Three tips to engage your employees

I was recently engaged in a conversation on how IBM keeps its employees engaged, although spread across so many countries and geographies and as always I thought I would share my opinions with the wider world. I would not dwell on the details, obviously.

According to a report from Gallup 70% of American workers are either not-engaged or actively disengaged, which means they’re disruptive and undermining workplace productivity. And here’s a related stat: “Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees cost the US $450 billion to $550 billion in lost productivity per year.” So imagine 7 out of 10 employees do not care, literally, what you do to engage employees.

A lot of leaders and program managers turned to Social Media, thinking this would be the solution and voila! They failed again. Gartner research estimates that 80% of social business initiatives would deliver disappointing results over the next three years.

So where are you heading?

A recent article by Gerald C. Kane highlights three reasons why our social business initiatives are failing:

1. Managers go into social business with unclear goals.
2. Initiatives start as pilots, and then fizzle out due to modest participation.
3. Companies expect social initiatives, even pilots, to deliver a financial return on investment.

So the question boils down to – how do we engage our workforce? Let’s watch this video which highlights what could be the solution:

I would also share three tips to create an engaging workforce, with examples of what we are doing in IBM.

  1. Break the visible walls: Last week I was at IBM’s Design Lab at 590, Madison Avenue, NY to meet Ethan McCarty, Director, Enterprise Social Strategy and Programs and it was clear to me why the IBM Design Lab is able to churn out top-drawer stuff frequently. The seating culture there is ‘open’ without any cubicles and hidden corners. Everyone on the team, work together on one table and that is the reason people are so creative at all times. I could sense a positive vibe in everyone I met!
  1. Break the invisible walls: A study by Oracle (2013) found that whilst 86% of companies have a Facebook site, closely followed by 82% with a LinkedIn account, just 18% having a specific Enterprise Social Network (ESN) platform. This highlights the gap between companies adopting Social Media externally (Recruitment, Marketing etc) and an internal ESN. Once again, IBM is leading this space, by a huge margin. IBMers, all of them, have access to and use IBM Connections, our ESN for our daily work. A lot of IBM’s internal communication has moved from emails to Connections – it is open now!

Check out, how Silvia Mihailescu, our guest blogger, and yours truly, are engaged in an open conversation, which is visible to all IBMers and will help anyone who is reading the conversation. IBM Connections Snapshot_Khalid Raza And this is just the beginning of what we do at IBM. We use activities, forums, files, blogs and all the capabilities IBM Connections provide to transform the work and become more productive each day. Click here to know more about IBM Connections.

  1. Build the culture of recognition: IBM has always been an organization which relies heavily on its culture of being inclusive. Will Runyon, Director, Brand System & IBMer Enablement, Sales Incentives and Global Recognition, is leading this work and last week shared with me the renewed focus around the same. I am excited about it. IBM is using recognition as a way to engage employees.

What are you doing in your organization to be engaged? Or are you waiting for a miracle? Share your thoughts.

Edited by: Vanitha Poojary


9 thoughts on “Three tips to engage your employees

  1. Khalid,
    thank you a great posting! I especially like the “Break the invisible walls” part, as this to me is something with the greatest impact: people can bee seen and people can see, what they and what others do. Becoming eminent on what you do and get rewarded by the interaction and comments on that is something that keeps people engaged and grows teamwork and collaboration and our knowledge as an organization and a network of people even outside the organization!


  2. I loved the importance on breaking the visible AND invisible walls. I also visited the IBM Design Lab in Austin and the have exactly the same vibe you described! And honestly some members thought “this is so not-IBM!”, well…that speaks about the cultural change we’re going trough at the company =) Exciting times! Thanks for blogging about this, I can literally see what you’re talking about


  3. Khalid – Very thoughtful analyses (and video) on the promise and challenges of social tools and behavior. I like the focus on “taking control of how and where you work and the tools you use” to eliminate boundaries. Our plans for virtual IBMer Recognition are designed to transcend boundaries and leverage both an office and virtual culture of thanks and appreciation. Saying thank you is a simple but very effective way to build trust, gratitude and engagement.


  4. Something that engages many of us in global companies, I think, though we don’t even realize it on a typical day: the opportunity for continual collaboration with people from all over the world. The people referred to in your post and commenting on it alone are from Argentina, Germany, India, Romania and the United States.

    But what if you work for a domestic company? Or what if you work at home and don’t have the opportunity to work co-located among your colleagues in an open office plan? You can still be creatively productive, which imho is another way of saying engaged; IBM Distinguished Engineer Emily Plachy blogged internally within one of our online technical communities relatively recently:

    “According to a study by Thomas Allen, office conversations are so powerful that simply increasing their quantity can dramatically increase creative production; people have more new ideas when they talk with more people. The highest performing employees, those with the most useful ideas, consulted with 4 to 9 colleagues, and lower performing employees consulted at most one to two employees.”

    My inference is that whether or not we are physically co-located in an office, we should aim to be in conversation with four to nine colleagues, and if they are from other countries, that’s just a serendipitous bonus.


  5. So much of these reports of low levels of engagement in the general workforce really seems to be based on a lack of trust. If this barrier could be eliminated, with workers treated as professionals, and work outcomes the main measure of success rather than “bums in seats”, this engagement number could be flipped to the positive. Maybe I feel this is possible because I have been working in such an environment at IBM for many years and see how successful it can be.


  6. Great article, being a visual person, I particularly liked the video. Performance is about the value you create and not how or where you work. Working with a global team, social collaboration tools help me to do this every day.


  7. Excellent blog Khalid. Great ideas on how to create the true innovative environment. The Gallup organization in “First break All of the Rules” discusses how we measure activity not results. To increase performance and engagement. The beauty of tool like Connections as an Enterprise Social Network, is that it enables both


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