How To Leave The Disengagement Party
By: Ashish Gambhir

It’s the party of the century.

Expect $500 billion wasted per annum; a 120% attrition rate nationally; lagging morale; and plummeting productivity! The best part: just about every company that fields frontline employees is already there.

Yes — it’s the frontline disengagement party, and unsurprisingly, it’s costing businesses big time.

Thankfully there’s a viable exit strategy. It’s going to take more than the occasional $10 Starbucks giftcard, but the silver lining is that most businesses already have the solution languishing away in a neglected set of spreadsheets.

That’s because the answer lies not in gift cards and corporate handouts, but in something much more elegant: data. Counterintuitively, the solution to the engagement problem has nothing to do with classic “engagement” efforts and everything to do with empowerment. More precisely, empowerment through data.

Engagement, empowerment; sounds like a split hair, right? Here’s why it’s not. Frontline engagement efforts over the past decade have pancaked — over and over again. The scheme always looks about the same: a sales challenge with a micro bonus incentive, or a gift card for the employee of the month. The “engagement” is driven through the promise of a small external reward, rather than being engineered organically on an individual level.

Empowerment is a different story. Empowerment takes motivation to the internal level by allowing employees to ask of themselves a very basic question: how am I doing?

As things stand, frontline workers must rely largely on intangibles to gauge their own performance: a smile from a guest; a mediocre tip; more food than usual left on a plate. Without numbers to corroborate or condemn perceptions about performance, there is no accountability for employees whose performance is below par and no celebration of those who excel.

It’s no surprise, then, that performance data tends to stagnate in frontline environments: the actionable data never reaches the people on the floor who actually drive the action. The common “best practices” usually chalk up to little more than a GM’s posting a guest satisfaction report in the back of house every week or so, for employees to look at or ignore as they so choose. When GMs do take the time to show employees the data, it’s often used as a stick to punish rather than as a carrot to encourage.

Piling a few free caramel macchiatos on top of some printed-out spreadsheets isn’t going to get employees engaged. The path to engagement — or rather, empowerment — is through transparency.

We are positioned at a watershed moment, where the confluence of data and technology has opened a unique window through which we can reach frontline workers. This is because 92% of American adults have a personal device, according to the Pew Research Center. Deloitte estimated that people were checking those devices a collective 8 billion times per day as of 2015 — or around 46 instances per person. Never before have the demographics that fill the frontline — chiefly millennials — been so connected.

And therein lies the golden opportunity. Companies have the data. Employees have the technology. What happens when we bridge that chasm? As it turns out, something a bit magical: MomentSnap has demonstrated a boost of up to 20% in guest satisfaction scores over a four week period.

Four weeks — 60% guest sat to 80%. That’s powerful.

It’s also hard to believe. How could something as simple pushing staff some numbers every day have such a colossal impact?

Here’s where a secret ingredient enter the mix: gamification. No convoluted points schemes; just a simple tethering of points to a performance metric, whether it’s guest sat ratings, POS sales data, or online reviews. When employees do well, they get points. And those points are displayed on a public leaderboard for the whole store to see.

Transparency on this level might raise warning flags for some executives who worry about ostracizing underperformers, yet the results should dispel any such concern: the employees who see the greatest boost in metrics — that 60% to 80% figure — are those who start out on the bottom of the board.

So, voíla: elevate transparency, spice with a little gamification, and the need for a gift card budget disappears. Employees that do great things every day are on the top of the leaderboard for all to recognize, and those who lag are inspired to work their way up.

This is the future of engagement. It’s time for the movement to evolve from an external one to an internal one: empowerment through ownership.