working it into the interview process is critical - as is ensuring you can truly define what your culture looks like today. 

Why not take some time do this analysis on a sales team in your company and see if you find similar results? It's a great way for HR teams to contribute directly to revenue improvement.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Does Your Recruitment Process Suck?

It's nice to see the UK job market improving - many of my friends who have been 'on sabbatical' for a year or so are now finding their way back into permanent employment, but some of the stories they tell about recruitment processes make me want to cry.

Most popular experience - submitting an application, following up and then hearing nothing back. Nada. Not so much as a short 'You're rubbish and we don't like the font you used' email.

In second place - having a face to face interview (in person or on Skype) and hearing nothing back. Given that at this point they have typically met some of the people from the company too - the offence and level of rudeness is even more exaggerated.

Third on the list - repeated contact telling people to 'just wait' while decisions are made, other candidates are interviewed or organisation changes are taking place. In other words, "Our time is valuable, yours isn't, we're trying to find someone better, but if we don't we might just hire you."

I could carry on with these - from systems that eliminate candidates who don't enter their expected salary in the right ballpark, to skills not counting if they have been learned in other industries (I especially enjoyed the tale of a large financial institution looking for a full time employee engagement and culture specialist insisting that they would only interview candidates from other banks......)

Ask yourself one question. What impression of these companies are people left with? What do you think they tell their friends? How likely is it that their brand will be improved from these interactions? 

Then there's the personal level. In several of the cases above, job offers were eventually extended. How valued would you feel as an employee walking through the door on day one after having been treated this way (if indeed the offer was accepted)?

Contrast this to a conversation I had a few weeks ago on a flight back from Barcelona. 

Several members of the executive team of a very well known global sportswear company were sat around me, and I got talking to their new head of UK Sales & Marketing. He was four weeks into the role - and still in 'training'.

During the recruitment process he had interviewed with a number of people from the company. Finally he sat down with the Managing Director for a discussion. 

Within 24 hours he was offered the job.

Despite all the efforts of his previous employer to retain him, he chose to move on. And why wouldn't he? They wanted him NOW. Here was a company that felt confident enough in his abilities to extend an immediate offer. 

A company that made fast decisions, that was passionate about their products, and finding the right people. Above all else, one where taking this 'risk' was acceptable, and where it was part of the company culture to be enthusiastic and passionate about everything - including recruitment.

The passion for his new employer, their product and ethos was palpable. It rubbed off on me, and although my family have all been big fans for years, we've spent some money since on refreshing our supply......

I spent some time with Zappos a few years ago. Early on, the HR team realised that recruitment was not all about finding the right people for the company - it was also about leaving those 'rejected' from the process with a good feeling about Zappos. So they started to recommend other companies that may be a better  'fit' to candidates that didn't quite make it - using experience and a library of culture data.

The company 'powered by service' extends that to everyone that touches them. Because it's good for business, and it's a nice thing to do. 

So why not take some time today to review how well you do with the 'recruitment experience' in your company? You may not feel it's worth the effort to treat people well - but can you really afford not to in this age of social media and brand awareness?

What does your recruitment process say about you as a company?

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Bypassing Parental Controls With BT

Every so often I feel the need to share some 'internet control' experiences, this is my third 'off topic' blog - the first of which concerned turning on parental controls, the second about the prevalence of porn on Twitter

Recently I've seen plenty of evidence that inappropriate content is showing up on childrens' computers despite their parents locking down devices and restricting access.

Just to be clear, there are ALWAYS ways to circumvent these controls. But many cannot work out how - and I'm certainly not going to share methods for doing it. That doesn't mean you should ignore the problem though.

If you're a BT broadband customer (one third of UK households are), you are almost certainly providing simplified access to the pornosphere for your children and their friends.

Some background first - if you're of a mind to block inappropriate material, then you have probably enabled parental controls on mobile devices and computers in the house.

