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The Employee Engagement Problem No One Is Talking About

Jacob Shriar

engagement problemIn 2013, Gallup released its now-famous State Of The American Workplace report, which showed that 70% of American workers were not engaged at work.

Worldwide, the number of people not engaged was 87%.

Recently, Gallup released some updated engagement numbers and the sad truth is that the numbers have remained relatively unchanged.

gallup engagement

The number is now hovering around 32%, which is better than 30%, but still nothing to cheer about. To make matters worse, these numbers haven’t changed much in 15 years.

So what’s going on?

Do too many companies have old-school thinking leaders? Are the initiatives most companies put in place a waste of time/money/energy? Is there something deeper going on?

Whatever the answer is, it’s clear that things aren’t working. Most employees are simply not engaged at work. Companies are obviously not creating an environment where employees can really shine.

No one enjoys hating their job. Employees want to go to work proud of what they do. They want to contribute more and give it their all. The concept of mastery and purpose are very real; employees want to contribute to something bigger than themselves.

What are companies getting wrong?

According to Gallup, the biggest issue by far is that companies treat engagement as a one-time program rather an ongoing thing.

Most companies do an annual survey (and we all know the problems with those), only to either be misinformed or misled. The most surprising part of what these companies do is that they think the act of simply doing an annual survey is enough, as if all of their retention problems will go away if they put together a survey.

Is that a joke?

The survey is only the first step. Once you measure, you need to improve, and you need to act. A year is much too long a timeframe to create that feedback loop.

Gallup’s research found that many companies will create surveys that only satisfy what they want to hear (they’re doing great!) instead of uncovering deeper issues.

At Officevibe, our employee survey questions are written by us and are not editable. We do this on purpose to keep things as unbiased and third-party as possible.

The companies that are getting this right are focused and heavily invested in employee engagement. They create a culture based on core values and an exciting vision. They provide clear development opportunities for their employees and most importantly, they respect their employees. Things like autonomy and flex time are common in these types of environments.

Focus on your managers

“Here’s something they’ll probably never teach you in business school: The single biggest decision you make in your job – bigger than all of the rest – is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits – nothing.”
Gallup CEO Jim Clifton

There are two important things to keep in mind when it comes to the managers who work in your company.

  1. Managers account for 70% of the variance in engagement scores
  2. Companies with highly engaged employees have opportunities for development

If you want to focus on one area to ensure that engagement is improved, focus on developing and training your managers. Understanding how big an impact managers have on an employee’s engagement level, it’s important that we have the best people in managerial positions.

The problem is, most companies don’t have the right people in management positions. Ever heard of the Peter Principle?

Offering resources to help managers become better, and holding them accountable to using the resources, is important to making sure employees work in a good environment.

There are many resources online, but here are just a few that can help managers lead their employees better:

Ways to improve employee engagement

In order to seriously improve employee engagement, you need to have the idea of happier employees deeply embedded in your corporate culture. Things like annual surveys, perks, bonuses, and suggestion boxes are not where the dramatic impact comes in. Creating a culture where employees can come into work and use their strengths, develop their skills, and work with amazing people is where you’ll get your results.

Here are a few ideas you can use to improve employee engagement:

  1. Collect frequent feedback

    Collecting frequent feedback, and acting on that feedback, is one of the easiest ways to show employees that you care about them and value their opinions.

    More than simply collecting feedback, it’s important to integrate feedback into your culture.

    Make employees comfortable enough to give their honest feedback, remove any of that fear that exists in most companies, and tell employees that you value their opinion.

  2. Offer development

    Professional growth and personal development is by far the biggest driver of engagement. When an employee stops developing, they become stagnant and demotivated.

    This happens often, and it’s so easy to avoid.

    Let employees have a say in what they work on and help them develop their skills.

    It’s really not as complex as it seems, it just requires you to trust them.

  3. Have meaningful perks

    The key word is “meaningful.” It has nothing to do with free beer and casual Fridays. The perks that matter are again all about showing employees that you respect them.

    • Unlimited vacations
    • Flex time
    • Work from home
    • Paid maternal/paternal leave

    Think about what these perks say to your employees.

    It says, “We trust you to use good judgement. You’re a grownup, so let’s treat you like one.”

  4. Be transparent

    Again, this is all about showing employees that you respect them (see a common theme here?).

    When you’re transparent with your employees, especially when things aren’t going great, it makes you a more humble leader. That humility will earn you respect.

  5. Communicate your vision

    Get employees to believe in what you do and why you do it. Don’t have them just show up for work to collect their paycheck. Make them understand the bigger value that they’re bringing to the world.

