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Clif Bar, Kohler, Pixar, Timberland Share the 'Secret Sauce' of Employee Engagement

Image credit: Clif Bar

“If you want to get people engaged, inspire them - don’t require them ... The most lasting changes people make are the ones they make themselves.” — Daniel Alvarez, Pixar Animation Studios

Research increasingly shows that purpose-driven employees are more productive and more deeply engaged, as well as more satisfied at work. We heard from a dynamic panel of forward-thinking companies – Pixar, Clif Bar, Timberland, Kohler and Harrah’s Resort Southern California - last week at SB’16 San Diego, on how they are leading the pack in inspiring their employees.

Their top tips to engaging employees in a meaningful way?

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  1. Give them a voice: Ask employees for their ideas and innovations and then work to put what makes sense in place.
  2. Make sure it’s representative: Form cross-functional teams that allow real understanding of what motivates employees across the company. These teams also shed light on what is possible on-the-ground.
  3. Share responsibility: Spread accountability for sustainability across the organization.
  4. Small steps for big change: Start small, create wins, and communicate them out.

When asked what they were most proud of at their organizations, the panelists share the following:

“Global Stewards Program” — Atlanta Mcllwraith, Sr. Manager Community Engagement & CSR Communication, Timberland

The Global Stewards Program is a team of passionate and dedicated employees who serve a voluntary two-year term, above and beyond their regular responsibilities, to collaborate on sharing and implementing Timberland’s “responsibility agenda.” Creative ideas are born from this group that really work on the ground. For example: Timberland learned that global team members often don’t read emails sent in English (it’s hard enough to stay on top of communication in your own language, let alone a second or third). The company now translates communication into the local language and distributes it via regional team members, and is now seeing increased readership and engagement.

“Mutual respect that has been built between corporate and manufacturing.” — Brigitte Dillman-Cruce, Curriculum Specialist, Kohler

Only a few months into her position, Dillman-Cruce started asking how the company was engaging the folks in the manufacturing plants. The answer was, it really wasn’t. By sharing the company’s CSR goals in a fun way and then asking employees for their ideas, she engaged employees in a dialogue that led to implementation of measures to save waste, water and energy, and improve safety and community. The results: strong engagement, appreciation and deeper mutual trust.

Pixar: “Directly experiencing positive employee feedback and culture.”

Alvarez got creative in engaging employees around Earth Week. He first set the stage for the event by creating an environment of curiosity, playing animal sounds in the lobby. Once he had people asking “what is this,” they began to ask “why” and so ensued a rich dialogue – set in an engaging event – between employees, local stakeholders, as well as friends and family on sustainability issues the company cares about. The positive response was incredible!

“Teammate enthusiasm.” — Beau Swanson, VP of Marketing, Harrah's

Harrah’s has just partnered with WeSpire to create an employee engagement platform and campaign, #CodeGreenAtHome, that rewards employees for taking actions at home with total return credits that can be used in an online store. Swanson is seeing increased interest, engagement and excitement. While #CodeGreen and #CodeGreenAtHome are too new to share big results, the early indications are promising. 300 employees have signed up and the company has distributed over $100,000 in credits.

“People with purpose driving performance.” — Keely Wachs, Director of Communications, Clif Bar

Purpose is baked into the Clif Bar brand. The company’s founders, Gary Erickson and Kit Crawford, turned down a lucrative buyout offer because they felt they could do more good creating a company with purpose. Thanks to an authentic approach to being a responsible business and an impressive array of benefits aimed at fostering not only work-life balance but work-life integration, 90 percent of employees at Clif Bar participate in the CLIF® CORPS volunteer program and 98 percent are proud of where they work. When you consider that 70 percent of people in the U.S. are not engaged in their jobs, it is clear that this company is doing something right. Wachs shared what may be the secret sauce: It all starts with what matters to their people. “Purpose drives performance. If we can get people circled around a bigger purpose, performance will improve and ultimately drive efficiency.”


Nicole Palkovsky advises small businesses and nonprofits on creating sustainability strategies that are innovative, create business value and drive performance across their organizations. She currently leads Ronald McDonald House Charities' Environmental Sustainability Program, directing a team of talented professionals… [Read more about Nicole Palkovsky]

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