Human Potential

The Blind Spot in Organizations: The First Line Employee Engagement

When was the last time you visited a store and found the perfect store assistant? Not only did he know all about the latest designs, features and offers, he helped you make the right choice by asking all the relevant questions. That’s an experience that does not come easy because most organizations tend to miss the special needs of the first line employee, focusing largely on the knowledge workers or the back-office staff.

The importance of first line workers cannot be emphasized enough. They are the most important yet unrecognized brand ambassadors of the businesses they serve. A survey by Harvard Business Review Analytics Services1 shows that 78% of business leaders believe that connecting and empowering their first line workers is critical to achieving a high level of customer satisfaction, sadly, only a small number of organizations typically act on this.

As digital disruption invades our offices and factories, it is time for enterprises to look at including the front line employees in their workplace transformation programs to drive business performance.

The front line employees’ need to belong

I recently met the CIO of a major manufacturing company who was seeking ways to enhance employee experience and productivity. The company had a strong workplace transformation plan in place with the latest state of the art technology, yet adoption was disappointingly low. What went wrong here?

Most corporate organizations run periodical engagement programs that often fail to make a connect with the front line employees. Choosing one single engagement platform for the entire organization can be disastrous. Particularly in large organizations, it does not help employees identify with their workplace needs or connect with the larger organizational vision, causing them to feel isolated.

Front line employees are usually positioned far away from corporate offices; therefore, they need to be engaged effectively so that the organization can meet the following needs:

  1. Inclusiveness: Do the first line employees identify with the vision of the organization? Do they feel connected and take pride in belonging to the company, its culture and values?
  2. Knowledge and training: Is the company including them in their corporate communications and sharing of institutional knowledge? Do they have easy access to relevant training and opportunities to grow and apply their skills?
  3. Appropriate tools and processes: Catering to the end customer is not an easy task. One has to be agile, well informed, and creative. Is the company providing them with the necessary tools that are intuitive and easily available, are the processes digitized for optimal performance?
  4. Real-time collaboration: Sharing achievements, challenges, and solutions on a real-time basis across the community of first line workers can not only motivate them but lead to finding innovative solutions with collaborative efforts and instill a sense of harmony
  5. Safety: The front line employees are custodians to a lot of sensitive customer data and need to work in secure environments that protect them from security risks.

To appreciate the above needs, let’s take an example of a first line employee of a telecom company. The employee is provided with a mobile device that keeps him posted on relevant information from the back end systems, as well as other events occurring in his local geography. This would help him identify problems and provide appropriate solution to customers reducing complaint resolution time. A notification about a road repair work resulting in broken cable connection is an example.

Why workplace transformation is tricky

As my conversation with the aforementioned CIO deepened, it became apparent that his workplace transformation program, even with state of the art technology, was not successful because of two key reasons - the initiative did not differentiate between the varied environments and work cultures of its employees and secondly, workplace analytics was not being used effectively.

Appreciating different work styles

When making a promise to deliver a value driven environment for better productivity, organizations need to be cognizant of the different types of employees and their work styles. A single department could have employees coming from various backgrounds. Millennials, part-timers, contract based. People with different attitudes and attributes – from the self-motivated to those seeking constant support, the digital natives to the digitally challenged. Within the same organization, there are different work cultures, depending on the business units they work in. Factory workers in hazardous environments, knowledge workers engaged with complex data, front line workers at company showrooms and stores or in client locations.

Envisioning the digital workplace needs of your workforce is a critical step organizations need to undertake before embarking on their workplace technology transformation initiatives. A collaborative platform that works for the knowledge workers may fail completely with the front line employees because the conversations are not mapped to their needs. Similarly, while millennials are very comfortable with a chat based workspace and social collaboration platforms like Yammer, the mid management comprising of older employees may prefer platforms like emails, collaboration portals & products like Skype for Business.

It is essential to create a collaborative environment that facilitates the formation of relevant social hubs aligned to the workstyle of the teams it caters to. This will facilitate effective collaboration and exchange of ideas amongst employees, thus creating focused networks of teams. These social hubs can be interlinked to corporate employee engagement platforms to create networks that empower employees to be more and do more.

Understanding and measuring employee engagement

The best of workplace technologies will not work, if the organization does not know its workers well enough. To do that, you need workplace analytics. If you know the skill sets, attributes, personality and the competency of your workers, you can give them a conducive environment and job roles that bring out the best in them. You can empower, motivate and influence them to behave in a manner that aligns best with the organizational goals.

Analytics in HR has traditionally been low but with recent changes in viewpoints, workplace analytics is now being considered as an important part of the larger business-wide analytics. Organizations are not only using data driven decision making in the field of recruitment, performance, and compensation but are venturing into interaction analytics, which is the study of employee behavior and organizational network behavior.

The challenges of measuring data related to employee engagement and satisfaction is being addressed with new innovative technologies that measure emotions, thus bringing more parameters under observation, which are then used to build different culture models. People analytics are using data not only from HR but other co-related functions like financial or customer service to drive a more holistic approach to solving people related business problems, thereby driving better business outcomes.

While the focus of this article is on the front line employee, an organization must aspire to excel at bringing value and enabling each one of its employees. Infosys was recently certified as a Top employer in Europe in 2018 by the Top Employers Institute. It demonstrates our commitment to the employee. As Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell said “To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace”. To know more, read our workplace transformation stories on Infosys.com.

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