    Practice and preach your core values, and help employees connect themselves to those values.

    There is no such thing as too much communication, so feel free to remind everyone of your mission over and over.

  6. Set goals to align the team

    Set clear goals so that everyone understands their roles and there’s no ambiguity. Ambiguity can lead to confusion, which can lead employees to become disengaged.

    Use a cascading goal-setting system to make sure that everyone from the top down is aligned and working together towards a shared goal.

How do you engage your employees?

Share your tips with us in the comments!

Looking for more tips a positive work environment? See 7 First Steps To Increase Employee Engagement.

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How To Design Your Company’s Digital Transformation

Sam Yen

The September issue of the Harvard Business Review features a cover story on design thinking’s coming of age. We have been applying design thinking within SAP for the past 10 years, and I’ve witnessed the growth of this human-centered approach to innovation first hand.

Design thinking is, as the HBR piece points out, “the best tool we have for … developing a responsive, flexible organizational culture.”

This means businesses are doing more to learn about their customers by interacting directly with them. We’re seeing this change in our work on d.forum — a community of design thinking champions and “disruptors” from across industries.

Meanwhile, technology is making it possible to know exponentially more about a customer. Businesses can now make increasingly accurate predictions about customers’ needs well into the future. The businesses best able to access and pull insights from this growing volume of data will win. That requires a fundamental change for our own industry; it necessitates a digital transformation.

So, how do we design this digital transformation?

It starts with the customer and an application of design thinking throughout an organization – blending business, technology and human values to generate innovation. Business is already incorporating design thinking, as the HBR cover story shows. We in technology need to do the same.

Design thinking plays an important role because it helps articulate what the end customer’s experience is going to be like. It helps focus all aspects of the business on understanding and articulating that future experience.

Once an organization is able to do that, the insights from that consumer experience need to be drawn down into the business, with the central question becoming: What does this future customer experience mean for us as an organization? What barriers do we need to remove? Do we need to organize ourselves differently? Does our process need to change – if it does, how? What kind of new technology do we need?

Then an organization must look carefully at roles within itself. What does this knowledge of the end customer’s future experience mean for an individual in human resources, for example, or finance? Those roles can then be viewed as end experiences unto themselves, with organizations applying design thinking to learn about the needs inherent to those roles. They can then change roles to better meet the end customer’s future needs. This end customer-centered approach is what drives change.

This also means design thinking is more important than ever for IT organizations.

We, in the IT industry, have been charged with being responsive to business, using technology to solve the problems business presents. Unfortunately, business sometimes views IT as the organization keeping the lights on. If we make the analogy of a store: business is responsible for the front office, focused on growing the business where consumers directly interact with products and marketing; while the perception is that IT focuses on the back office, keeping servers running and the distribution system humming. The key is to have business and IT align to meet the needs of the front office together.

Remember what I said about the growing availability of consumer data? The business best able to access and learn from that data will win. Those of us in IT organizations have the technology to make that win possible, but the way we are seen and our very nature needs to change if we want to remain relevant to business and participate in crafting the winning strategy.

We need to become more front office and less back office, proving to business that we are innovation partners in technology.

This means, in order to communicate with businesses today, we need to take a design thinking approach. We in IT need to show we have an understanding of the end consumer’s needs and experience, and we must align that knowledge and understanding with technological solutions. When this works — when the front office and back office come together in this way — it can lead to solutions that a company could otherwise never have realized.

There’s different qualities, of course, between front office and back office requirements. The back office is the foundation of a company and requires robustness, stability, and reliability. The front office, on the other hand, moves much more quickly. It is always changing with new product offerings and marketing campaigns. Technology must also show agility, flexibility, and speed. The business needs both functions to survive. This is a challenge for IT organizations, but it is not an impossible shift for us to make.

Here’s the breakdown of our challenge.

1. We need to better understand the real needs of the business.

This means learning more about the experience and needs of the end customer and then translating that information into technological solutions.

2. We need to be involved in more of the strategic discussions of the business.

Use the regular invitations to meetings with business as an opportunity to surface the deeper learning about the end consumer and the technology solutions that business may otherwise not know to ask for or how to implement.

The IT industry overall may not have a track record of operating in this way, but if we are not involved in the strategic direction of companies and shedding light on the future path, we risk not being considered innovation partners for the business.

We must collaborate with business, understand the strategic direction and highlight the technical challenges and opportunities. When we do, IT will become a hybrid organization – able to maintain the back office while capitalizing on the front office’s growing technical needs. We will highlight solutions that business could otherwise have missed, ushering in a digital transformation.

Digital transformation goes beyond just technology; it requires a mindset. See What It Really Means To Be A Digital Organization.

