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1 A Markets of One Approach to Employee Engagement By Kevin D. Wilde and Cheryl Bethune Over the last few years, consumer marketing has entered a new era of extreme customization and one-to-one marketing. New products and services can now be tailored to specific consumer needs and wants rather than being solely mass-produced. Companies are already reaping the benefits of this level of customization, including the ability to meet specific needs in a unique way that will build greater loyalty over time. At General Mills, we are applying that thinking to our approach to employee surveys and as a result generating insights about employee engagement. Rather than solely relying on determining engagement based on overall averages from a standard survey applied throughout the organization, we began in 2006 to engage individual employees in a conversation via a series of engagement surveys every six months. Now, three years later, we are drawing new findings on how individuals experience the company over time and clarifying the biggest levers of true employee engagement and performance. The First Wave Of Engagement We began the first wave of individual dialogue as part of an effort to increase our onboarding effectiveness. General Mills had put in place very standard onboarding procedures and practices, and we recognized that we could increase the effectiveness of

2 our overall approach. As part of the improvement effort, we wanted to both measure the impact of the effort and reach out to new employees in a systematic way. General Mills engaged Sirota, a New York survey firm that designs and administers employee satisfaction surveys, and customized a program to talk to employees at various points in their tenure at General Mills. All new hires at the professional level and higher in the US were surveyed. Half of the employees were new hires just out of school, and the other half had -work experience before joining General Mills. Our survey covers about two dozen dimensions of employee satisfaction and engagement. Since the first wave of surveys, we have returned to this initial group every six months, repeating the relevant questions and dropping the early onboarding items. Each subsequent new hire population begins with the initial survey and is resurveyed every six months. After three years, we now have over 1,000 data points, each one representing a person who has taken this survey every six months since being hired. This longitudinal survey based on units of one evolved into a way of looking at how each person experiences early entry events, starting with onboarding and then continuing over time. First Round Survey and the Ongoing Core The initial survey questions offer a glimpse into the experiences of each employee during the first six months of employment. We wanted to see if people were having consistent, quality onboarding experiences over time. Initial survey questions asked at the end of the first six months of employment include:

3 My workplace was ready for me when I arrived (e.g. desk, phone, computer). My manager has explained our business strategy and how my role impacts team and company performance. Aspects of the position communicated during the recruitment process are consistent with my actual experience as an employee. My manager has helped me meet the internal and external people I need to know to do my job effectively. Each question is answered by rating the accuracy of the statement within a range of options; additional open-ended and yes/no questions are also asked, such as, Did your manager contact you prior to your first day of work? When employees are given the second and subsequent round of surveys, the questions pertaining to the first days of employment are omitted. During these subsequent surveys, a core set of questions was used, including: In my department we actively seek out differing points of view. My job is stimulating and challenging. I would like to be working with General Mills 3 years from now. A key difference between this survey methodology and traditional employee satisfaction surveys is that Sirota allows us to track individual data points and examine employee-specific answers while maintaining confidentiality. We were never given individual data, but through the survey company, could understand satisfaction and

4 engagement trends of individuals. The specificity of this data provides new insight into our markets of one approach. Rather than reports that cited mean scores and group averages, we began to understand the individual experiences of General Mills employees over time. What We Discovered: Employee Engagement and Turnover The first round survey allowed us to judge the quality of our start up onboarding practices. By asking an additional core set of engagement questions repeatedly, we have seen some questions emerge as key indicators of employee satisfaction. By studying the correlations among an index of employee engagement and the other items in the core question set we found consistent patterns. In fact, five factors alone accounted for nearly two-thirds of employee commitment. These items are: Opportunity for growth and development Stimulating and challenging job Productive onboarding experience. Good management experience. Consistent recruitment and work experience.

5 Key Factors of New Hire Engagement Other Factors 44% Opportunity for growth and development 18% Stimulating and challeniging job 11% Position comm. during recruitment is consistent with my exper. 7% Mgr has done a good job of helping me to perform in my new role. 10% Onboarding exper. has made me productive as soon as possible. 10% Consistently, 18% of engagement was based on development and growth, followed by stimulating and challenging work at 11%, productive onboarding experience and good management experience tied at 10%, and consistent recruitment and work experience at 7%. We dove deeper into the top three drivers to see if there was a correlation between answers on these questions, answers on a question about the employee s intent to stay at General Mills, and actual employee retention. When employees responded favorably on all three drivers, they were more likely to say that they would like to be working at General Mills in three years. When they were neutral or less satisfied on any one of these drivers, they were substantially less likely to say they would like to be working at General Mills in three years. Because we could track surveys to individuals, we could go a step further and looks at results of individuals who left the company within the first three years of employment. We found that not only were these factors correlated with the intent to stay

