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How Gamification, Education, Cultural Immersion Could Be the Holy Grail of Employee Engagement

L-R: Luke Filose, Jeana Wirtenberg and Cindy Ortega | Image credit: Randy Tunnell/SB

In the effort to reach new milestones in employee engagement, we must recognize that the process is a journey. Successful corporate responsibility efforts must be embedded throughout the organization, as exemplified by the fine examples from this panel at SB ‘15 San Diego.

Susan Hunt Stevens, founder of WeSpire, welcomed everyone to this Wednesday afternoon breakout session on gamification, educational services and culture shifts in employee engagement. According to an oft-cited statistics this week, more than half of employees are disengaged at work.

But what does that mean? As Jeff Senne later pointed out, these people are still "showing up to work.” It’s not as if businesses are being forced to shut their doors — employees are performing the jobs they get paid to do. But how many of them are going the extra mile?

At PwC, Senne uses a textbook definition to measure employee engagement: “the willingness to apply discretionary effort to accomplish tasks important to the achievement of organizational goals.” You know, going the extra mile.

With this definition in mind, let’s dive into some of the case studies and milestones shared by our expert panelists. Moderator Jeana Wirtenberg of Transitioning to Green began with some statistics that illustrated the impact of employee engagement on a business’s bottom line. Here were two that really hit home:


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  • Companies with engaged employees grow profits 3x faster
  • Highly engaged organizations have 87 percent less turnover

So yes, we want more engagement. When MGM Resorts International made the decision to prioritize sustainability, they realized the need to develop a business case. For a company with 17 resorts and 48,000 hotel rooms, selling memorable experiences is a key focal point of its business. And with 62,000 employees, the ones on the front line are often most responsible for delivering the customer experience. As the company made the decision to move towards sustainability, Cindy Ortega and her team knew that getting employees to respect the environment was the first piece of the puzzle.

The company developed its My Green Advantage program using the WeSpire platform. It became a newsfeed for employees to share and learn about more conscious actions. By communicating to employees that sustainability begins at home, the incentivized behaviors started to carry over into the workplace.

Since launching the program, 19,500 employees (31 percent) have participated, and competitions between MGM properties has led to 1.4 million “green” actions. If you’re looking to develop an online platform within your own organization, Ortega offered that you’ll need an ongoing support staff to continue “beating that drum.”

Securing buy-in at the leadership level is another success driver. Lastly, incentives also play a role; one metric in determining the employee bonus pool is participation rate in My Green Advantage.

Intel’s Luke Filose also uses competition to drive employee engagement, through a program built around in-depth volunteer experiences. The IntelliCorp program offers employees the opportunity to spend time in a developing country where Intel technology is being used.

Among the wide array of issues that Intel employees have worked on is addressing the Internet gender gap in Africa. One employee called it “the single most eye-opening experience” in his 14 years at Intel.

But not just anybody gets the chance to go — Filose says the application process is as competitive as Harvard Business School. Those that get selected undergo a few months of training before embarking on two weeks of travel. If you’re looking to set up a skills-based volunteer program, Filose is more than happy to help. “I would love to help any company start this type of program. It’s so rewarding.”

Whether it’s an online portal to increase engagement around sustainability or a volunteer program that send employees around the world, the panelists agreed embedding purpose into your company culture requires buy-in from the top level.

So it was no surprise thatSenne engaged 500 of PwC’s most senior employees in his latest effort to transform culture. The company expects more than 70 percent of its workforce to be comprised of millennials by 2020, and no past generation has been more outspoken about its desire to connect with the values of the organization they work for.

To that point, the “Holy Grail” for PwC is currently all about purpose and mission. What’s purer than having value embedded in the business strategy than having it in the purpose statement? Here’s PwC’s purpose: Build trust in society and solve important problems.

It appears that the effort is paying off. As of the latest numbers, 91 percent of PwC employees took part in a Corporate Responsibility activity. Most companies would feel pretty good about that, but it’s challenged Senne to up the ante. He changed the baseline requirement from 1 activity to 2, which bumped the number down to 41 percent.

But Senne acknowledged it’s not all about internal propaganda. A strong employee engagement program starts with the individual, helping them find ways to achieve their purpose through their work with PwC.


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