This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

Top image via Shutterstock

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Sam Yen

About Sam Yen

Sam Yen is the Chief Design Officer for SAP and the Managing Director of SAP Labs Silicon Valley. He is focused on driving a renewed commitment to design and user experience at SAP. Under his leadership, SAP further strengthens its mission of listening to customers´ needs leading to tangible results, including SAP Fiori, SAP Screen Personas and SAP´s UX design services.

How Productive Could You Be With 45 Minutes More Per Day?

Michael Rander

Chances are that you are already feeling your fair share of organizational complexity when navigating your current company, but have you ever considered just how much time is spent across all companies on managing complexity? According to a recent study by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), the global impact of complexity is mind-blowing – and not in a good way.

The study revealed that 38% of respondents spent 16%-25% of their time just dealing with organizational complexity, and 17% spent a staggering 26%-50% of their time doing so. To put that into more concrete numbers, in the US alone, if executives could cut their time spent managing complexity in half, an estimated 8.6 million hours could be saved a week. That corresponds to 45 minutes per executive per day.

The potential productivity impact of every executive having 45 minutes more to work every single day is clearly significant, and considering that 55% say that their organization is either very or extremely complex, why are we then not making the reduction of complexity one or our top of mind issues?

The problem is that identifying the sources of complexity is complex in of itself. Key sources of complexity include organizational size, executive priorities, pace of innovation, decision-making processes, vastly increasing amounts of data to manage, organizational structures, and the pure culture of the company. As a consequence, answers are not universal by any means.

That being said, the negative productivity impact of complexity, regardless of the specific source, is felt similarly across a very large segment of the respondents, with 55% stating that complexity has taken a direct toll on profitability over the past three years.  This is such a serious problem that 8% of respondents actually slowed down their company growth in order to deal with complexity.

So, if complexity oftentimes impacts productivity and subsequently profitability, what are some of the more successful initiatives that companies are taking to combat these effects? Among the answers from the EIU survey, the following were highlighted among the most likely initiatives to reduce complexity and ultimately increase productivity:

  • Making it a company-wide goal to reduce complexity means that the executive level has to live and breathe simplification in order for the rest of the organization to get behind it. Changing behaviors across the organization requires strong leadership, commitment, and change management, and these initiatives ultimately lead to improved decision-making processes, which was reported by respondents as the top benefit of reducing complexity. From a leadership perspective this also requires setting appropriate metrics for measuring outcomes, and for metrics, productivity and efficiency were by far the most popular choices amongst respondents though strangely collaboration related metrics where not ranking high in spite of collaboration being a high level priority.
  • Promoting a culture of collaboration means enabling employees and management alike to collaborate not only within their teams but also across the organization, with partners, and with customers. Creating cross-functional roles to facilitate collaboration was cited by 56% as the most helpful strategy in achieving this goal.
  • More than half (54%) of respondents found the implementation of new technology and tools to be a successful step towards reducing complexity and improving productivity. Enabling collaboration, reducing information overload, building scenarios and prognoses, and enabling real-time decision-making are all key issues that technology can help to reduce complexity at all levels of the organization.

While these initiatives won’t help everyone, it is interesting to see that more than half of companies believe that if they could cut complexity in half they could be at least 11%-25% more productive. That nearly one in five respondents indicated that they could be 26%-50% more productive is a massive improvement.

The question then becomes whether we can make complexity and its impact on productivity not only more visible as a key issue for companies to address, but (even more importantly) also something that every company and every employee should be actively working to reduce. The potential productivity gains listed by respondents certainly provide food for thought, and few other corporate activities are likely to gain that level of ROI.

Just imagine having 45 minutes each and every day for actively pursuing new projects, getting innovative, collaborating, mentoring, learning, reducing stress, etc. What would you do? The vision is certainly compelling, and the question is are we as companies, leaders, and employees going to do something about it?

To read more about the EIU study, please see:

Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @michaelrander

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About Michael Rander

Michael Rander is the Global Research Director for Future Of Work at SAP. He is an experienced project manager, strategic and competitive market researcher, operations manager as well as an avid photographer, athlete, traveler and entrepreneur. Share your thoughts with Michael on Twitter @michaelrander.

Running Future Cities on Blockchain

Dan Wellers , Raimund Gross and Ulrich Scholl

Building on the Blockchain Framework

Some experts say these seemingly far-future speculations about the possibilities of combining technologies using blockchain are actually both inevitable and imminent:


Democratizing design and manufacturing by enabling individuals and small businesses to buy, sell, share, and digitally remix products affordably while protecting intellectual property rights.
Decentralizing warehousing and logistics by combining autonomous vehicles, 3D printers, and smart contracts to optimize delivery of products and materials, and even to create them on site as needed.
Distributing commerce by mixing virtual reality, 3D scanning and printing, self-driving vehicles, and artificial intelligence into immersive, personalized, on-demand shopping experiences that still protect buyers’ personal and proprietary data.

