Should we be striving for loyalty over engagement?


Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big employee engagement guy. In fact I talk a lot about engagement in The Myth of Employee Burnout.  I truly do think we should be focused on engaging the hearts and minds of our employees. After all, that’s how we get the best out of people, right?

I’d like to challenge my own theory.  The other day I was thinking about guest loyalty programs. You know the ones… a special card or program companies use to get you to come back and continue using their service (i.e. create loyalty).

For example, one of the grocery stores in my town offers fuel points… the more you spend in the store, the more fuel points – i.e. discount – you get.  Makes me a loyal customer, right?

Maybe.  It certainly brings me back because I like the discount on gas, but if another grocery store has similar products, maybe offers better service, I might go there.  It might even depend on my mood.  If I can waffle back and forth that easily, I don’t think I’m that loyal.

Why? Because when you look up the definition of loyal, you get this: a strong feeling of support or allegiance.  Based on the example above, I would say that I have a moderate feeling of support or allegiance to the grocery store that offers fuel points. Why?  Because it’s transactional, not emotional.

More on that in a minute.

Back to my original theory – if we truly want employees to embrace our values and put forth their best effort, should we be concentrating on employee loyalty more than engagement? Should we be focused on creating “a strong feeling of support or allegiance” in our employees, over and above their level of engagement?  Maybe even instead of?  Or maybe loyalty creates engagement?

Here’s what I know: loyalty is powerful. Loyalty will “motivate” people to do things they may not otherwise do.  Think of the people you consider yourself “loyal” to… would you stick your neck out for them, step outside your comfort zone for their benefit?  I’m going to bet YES was the answer.

I know what you might be thinking… loyalty in the workplace went out of style like the promise of a gold watch at the end of 40 years of service.  Wrong.  Loyalty from our employees went out when we stopped being loyal to our employees.  When we got the idea in our head that they were going to jump ship for more money down the road, we stopped trying to earn their loyalty. And that’s our fault.

Earning loyalty in 2019 is going to be different than earning loyalty in 1989 or 1979, or 1959.  Many of your employees have different life situations and circumstances that lead them to your company, so we have to look at how we support them and gain their allegiance in a different way.

Is support about training?  Yes.  But it’s also about a listening ear, guidance from a trusted leader, and knowing that you have their back.

And allegiance, like we mentioned earlier, is about emotion. It’s about deeply believing in something to the point you choose it over other options. You feel so emotionally connected to to the cause, company or person that you feel compelled to take action. Probably why we pledge “allegiance” to the flag here in the USA.

When we focus on fostering support and allegiance, it is no longer about what our employees can do for us, but what can we do for our employees, which is a fundamental shift in thinking for many leaders.  It’s the upside-down triangle that puts the “top” of the organization on the bottom of the triangle, because as a leader, you are there to support the efforts of everyone else to create a successful team or company.

But before you print and hand out employee loyalty cards, remember the story of the gas points.  It’s counting transactions, which will only produce moderately loyal actions.

Contrast that with my experience with Alamo earlier this year. Long story short, they had a car for me when another rental company would not honor my reservation.  Not only that, the agent was so kind and accommodating (and could sense my urgency), I couldn’t help but feel supported and that they truly cared about me. Since then, I have pledged my allegiance to Alamo. (Full disclosure, I had been a member of their Alamo Insiders loyalty program before this, but it was this experience that truly made me LOYAL!)

Related: AttractionPros Podcast Episode 92 – Service Urgency (and more on the Alamo story)

So creating employee loyalty should not be about cards or programs. It should be about creating bonds and relationships with people so they feel supported and naturally want to pledge their allegiance to you.

Loyalty is not dead. You just have to earn it.

Thanks for reading!

Want to support a great organization AND learn some important leadership concepts at the same time??  Now you can!  A portion of all book sales in 2019 will be donated to Give Kids The World!

 

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