Winning in the Marketplace

What does it take to “win in the marketplace” in today’s competitive environment? According to former CEO of Campbell Soup and New York Times bestselling author, Doug Conant, “to win in the marketplace, you have to win in the workplace.”

Kevin Kruse, another New York Times bestselling author, and co-author, Rudy Karsan recently published a book called We: How to Increase Performance and Profits through Full Engage-ment. The book made the New York Times best-sellers list. The premise of the book is simple: what do you say about your organization when someone asks you about it? Do you start off by saying “they…” or “we…”? The people who refer to their organization as “they” aren’t fully engaged. Those who start off by saying “we” are more likely to be engaged. Kruse and Karsan call this the “We Test.”

As a consultant, and as a perennial student of human communication, I always listen to how employees talk about their employers – and we all know that we don’t have any problems talk-ing about our employers, even to total strangers. Invariably, employees talk about their em-ployers in the third person plural – “they do so-and-so,” “they said so-and-so,” etc. There is a clear disconnect between the employee and the employer. This disconnect is also manifested in our industrial relations culture.

Kruse and Karsan call this employee disengagement, and they have some interesting statistics to go with it. I can’t vouch for their statistics, but they say that disengaged employees weigh on average five pounds more than engaged employees; are twice as likely to have a heart attack; are more likely to have disruptive kids at school; and, here’s the ringer, have less sex in their marriage than engaged employees! I’m just reporting what he says!

On a more serious note, the authors’ book is really about the opposite of employee disengage-ment. It’s about employee engagement and, more precisely, about the role of employee en-gagement in helping organizations win in the marketplace. To repeat the statement above: “to win in the marketplace, you have to win in the workplace.” And winning in the workplace re-quires engaged employees: employees who are committed to their organization’s success, share its values and work toward helping it achieve its goals; employees who are passionate about their work and are willing to give discretionary effort, willing to “go the extra mile” for their organization.

There is a lot of business research evidence to support the connection between employee en-gagement and business results. For example, Kruse quotes US data that show that companies with engaged workers have 6% higher net profit margins and five times higher shareholder re-turns. He calls this the ROI of Engagement or the Engagement-Profit Chain: engaged employ-ees deliver better service, better quality, and higher productivity; which in turn leads to higher customer satisfaction; resulting in increased sales (from repeat business and referrals), which leads to higher levels of profit and shareholder returns; all of which results in “winning in the marketplace.”

For the last twelve years, we have been measuring and benchmarking employee engagement and satisfaction levels in Caribbean organizations. To date, we have surveyed over 60,000 Caribbean workers from more than 50 organizations, with a view to helping those organizations to win in the marketplace. We measure both employee satisfaction and engagement as we believe that employee satisfaction is a necessary, although not sufficient condition for employee engagement. In other words, employees need to be satisfied before they can become engaged. However, employee satisfaction by itself will not necessarily results in positive business outcomes.

We define employee engagement in terms of four Ss: “Say, Stay, Strive, & Satisfaction.” The first three Ss are from the consultants, Hewitt Associates (now AON Hewitt) who suggest that engaged employees are more willing to say positive things about their organization, are more willing to talk in terms of “we” rather than “they”; are more likely to stay with their organizations for a longer time, and are more likely to work toward the organization’s success.

We measure these three Ss by asking employees if they are proud to tell people where they work and if they “big-up” their organization to their relatives and friends; if they plan on staying with their organization for a long time; and if they are willing to go the extra mile for their organization.

To really measure passion and engagement, we also ask employees if they can honestly say that they “look forward” to coming to work everyday and if they would remain with their organization even if they had a bigger pay offer from another. This last question really determines if it’s more than just the money keeping them put.

In addition, we measure nine areas of satisfaction: alignment between the employee’s and the organization’s objectives, the organization’s leadership style and practice, management/ employee relations, communication, supervision, its talent management practices, how work is organized, its focus on the customer and its commitment to corporate social responsibility. All of these areas have been found to impact employee satisfaction and engagement. We call them “key indicators of a winning workplace.”

We believe that employee satisfaction in these areas, together with high scores for the other three Ss, indicate an engaged workforce. And when we find an engaged workforce, we study the organization to see what we can learn and pass on to other organizations.

We are in the process of conducting our seventh biennial Employee Benchmark Survey to assess and benchmark employee engagement and satisfaction within the Caribbean workforce and to identify Caribbean norms and best practices in employee engagement and satisfaction to help Caribbean organizations to “win in the workplace” and, ultimately, the global marketplace. We plan to make the results available to the regional business community at the end of the survey.


By Dr. Kwame R. Charles
Director, Quality Consultants Limited