The City of the Future

Imagine that every agency, building, office, residence, and piece of infrastructure has an entry on a blockchain used as a city’s digital ledger. This “digital twin” could transform the delivery of city services.

For example:

  • Property owners could easily monetize assets by renting rooms, selling solar power back to the grid, and more.
  • Utilities could use customer data and AIs to make energy-saving recommendations, and smart contracts to automatically adjust power usage for greater efficiency.
  • Embedded sensors could sense problems (like a water main break) and alert an AI to send a technician with the right parts, tools, and training.
  • Autonomous vehicles could route themselves to open parking spaces or charging stations, and pay for services safely and automatically.
  • Cities could improve traffic monitoring and routing, saving commuters’ time and fuel while increasing productivity.

Every interaction would be transparent and verifiable, providing more data to analyze for future improvements.


Welcome to the Next Industrial Revolution

When exponential technologies intersect and combine, transformation happens on a massive scale. It’s time to start thinking through outcomes in a disciplined, proactive way to prepare for a future we’re only just beginning to imagine.

Download the executive brief Running Future Cities on Blockchain.


Read the full article Pulling Cities Into The Future With Blockchain

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About Dan Wellers

Dan Wellers is founder and leader of Digital Futures at SAP, a strategic insights and thought leadership discipline that explores how digital technologies drive exponential change in business and society.

Raimund Gross

About Raimund Gross

Raimund Gross is a solution architect and futurist at SAP Innovation Center Network, where he evaluates emerging technologies and trends to address the challenges of businesses arising from digitization. He is currently evaluating the impact of blockchain for SAP and our enterprise customers.

Ulrich Scholl

About Ulrich Scholl

Ulrich Scholl is Vice President of Industry Cloud and Custom Development at SAP. In this role, Ulrich discovers and implements best practices to help further the understanding and adoption of the SAP portfolio of industry cloud innovations.

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Are AI And Machine Learning Killing Analytics As We Know It?

Joerg Koesters

According to IDC, artificial intelligence (AI) is expected to become pervasive across customer journeys, supply networks, merchandizing, and marketing and commerce because it provides better insights to optimize retail execution. For example, in the next two years:

  • 40% of digital transformation initiatives will be supported by cognitive computing and AI capabilities to provide critical, on-time insights for new operating and monetization models.
  • 30% of major retailers will adopt a retail omnichannel commerce platform that integrates a data analytics layer that centrally orchestrates omnichannel capabilities.

One thing is clear: new analytic technologies are expected to radically change analytics – and retail – as we know them.

AI and machine learning defined in the context of retail

AI is defined broadly as the ability of computers to mimic human thinking and logic. Machine learning is a subset of AI that focuses on how computers can learn from data without being programmed through the use of algorithms that adapt to change; in other words, they can “learn” continuously in response to new data. We’re seeing these breakthroughs now because of massive improvements in hardware (for example, GPUs and multicore processing) that can handle Big Data volumes and run deep learning algorithms needed to analyze and learn from the data.

Ivano Ortis, vice president at IDC, recently shared with me how he believes, “Artificial intelligence will take analytics to the next level and will be the foundation for retail innovation, as reported by one out of every two retailers globally. AI enables scale, automation, and unprecedented precision and will drive customer experience innovation when applied to both hyper micro customer segmentation and contextual interaction.”

Given the capabilities of AI and machine learning, it’s easy to see how they can be powerful tools for retailers. Now computers can read and listen to data, understand and learn from it, and instantly and accurately recommend the next best action without having to be explicitly programmed. This is a boon for retailers seeking to accurately predict demand, anticipate customer behavior, and optimize and personalize customer experiences.

For example, it can be used to automate:

  • Personalized product recommendations based on data about each customer’s unique interests and buying propensity
  • The selection of additional upsell and cross-sell options that drive greater customer value
  • Chat bots that can drive intelligent and meaningful engagement with customers
  • Recommendations on additional services and offerings based on past and current buying data and customer data
  • Planogram analyses, which support in-store merchandizing by telling people what’s missing, comparing sales to shelf space, and accelerating shelf replenishment by automating reorders
  • Pricing engines used to make tailored, situational pricing decisions

Particularly in the United States, retailers are already able to collect large volumes of transaction-based and behavioral data from their customers. And as data volumes grow and processing power improves, machine learning becomes increasingly applicable in a wider range of retail areas to further optimize business processes and drive more impactful personalized and contextual consumer experiences and products.