6 questions in the survey, they were also linked with actual turnover. For example, when employees responded favorably on all three drivers, voluntary turnover was 1% after 2 years. When employees were dissatisfied with one or more of those top three drivers, voluntary turnover in the same time period increased to 15% (see Table A). TABLE A # Resp on 3 Drivers # Vol Termination % Vol Turnover Delighted on All Three Engagement Drivers % Satisfied on All Three Drivers % Neutral on At Least One Driver % Dissatisfied on One or More Drivers % The Value: Turning Insights into Action Certainly, we weren t the first to discover the measurable connection between employee engagement and actual turnover. However, what is unique about the survey data we gathered is that we can track back along each specific data point as necessary to discover what additional leading indicators of dissatisfaction may have been lurking in the employee s early onboarding experience. For example, we can examine the survey data in a variety of ways by function or division, by experience level, by location, and by gender and ethnicity. When we dive deeper into engagement scores by division or function, we can analyze the performance of those top five drivers, as well as other important drivers that may influence

7 satisfaction, and determine whether a particular department or function might need focused attention on one of these specific engagement drivers. This active consulting with lower scoring departments produced measureable improvements. For example, results from one department show how issues can be recognized early, corrected, and improved on over time: "My manager has done a good job helping me to perform in my new role" % Favorable FALL 06 SPRING 07 FALL 07 SPRING 08 FALL 08 This key driver had room for improvement in this department when the first two surveys were performed. With targeted intervention, we were able to improve the scores by a significant amount during the following three survey cycles. Getting Off to a FastStart for Experienced Hires Another way that we ve addressed lower scores around behavior of management is by implementing a program called FastStart. FastStart is designed for new hires with

8 previous work experience and their managers. The initiative aims to help these new hires adapt to the General Mills culture and become productive in their new roles quickly. In addition, manager participation in the program is highly encouraged; managers who actively participate in FastStart with their new hires will more clearly understand their role and the challenges they need to help the new hires overcome. FastStart gives employees an opportunity to talk one-on-one with their managers in a safe environment. During the first part of the program, we ask employees, What s the one conversation you need to have with your manager that you aren t having? After facilitating and sharing best practices for having those conversations, we invite managers to join employees for one-on-one breakout sessions. The turnout for these events is high and managers find as much value in them as the new hires. After the FastStart training, new hires are better equipped for success in their new roles. The training gives them the tools to navigate common early experiences, connects them with cohorts in similar situations, and helps them understand the General Mills matrix and how they can build influence within it. Including the manager in the training also gives new hires and managers the opportunity to discuss issues and challenges that might not be openly discussed in a day-to-day environment, and sets the relationship between new hire and manager on the right road for long-term success. The statistical results show great progress, but we also see significant changes in the responses to open ended questions about managers. Some of the comments given about managers in a follow-up study of FastStart graduates provide encouraging feedback about the success of the program:

9 My manager is in constant communication with me and always encourages questions and feedback. My manager sets high expectations that drive growth, allows us to attempt to meet these expectations so we grow, then ultimately helps us finish the project to deliver the needed results. This is an excellent development style. My manager is giving me challenging, interesting projects with the right resources to succeed. The success of our FastStart program helps illustrate how the unique aspects of this survey can avert problems before they become entrenched or even turn around some issues that have become entrenched. Instead of having a few poor engagement scores absorbed into means and averages of mostly-positive survey results, we can drill down as far as we must to uncover the root issues and address them. At the same time, the longitudinal aspect of the survey allows us to pinpoint with some accuracy when they begin and if they are improving after focused attention. The combination of specificity and time allows us to give employee engagement more than just lip service. Instead of designing broad programs that we throw out to the general population, we can pinpoint where programs are most needed, what kind of programs make the most sense, and how those programs have helped or where they need correction. Key Findings

10 With several cycles of surveys and many data points to track, we have been able to glean three key findings from our surveys. First, by continually giving departments feedback over time, the departments continually improve. The trend line in each department indicates that employees are having better and better experiences. Second, the slope of employee enthusiasm holds true. Survey firms tell us that employee satisfaction starts high, dips, then goes up again, but never returns to the level of the first six months of employment. Even in a 30-year career, enthusiasm will never be as high as it is initially. An employee who might be at a 9.5 of 10 on an enthusiasm scale in the first six months might decline to a 5.5 on that same scale at the three to four-year mark. Many factors can contribute to this decline, but often this point presents a career crossroads where an employee considers whether to take a long career path at the current company or jump to another rung on a different corporate ladder. If the employee stays and pursues a career path with the current company, the enthusiasm scale might rise to an 8.5 at retirement, but it will never go all the way back to the early career high (see chart, Employee Engagement Curve ).

