Darci Darnell: Employee Engagement



While most companies talk about employee engagement, few focus on the real issue—inspiration. Darci Darnell, leader of Bain's Customer Strategy & Marketing practice in the Americas, discusses how organizations can give employees the purpose and power that will help them to serve customers better.

Read the Bain Briefs: Energetic, Enthusiastic and Creative | Who's responsible for employee engagement?

Read the transcript below.

DARCI DARNELL: Employee engagement's a hot topic at the C-suite and at the front line. But what is employee engagement? It's a term that seems to mean being happy, being engaged at work, showing up and not leaving your company.

But when we think about employee engagement at play for customers, we're looking for something more. When we surveyed 2,500 different people to understand what is engagement, what drives engagement, and what companies can do differently, we learned some really interesting things. Number one, inspiration is the goal, not engagement. Many employees are satisfied. They get what they need from their company to do the job that they have in front of them. They can learn and grow, but they're not necessarily going to bring that energy, that enthusiasm, that creativity that customers need to feel in order to build customer advocacy.

And so what is inspiration, then? It's feeling personally affiliated with the company's mission and purpose, feeling like you're in a job that has the right fit for you. You've got the autonomy to make decisions that will make your life and your customers' lives better, and you're affiliated with a winning team. And importantly, your frontline supervisor and the most senior people in your organization are encouraging you to make decisions to make customers' lives better.

Now, the problem is, is that most employees out there are, in fact, not inspired. We found that less than 15% of people we surveyed would answer that their job inspired them. So what can companies do differently?

In our minds, this needs to be bottoms up, not top down. This is not essentially driven employee survey process that is disseminated to leaders who then act upon those insights. Instead, we need to give the power to the people. We need to have team-based conversations that talk honestly and candidly about what will encourage them to do things differently in the front line, help them elevate issues they can't control, and change their own behavior—themselves, their supervisors, and their teams.

If everyone's having that conversation, people will be at-cause. They'll feel empowered. They'll feel autonomous. And [they'll feel they have] the ability to change the way they work every day. And that's what companies need to do. This is not about free lunches and ping pong tables. This is about giving people purpose at work to feel like they make an impact on other people's lives.

Read the Bain Briefs: Energetic, Enthusiastic and Creative | Who's responsible for employee engagement?