UNC Kenan-Flagler Sustainability Blog

Fostering employee engagement to boost sustainabilty

January 24, 2011 By Carol Seagle

This guest blog is by Thanamon Panyadilok, a UNC Kenan-Flagler exchange student.

To sustain a business, the business must be able to make profit and managers should be most concerned with how to achieve a sustainable profit. While some in management focus exclusively on cost cutting to enhance profit, Anne Clair Broughton, who was a guest speaker in our Strategies in Sustainable Enterprise class, and the article  Engaging Individuals: People Want to Help–Sustainability Fosters Engagement, Which Fosters Sustainability emphasized the importance of employee engagement as it affects the value of business.  According to both sources, people are the key success factor of the business. They believe that engaged employees result in many positive outcomes for company, including higher profit, productivity and efficiency, customer satisfaction, customer retention, and low employee turnover. Any business needs employee engagement to implement strategies for sustainability and to survive, particularly in times of crisis.

Anne Clair Broughton from SJF Institute conducted a research on 24 case studies of fast growing entrepreneurial firms that are using a suite of employee engagement and ownership strategies that they closely correlate with improved business performance. The finding of the research is those companies have low employee turnover, high customer satisfaction, and strong customer retention.  Some of them believe that employee engagement practices really help them during the hard times. Broughton suggested the top 10 components for any organization to achieve employee engagement which are:

1. High Involvement Hiring

2. Extensive Training

3. Promotion from Within

4. Culture of Respect and Trust

5. Communicating Core Values

6. Sharing Key Success Metrics

7. Employee Participation

8. Celebrating Success

9. Performance Based Compensation

10. Sharing Ownership Broadly

While Broughton stressed the importance of employee engagement at the organization level, the article emphasized that engaging people for a sustainable strategy should start with creating sustainability in the individual level. The article talks about “Personal Sustainability Practice (PSP)” and “Personal Sustainability Project”, introduced within some companies such as Wal-Mart, and what they learned from those cases. They cite that “sustainability does not engage individuals unless it first and foremost solves problems they experience in their lives” and “to execute a strategy for sustainability, you must engage individuals personally”.  Werbach suggests five steps to follow and four traps to avoid for individuals to engage other people successfully which are:

Five Steps:

1. Start with your own leadership passion

2. Tell your own stories

3. Challenge yourself to go long

4. Support early adopters and latecomers

5.Stay positive

Four Traps to avoid:


2.Using scary facts without the good news

3.Evoking authority

4.Not giving people a place to start

Although SJF and the article draw on different approaches to engage people, both are trying to suggest a prototype to attain employee engagement that eventually brings about success strategies for sustainability.  Thanks to what I have learned so far, I strongly believe that PEOPLE are the most important factor for business to thrive and sustain in 21st century. I agree that any business should employ the “Top 10s” gradually and continuously to engage their workforce. Furthermore, all employees should be empowered individually to be engaged with their company.

Since all companies are different in many aspects, the challenge is how a company can follow these suggestions appropriately. The most essential parts are recruitment process and communication process. A firm does not require only a proper way to communicate the core values and cultures to employees, but also demands a particular selection process to acquire right people who are possible to be engaged and worthwhile to put effort in. A success case discussed in class is Southwest Airline, the only consistently profitable U.S. airline (R. Oliva and J. offer Gittell. “Southwest Airlines in Baltimore.” Harvard Business Press. 2002).  It has recruited right people, had clear values and cultures communication, and successfully engaged employees.

I believe that firms should mainly focus on appropriate recruitment and communication process, and then utilizes other elements in the “Top 10” to support its employee engagement. Moreover, the management should empower their employees by following what Werbach suggests to encourage higher engagement level. These approaches can make a firm more capable to achieve business sustainability.

One Comment

  1. Yah