10/28/2010 10:33 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bringing Innovation to Bear in Employee Engagement

An engaged workforce is often the hallmark of companies known for their innovation. Business success in the Great Recession, however, requires a slight twist -- using innovation to engage your employees.

Two snapshots in time from Towers Watson (formerly Towers Perrin) tell the story.

Global Workforce Study, 2007-2008

  • Companies with high employee engagement increased operating income by 19 percent and earnings per share by almost 28 percent
  • Those with low employee engagement saw operating income decline more than 32 percent and earnings per share decline more than 11 percent

Global Workforce Study, 2010 Employees have extremely low confidence in their leaders. Employees say they want a senior leader who:

  • Is trustworthy: 79 percent
  • Cares about the well being of others: 67 percent
  • Encourages development of talent in the organization: 56 percent
  • Is highly visible to employees: 42 percent
  • Manages financial performance successfully: 42 percent

(View and download the 2007-2008 Towers Perrin Global Workforce Study [PDF].
Learn more about the 2010 Towers Watson Global Workforce Study.)

So - engaged employees produce outstanding business results. But engaging them in this economic environment requires a major commitment from organizational leaders.

The payoff is more profound when you consider that employee engagement doesn't have to be expensive.

Workplace Weirdness

A visitor to the Las Vegas offices of Zappos finds people working, but also lots of chit-chatting and "a party down the hall that's been going on for an hour."

Zappos may have a weird workplace - but it's also one of the world's most successful online retailers. One person's weirdness is another person's innovation - with an admirable return on investment.

Employee Engagement Champions
The HP Digital Strategy organization is helping redesign the website - the most ambitious site makeover in the company's history. It's imperative for the team to feel valued, empowered and recognized during a period of great challenges.

To help do this, we created the Employee Engagement Champions Program. We give the volunteer "champions" the freedom to use their creativity and innovative spirit to help foster positive changes in our offices around the world.

Employee champion projects have included brown bag lunches with noontime speakers on professional topics of interest and informal potluck "block parties."

The activities give leaders a chance to talk to team members informally, to learn more about them and their families. In addition to making a positive contribution, the program gives the "champions" a chance to hone their project management and leadership skills.

The champions share ideas via monthly meetings, an internal social media tool and a newsletter. They can also draw from:

  • An internal HP blog offering "quick take" ideas for keeping teams engaged and focused
  • Internal wikis provide ideas for low-cost employee recognition and "virtual celebrations" for teams whose far-flung members work remotely

All of this costs very little - and helps fulfill many of the expectations expressed in the 2010 Global Workforce study. It just takes imagination and a willingness to try to new things - in other words, a little innovation goes a long way.