Employee engagement techniques from Tim Sanders (the transcript)

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Posted by Joel Capperella

August 24, 2011

A few weeks ago, Tim Sanders and I discussed employee engagement techniques for the entire workforce. Central to Tim's message was the importance of building strong business relationships with full-time workers and contingent labor. He reminds us that the voice of your contract workers is just as loud as that of your permanent staff, and like permanent staff, they will form opinions about your organization, its culture, and its employment brand. And they won't be scared to share them.

Read below or download the complete transcript of our conversation to read more about becoming problem finders and solvers and developing a strong corporate culture.

Employee engagement techniques for the entire workforce: A podcast with Tim Sanders

Joel: Thanks again for tuning in to another opportunity for a thought leader to speak with us about some of the things that we write about here on Seamless Workforce. Today, I'm pretty honored to have Tim Sanders with us. Tim is the CEO of Deeper Media. He's an author of best-selling books such as Love is a Killer App. He’s also a former Yahoo! Executive, back when Yahoo! had a lot more groundbreaking activity in the tech space than they have today. Tim, first of all, thanks very much for taking some time with us.

Tim:  My pleasure.

Joel:  Today, Tim, you talked about selling in a solutions society and really having us in the day-to-day become more problem solvers, or problem finders, so we can solve those problems. One of the things I want to ask you to do for our readers is help me understand what you mean by “finding problems to solve” and how it will affect what I'm doing on a day-to-day basis, regardless of what my role might be.

Tim:  When you think about your customers, and you think about what you do, you have to think more about what your business model runs on. You have to think about the business process and where it's broken. So when you go out and talk to customers, one of the great things to do is to talk to them about what's going right, what's going wrong, and the challenges they face that keep them up at night. And ask that question without it even being relevant to your product set.

The most important thing about being a good problem finder is curiosity. So it's not a sales trick. You're not trying to get them to say, “I need more of your product.” What you're trying to get them to tell you is, “Where in our business model do we have problems? Do we have technology problems? Do we have financial operations problems? Do we have talent problems? Where are the problems in the business model?”

Once you begin to identify the problems, then and only then should you begin to ask yourself if you have either core services, capacities, or assets that can be brought to bear.

The other thing is that I think that we have to research the problems before we ask the customers the problems. So my team at Yahoo! back in 2001 and 2002, before we'd go take a meeting with a customer, we would do hours and hours of research, reading from the outside in about the problems they faced based on what analysts were saying about them, or articles or even just industry-wide problems that they faced. So when we asked the customer, we weren't just finding problems. We were finding specific problems because we knew the right questions to ask.

Joel:  Now, I would assume, especially through your work with Deeper Media and the companies that you're helping, that it has to be ingrained in part of the corporate culture of an organization to empower their employees to do that sort of thing. Has that been your experience and, if so, what are the tricks I can do to start to push my organization in that direction?

Tim:  One of the things has to do with meeting culture. We have to learn that customer meetings should not start out with a PowerPoint. We should not lead with capabilities and products. We should lead with a conversation. So we have to convince everyone that the first 30 minutes of a meeting should be a deep dive into the customer's set of problems. That's the first change.

We should also create an organization where solutions can come from everywhere. So CareerBuilder, for example, has a product called the “Ideas from Everywhere,” which Matt Ferguson built for their employees, where every employee in the entire company can have an idea that's a solution to a relevant customer problem, and it gets listened to throughout the organization. So that's another great way to spread that out because a lot of your employees don't think that their solution ideas count, that they're welcome, or that there's an audience for them. So spreading those ideas out to the edges makes a big difference, too.

Joel:  Sure, so last question because I want to bring it home to the topics that our readers care most about. When I'm plugging temporary staff or contingent work or contracted labor project teams into my organization, more often than not it's seen as a necessity—as an operational checkbox, if you will. Do you think it needs to be more than that, to tie that type of labor to the things that you just discussed about solving the problems that our marketplace has? And secondly, if that's true, how do I go about making that part of the workforce more engaged, more important, so I'm not just looking at it as a purchase order, but I'm looking at it as an integral part of my overall workforce?

Tim:  I grew up near an Air Force base in Clovis, N.M. And at our church, our lead pastor had a rule that no military family could ever have a position of authority because they were so transient. They would move away a year later or two years later. That was an awful idea. What he really should have done was welcomed and considered them, even though they would only be with us for a year, to be part of the life blood of the church and maybe even create more of an alumni view.

I think that companies think the same way about contingent labor forces—that when a person comes to work for you, even if she's only on contract for 60 days, she's a part of the company's history forever. Her contributions matter, even when she moves on. And we have to understand that she will form attitudes and beliefs about your employer brand that she will spread via social media and word of mouth for a very, very long time.

We continue to worry about the employee experience and what they're telling folks, but what we start to ignore is the contingent employee and how they feel. So consider their voice as big. Consider their megaphone as loud, and think of them as alums if you're going to bring them in.

Joel:  Tim, I think that's great. I want to thank you again for the time. And, again, Tim is CEO of Deeper Media, and you can check out his new book, which is called Today We Are Rich. Tim, thanks so much for your time.

Tim:  Thank you.

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