11 Employee Engagement Curve Employee Satisfaction mos 5 years 20 yrs 30 yrs Length of Employment Engaged Employee Under-engaged Employee After five rounds of surveys, we can see that this slope holds true. Employees will start high, dip, then rise again and hold at approximately the General Mills average of 8.5 on a scale of 1-10 in gauging employee satisfaction. What is particularly interesting in gauging individual satisfaction levels is that no matter what the initial satisfaction level, the slope still holds true. In other words, if the initial satisfaction starts at 7, it will still dip, then rise again, but will never rise as high as the overall average. We ve determined that the key to getting employee satisfaction off to a good start is to have a successful onboarding period in the first six months. If the onboarding period is successful and the employee satisfaction after the first six months is high, then that employee has a much greater chance of settling into a consistent level of high satisfaction in the long run. Our third finding was that of the approximately 20 factors gauging employee satisfaction and retention, the most important set of items are the ones around the manager s behavior. Over time, this insight has become the driving force of our

12 onboarding practices and ultimate engagement with the company. Rather than focus on the external onboarding factors such as making the onboarding intranet website better or improving new employee procedures, we realized that we need to focus on making our managers better. Conclusions and Recommendations Since we began conducting these in-depth surveys with employees in 2006 we ve learned a great deal. Some of these insights validate common sense, some challenge myths, and some are completely new. First, the combination of tracking individual responses in conjunction with the confidential nature of the responses gives us an invaluable opportunity to have one-onone, candid conversations with each of over 1,000 employees every six months. These surveys are especially revealing because they don t just look at the aggregate, but rather allow for individual responses and tracking. It s essentially a one-on-one conversation with each employee that allows a measure of custom marketing to our employees. Second, of all the factors we survey about two dozen what really translates into -engaged and productive employees is the quality of the relationship with the manager. Other surveys and studies hint at this connection and draw this conclusion, but our surveys show it definitively and with specificity to each employee. Third, employees are never as positive about their engagement as they are in the first six months. After six months, engagement and satisfaction levels generally regress to standard company levels, which are fairly high in comparison with others across our

13 industry. Nevertheless, this slope reinforces our belief in the importance of a high-quality onboarding experience. Fourth, the depth of these surveys can serve as a quality metric and change instrument. We use these surveys as a consulting tool as we go to divisions and functions, and the surveys allow us to share best practices across functions. This way, we encourage consistency and strengthen the company as a whole. To stay on the cutting edge of innovation and a step ahead of the competition, every company needs motivated, creative, productive employees. With our markets of one method of gauging employee engagement, General Mills has been able to find new insights that will help us improve engagement over time. We ve found hard statistics that link engagement to turnover and discovered how deeply the quality of manager interaction affects engagement. As a result, we have developed new programs and tools to help to ensure a high level of onboarding quality across the enterprise. All in all, we believe that this practice of markets of one will continue to build a strong employer brand and a highly engaged workforce. Kevin D. Wilde is responsible for world-wide people growth at General Mills, including talent management, executive development and the Leadership Institute. Since he joined the company in 1998, the organization has been consistently recognized for its innovative development work, highlighted by Fortune s #6 ranking as one of the best companies in the world at leadership development and Training magazine s #5 designation as a top

14 company for employee development. In 2007, Chief Learning Officer magazine selected Kevin as CLO of the year. Kevin is a columnist for Talent Management magazine and serves on the editorial board for a number of professional journals. His work has been published in over a dozen books, including Coaching For Leadership and the Pfieffer Annual on Leadership Development. Cheryl Bethune leads the corporate Onboarding practice at General Mills and plays an active role in a number of Organization Effectiveness programs. As Organization Effectiveness Manager, Cheryl is responsible for the company s core leadership development offerings with the General Mills Leadership Institute. Cheryl is a major force in the quality onboarding and development of people at General Mills and has been instrumental in driving organizational change as well as successful work system redesign.

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