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Is employee engagement the CMO challenge of the decade?

CMO challenge CMO challenge
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The critical issue of disengaged employees directly affects consumer experience, your brand and your business' longevity, so tackling this should be of the highest priority.

David Newberry has worked extensively within the tech industry as a CMO, co-founder, consultant and author.

Currently Newberry is the founder of Market-in-360, a consulting service around corporate strategy, brand management and sales methodology and acts as an advisor for Sococo.

His past roles include head of marketing at Tungsten Network, Pitney Bowes Software and Portrait Software, whilst his publications include Marketing Undressed and Startup Ignition.

“I knew that if I could get the people in the company to want the company to succeed as badly as I did, there would not be a problem that we could not solve together.” James Lincoln, Lincoln Electric.

Today, the biggest CMO challenge is that employees are becoming less engaged in their workplace.

This is now becoming a critical issue and it is not only impacting employee productivity but it is also influencing customer relationships.

In an age of customer obsession and corporate transparency, company culture is now becoming more directly tied to brand perception.

As all of us are aware, how companies act is now more important than what they say. The reality is that no company can afford to let its brand promise get ahead of its customer experience.

This CMO challenge is compounded as employees take an ever-increasing role in defining the experience that is delivered to the customer.

This is obvious when considering retailers where employee contact is a core component of the total customer relationship but it is also just as critical in other organizations.

Even in B2B organizations, how a customer is treated at reception can have a huge influence on how an organization is perceived.

So why is this? Quite simply as humans we crave human contact and when many of the other interactions are digital, it is the human-to-human engagements that leave the biggest impression on the customer.

So what is driving this CMO challenge? There are a number of factors that are contributing to this situation and the 4 main reasons can be summarized as follows:

  1. Leaders are becoming further removed from their employees and their customers.

In a 2013 Forrester Research study, 80% of executives believed their organization delivered superior customer service yet only 8% of companies whose customers were surveyed received a top grade for customer experience.

In the Edelman Trust Barometer report, trust in information from a company’s top leader now sits at just 17%.

Command and control management structures are inhibiting employees displaying their individual creativity, solving challenges, making decisions and developing personal skills.

A great example of overcoming this CMO challenge is how Vineet Nayar, who took the helm of HCL Technologies in 2005, transformed the organization to become the fastest growing IT services companies in the world through his “Employees First, Customers Second” program.

“Hire the right people, give them the resources and tools to do the job and then get the hell out of their way” CEO, Nucor.

  1. Employees are lacking visibility and understanding in the company’s core purpose.

Another CMO challenge is typified in this recent CMO Council study on “Engaging employees in shaping corporate culture and brand personality” only 37% of respondents have a culture that is embraced by the corporation.

In a Deloitte 2013 “Culture of Purpose” survey both employees (68%) and executives (66%) agree that businesses do not do enough to instil in their culture a sense of purpose aimed at making a meaningful impact.

  1. Teams are becoming more distributed.

Remote work is quickly gaining popularity in the US: in 2009, almost a quarter of U.S. workers (23%) telecommuted and that number will jump to 43% by 2016.

In a recent Ipsos/Reuters poll, about one in five workers around the globe, particularly employees in the Middle East, Latin America and Asia, telecommute frequently and nearly 10% work from home every day which poses a particular CMO challenge if in charge of an international workforce who operate by different methods.

  1. The traditional thinking is that employee engagement is an HR responsibility but it is not.

It is without doubt a leadership issue and in my mind the CMO along with the CEO are best equipped to address this.

The involvement of the CMO is critical due to the importance of employees in building successful customer relationships but also as communication and engagement is a key marketing skill.

Organizations need to recognize that employee engagement as a CMO challenge can no longer be ignored.

It is a serious issue and it needs to be addressed.

In fact I would go so far as to say that organizations that treat employee engagement as a corporate priority will gain significant competitive advantage.

A couple of case studies would be:

  • Zappos; they have delegated all decisions to the front lines – the people who are closest to the customers. They let their customer service reps decide what’s best for the customers instead of having specific policies for each case.

That trust can go a long way in building more engaged employees whilst the CMO challenge here is to enhance the overall customer experience.

“We’re willing to give up short-term profits or revenue growth to make sure we have the best culture. In fact, after orientation we offer people $2,000 not to work at Zappos. The ones who stay are right for our culture.” Tony Hsieh, CEO Zappos.

  • Southwest Airlines; 97% of employees approve of the leadership of Gary C. Kelly, Vice Chairman and CEO of Southwest Airlines. That is quite a statistic and demonstrates real employee engagement.

Employee engagement is not a quick fix, it is a way of life and needs to be continuous.

It is like culture; you can’t create a new culture, you can only evolve it.

The reason is that culture, like employee engagement, is down to how people behave. It is not words, it is actions and it takes time to change how people behave. However, you can only start the journey if you take the first step.

Here are four areas to consider in starting the journey and tackling this CMO challenge:

Core purpose

Ensure that the organization has a clear and easy to understand core purpose.

Put it in a way that details, “how you will make the lives of your customers’ better”. It should be authentic, have clarity and be achievable.

It should also seamlessly integrate with the company values that define the principles on which it will be delivered.

To take this to the next level, consider developing and sharing an executive balanced scorecard with all employees so they know how the company is progressing and where the challenges lie.

This is about transparency and integrity.

Talent amplifier

With a crystal clear core purpose, corporate priorities and desired outcomes, organizations can overcome from this CMO challenge and devolve from a command and control management style to one where more responsibility is handed down to individual employees.

This unlocks their creativity, helps create a more dynamic environment and empowers employees with responsibility, respect and trust to find the best way to deliver the required outcomes.

This is about trust and respect.

Lean collaboration

Employee engagement as a CMO challenge is closely linked to time; a value quickly becoming the new corporate currency.

Time management and more importantly the waste of employee time is becoming the biggest drain on corporate talent.

It is important to find ways to reduce the number and length of update meetings and the number of corporate emails traversing the company.

Your CMO challenge is to move towards a more agile work environment where spontaneous interaction and decision-making becomes the norm.

This is about reducing time waste and increasing responsiveness.


Technology can help employees become more engaged.

It can help people better understand who their colleagues are and enable closer relationships. It can help improve information flow on corporate direction, activities and overall progress.

It can also help improve productivity when people do get together and to create a better collaboration culture.

I wouldn’t usually promote any one company but in this instance Sococo is a game changer as it recreates the personal proximity and functionality of a physical office in an online experience.

Every team that is looking to address employee engagement as their main CMO challenge should consider their platform.

In summary, if you are not thinking about employee engagement as a CMO challenge you should be.

Even if you don’t have or won’t be able to secure a mandate for the corporation, you can still transform your own team. The benefits will be significant and if you succeed, you can be sure that others will follow.

It is one of the benefits of behavior over process.

If the desire is there, it is easier to change, as it all comes down to how individuals wish to act.

If you can start the flywheel, you never know how significant the overall benefits could be to the organization, so don’t hesitate to approach this CMO challenge, take that first step now and start spinning the wheel.