The transformation of retail has already begun

The impacts of AI and machine learning are already being felt. For example:

  • Retailers are predicting demand with machine learning in combination with IoT technologies to optimize store businesses and relieve workforces
  • Advertisements are being personalized based on in-store camera detections and taking over semi-manual clienteling tasks of store employees
  • Retailers can monitor wait times in checkout lines to understand store traffic and merchandising effectiveness at the individual store level – and then tailor assortments and store layouts to maximize basket size, satisfaction, and sell through
  • Systems can now recognize and predict customer behavior and improve employee productivity by turning scheduled tasks into on-demand activities
  • Camera systems can detect the “fresh” status of perishable products before onsite employees can
  • Brick-and-mortar stores are automating operational tasks, such as setting shelf pricing, determining product assortments and mixes, and optimizing trade promotions
  • In-store apps can tell how long a customer has been in a certain aisle and deliver targeted offers and recommendations (via his or her mobile device) based on data about data about personal consumption histories and preferences

A recent McKinsey study provided examples that quantify the potential value of these technologies in transforming how retailers operate and compete. For example:

  • U.S. retailer supply chain operations that have adopted data and analytics have seen up to a 19% increase in operating margin over the last five years. Using data and analytics to improve merchandising, including pricing, assortment, and placement optimization, is leading to an additional 16% in operating margin improvement.
  • Personalizing advertising is one of the strongest use cases for machine learning today. Additional retail use cases with high potential include optimizing pricing, routing, and scheduling based on real-time data in travel and logistics, as well as optimizing merchandising strategies.

Exploiting the full value of data

Thin margins (especially in the grocery sector) and pressure from industry-leading early adopters such as Amazon and Walmart have created strong incentives to put customer data to work to improve everything from cross-selling additional products to reducing costs throughout the entire value chain. But McKinsey has assessed that the U.S. retail sector has realized only 30-40% of the potential margin improvements and productivity growth its analysts envisioned in 2011 – and a large share of the value of this growth has gone to consumers through lower prices. So thus far, only a fraction of the potential value from AI and machine learning has been realized.

According to Forbes, U.S. retailers have the potential to see a 60%+ increase in net margin and 0.5–1.0% annual productivity growth. But there are major barriers to realizing this value, including lack of analytical talent and siloed data within companies.

This is where machine learning and analytics kick in. AI and machine learning can help scale the repetitive analytics tasks required to drive leverage of the available data. When deployed on a companywide, real-time analytics platform, they can become the single source of truth that all enterprise functions rely on to make better decisions.

How will this change analytics?

So how will AI and machine learning change retail analytics? We expect that AI and machine learning will not kill analytics as we know it, but rather give it a new and even more impactful role in driving the future of retail. For example, we anticipate that:

  • Retailers will include machine learning algorithms as an additional factor in analyzing and  monitoring business outcomes in relation to machine learning algorithms
  • They will use AI and machine learning to sharpen analytic algorithms, detect more early warning signals, anticipate trends, and have accurate answers before competitors do
  • Analytics will happen in real time and act as the glue between all areas of the business
  • Analytics will increasingly focus on analyzing manufacturing machine behavior, not just business and consumer behavior

Ivano Ortis at IDC authored a recent report, “Why Retail Analytics are a Foundation for Retail Profits,” in which he provides further insights on this topic. He notes how retail leaders will use new kinds of analytics to drive greater profitability, further differentiate the customer experience, and compete more effectively, “In conclusion, commerce and technology will converge, enabling retailers to achieve short-term ROI objectives while discovering untapped demand. But implementing analytics will require coordination across key management roles and business processes up and down each retail organization. Early adopters are realizing demonstrably significant value from their initiatives – double-digit improvements in margins, same-store and e-commerce revenue, inventory positions and sell-through, and core marketing metrics. A huge opportunity awaits.”

So how do you see your retail business adopting advanced analytics like AI and machine learning? I encourage you to read IDC’s report in detail, as it provides valuable insights to help you invest in – and apply – new kinds of analytics that will be essential to profitable growth.

For more information, download IDC’s “Why Retail Analytics are a Foundation for Retail Profits.

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About Joerg Koesters

Joerg Koesters is the Head of Retail Marketing and Communication at SAP. He is a Technology Marketing executive with 20 years of experience in Marketing, Sales and Consulting, Joerg has deep knowledge in retail and consumer products having worked both in the industry and in the technology sector.