Building the feel-good factory

Inside business: Roger Trapp on a new approach to measuring employee commitment
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Anybody who has not been on Mars these past few years will be aware of the concept of employee satisfaction. Numerous consultancies are dispensing advice on how business performance can be improved by ensuring that employees are satisfied in their work.

But just as the gurus are encouraging organisations to think in terms of delighting rather than merely satisfying their customers, it is gradually being realised that employee satisfaction does not always achieve the results promised for it. As Keith Wells, a director with the Dragon consultancy, says: "The reason is that satisfaction does not equate to commitment." In other words employees exhibiting a high level of satisfaction in surveys still tend to leave because they have not "bought into" their organisations in much the same way that satisfied customers will still shop elsewhere because they have not been made totally loyal to one company or another.

However, Dragon, which specialises in corporate reputation, believes it has the means to measure commitment and so make appropriate decisions in such areas as communications and training.

At the heart of the Employee Commitment Model developed in association with Taylor Nelson AGB, its research partners, and Surveys of South Africa, is a technique developed by Jan Hofmeyr, a professor of religious studies in Cape Town, in an examination of what makes individuals convert from one religion to another. It has already been extended to political polling and to guiding strategies for retaining customers of branded goods and services.

Dragon feels the methodology can be applied to employee loyalty because it segments audiences by their level of commitment to a religion, political party, product or whatever (and thus proves how satisfaction alone is not a significant measure) and also because it enables organisations to predict the consequences of their actions.

The consultancy, whose clients include 3M, Barclays Bank, Scottish Power and Sainsbury, sees this area of activity going hand in hand with its work in corporate reputation. "The idea of employee commitment is both a fundamental component and a result of good corporation reputation," says Mr Wells.

Consequently, the organisation sees the Employee Commitment Model fitting in with the principles developed under the name of another Dragon trademark, Reputation Power. Basically, this amounts to measurement principles designed to produce differentiating factors as well as standards and to recognise the need for consistency and applicability across a range of interest groups. As far as Mr Wells is concerned building corporate reputation is all about addressing similar concerns for external and internal audiences.

As a result, employees will be seeking answers to such questions as "Who are we?", "Where are we going?" and "What's in it for me?" while customers or suppliers will want to know "Who are you?", "Where are you going?" and "What's in it for us?". The right answers to each will create a sense of involvement and an inclination to give the organisation the benefit of the doubt, both of which add up to a commitment to the business.

Mr Wells acknowledges that it is the sort of "soft stuff" that many organisations will feel inclined to suggest that they have a handle on when they are still some way adrift.

But the key is to be tough with regard to clients' statements, he says, pointing out that, for instance, the word "integrity" appears in so many mission statements that it cannot be taken at face value.

Dragon has plentiful examples of companies that are seeking to build corporate reputations by presenting themselves in a positive light along the lines of Glaxo Wellcome's claim that it is fighting disease rather than selling medicines. But what all this comes down to, stresses Mr Wells, is ensuring a fit between personal and corporate values. "It's breaking it down to 'Do I feel good about myself at work?'"