Engage Your Employees by Being a Rebel

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May 4, 2018

In this new, supercharged, super-fast, super-competitive economy, we’re sure you’d agree that we need customers to love our brands, love our products and advocate for our companies. And surely, customer love must start with employee love. But, as we say in our new book, Build it: The Rebel Playbook for World-Class Employee Engagement, “How can our customers love us if our employees don’t even like us?”

With research from Gallup showing that only 33% of the American workforce is engaged, it’s no question that few of our employees aren’t loving, or even liking us. The reason is because the status quo of how we treat people at work has failed. We have disengaged employees because we’ve lied to them, treated them as adversaries and given them crappy jobs without autonomy, excitement, accountability or praise. No wonder we have little engagement!

But all is not lost. There are companies out there doing things differently, treating their employees differently, and outperforming and disrupting their competitors. We call them rebels, and we share 60 of their stories, or what we call “plays,” in the book. These rebels come in different sizes and shapes, from companies big and small, represent both young and mature staff, and have big budgets, small budgets and often no budgets. They include companies such as Adobe, BetterCloud, Buffer, Gap Inc., Interface Carpets, Southwest Airlines, SnackNation, Venables Bell & Partners and Zappos.

Although each is different, these rebels do have some things in common. Their strategies make them stand out as rebels and help them make a difference — to their employees and to their companies.

Here are three common approaches we found when speaking with them:

1. Strategically innovate

Innovation has become such a buzzword that we often forget what it is and why we’re doing it, and we end up innovating just so we can say we’re being innovative. Rebels go back to the basics, remembering the dictionary definition of innovation as happening when “ideas are applied by the company in order to further satisfy the needs and expectations of the customers.” With employees as our customers, true innovation occurs when we go back to basics and innovate in a strategic manner, linking innovation to the needs of our employees and to our businesses.

An example of this is a play by Boston Consulting Group, which overcame a challenge faced by many in the professional services industry: that of the “always on” mentality. They designed an innovative solution to find a “better way to work,” identifying different ways to manage how work got done and helping consultants sustain longer, more satisfying careers.

2. Be unique

Rebels know that if you want your employees to engage with you, they need to know who they’re engaging with. For this reason, they don’t take the latest fad “off the shelf,” but instead innovate in a way that is unique to their company and to their workforce. They aren’t afraid to show their personality, even if that means being different than others.

An example of this is a play by BrewDog, an independent Scottish brewery and pub chain, that created a unique benefit called “pawternity leave.” Aligning with their love of dogs (the company was founded by two men and a dog), they decided to create a benefit not common in the marketplace: paying employees to take a week off to take care of a new puppy or rescue dog.

3. Be brave

Rebels understand that being brave is about doing things that many are often afraid to do, but needs to be done to achieve a company’s objectives. They also know that being brave may mean having to go up against opposition, and having to fight for their cause no matter how difficult and challenging it can be. They don’t let this fear get in their way, but use it to fuel their energy and passion to make things happen.

An example of this is a play by Gap Inc., the fashion retailer, that ditched its performance ratings and annual reviews, and became one of the first brave companies to do so. Its new performance management process is called GPS, and stands for Grow, Perform, Succeed — an analogy for what Gap wants its managers to do. It has been such a success that the Harvard Business School uses it as a case study in its MBA program.

We invite you to be a rebel and join our “rebelution.” We’re not going to say it’s easy, because change can be difficult, but we promise you, it will be well worth it — for your company and for your employees!