You may even have decided to completely stop the flow into your house, and had your provider block it at source. There's a simple way to do this with BT, follow this link, sign in with your credentials, then scroll down to the 'extras' section and click 'Manage' in the BT Parental Control box.

Congratulations, you've successfully blocked inappropriate content coming into the house, (although how porn and alcohol end up in the same filter category is beyond me).


Actually it's very easy to bypass this, not for you, but for your children or for guests in your house.

Part of the BT offering is to allow your home router to be used as a personal hotspot for anyone. Check out your wi-fi network now, and you'll see 'BTWifi-with-FON' listed.

This means that if I am in range of any BT router I can use it as a wi-fi hotspot (by signing in with my BT account credentials).

Many parents give those credentials to their children so they can access wi-fi and not use mobile data plans, so usernames and passwords get passed around at school, enabling your child to use someone else's details to see whatever they want through your router.

The good news is that you can opt out of this, but it's not that easy, and after half an hour of navigating through BT's website to a human I finally got this link, which allows you to opt out of providing a hotspot: https://www.bt.com/wifi/secure/statuscheck.do 

Bizarrely if you don't have a btinernet.com email address you need to find an actual person to do this for you - this link may help. (Click problem with service, then broadband and eventually this magic chat button will appear). 

If all this seems like a huge amount of hassle, then that's because it is. I'm not sure that you should have to 'opt-in' to see adult content, that's a much larger debate, but if you do want to turn off adult content, then BT could make it a great deal simpler (and not leave the open hotspot wide open for abuse). 

Not enabled parental controls yet? Don't think you should? Read this and it may change your mind.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Accepting Poor Behaviour

I've resisted the temptation of posting any kind of 'workplace' blog involving the Top Gear crew or the BBC in general. Not only does it seem to be marginally exploitative, but having seen a progression of death threats aimed at people who dare criticise I wasn't sure that I needed that kind of attention.

But then I caught a few minutes of the Wright Stuff on Channel Five recently, where Richard Madeley and Anne Diamond were discussing the Top Gear 'fracas' and I realised that I was hearing the same old 'abuse' story - but from TV personalities rather than corporate employees.

This shouldn't surprise me - often we forget that the folks staring out at us from the gogglebox are 'real' people with real jobs, mouths to feed and mortgages to pay.

What aggravated me was that both Richard Madeley and Anne Diamond both spoke of this kind of behaviour happening to them in the past, with a degree of implied acceptance that this was 'normal' behaviour in their industry. 

I love Top Gear - I find Jeremy, James and Richard great entertainment. There is no doubt that they provide a huge amount of revenue for their company, have immense talent and will be sadly missed by the vast majority of the viewing public (at least until they appear elsewhere). 


When you verbally and physically assault someone it is wrong. No matter who that person is, but particularly when that person is 'subservient' to you in the organisation, perceives that their job depends on you, or that you have power to make them suffer. There are no excuses - and in case I'm in line for some hate mail here, Mr Clarkson would appear to agree.

Here are just three corporate examples from my experience, and I'd like you to imagine how you'd feel if this happened to you....

  • The executive, who when aggravated, stressed, or simply in need of some entertainment thought it was OK to kick chairs at people in their office - or even outside their office door in the corridor. Sometimes I think the Lego policeman in the movie worked for him at some time.
  • The senior leader who denied the whole office the right to go home on Christmas Eve if one person dared to ask what time they could leave - holding everyone in a frenzy of discomfort for the whole day (and for several weeks beforehand).
  • The divisional head who enjoyed swearing loudly and publicly at staff so much, that even after multiple complaints, and subsequent warnings he continued until he had to be escorted off the premises - permanently.

Behaviour that you accept spreads through your organisation - this works equally for positive and negative behaviours, but the negative ones spread much faster. Simply shrugging it off by saying "well that happened to me too" gives tacit approval to others to mimic poor behaviours, and actually promotes their belief that it's necessary to fit in.

If you think any one of the examples above is even remotely acceptable behaviour, then I suggest you go and find a job where you can work alone, far from others, and if possible far from society in general.