Reading Between the Lines: Developing Employee Engagement Initiatives

EDF Climate Corps fellow | October 1, 2011

By: Pia Kristiansen is a 2011 EDF Climate Corps Fellow at McDonald's and an MBA Candidate at University of Michigan's Ross School of Business

Earlier this summer, I shared my initial thoughts on working through the complexities of designing and implementing an employee engagement strategy during my EDF Climate Corps fellowship at McDonald's Corporation. Anyone interested in the topic of employee engagement, specifically around sustainability initiatives like energy efficiency, is probably familiar with the plethora of resources listing five or ten "top" attributes of a successful program.

These resources provided a great starting point for me but did not necessarily define the path I needed to convert my ideas into actions and establish those attributes during my fellowship. That said, it is worth sharing the lessons learned from this experience and its unique challenges, so here are my take-aways:

Pia Kristiansen

  • Get to Know (and never stop looking for) Your Advocates: McDonald's has a reputation for being a corporation that values personal relationships. Successfully engaging the crew members at the heart of McDonald's business - its restaurants - requires buy-in across the system. I quickly found that fostering relationships with a wide spectrum of stakeholders was the best way to get data, solicit feedback, and pave the way for successful deployment. By looking beyond "corporate walls" and interviewing people in the field, I found incredible resources – people with, hands-on experience in innovative training and development programs and people with candor and a willingness to test my ideas. 

Takeaway: Pitch your ideas, collaborate on other projects, and take the time to get to know all of the stakeholders – valuable insight can be found in less obvious places.

  • Embrace the Culture:McDonald's serves 64 million customers every day around the world and is so influential that The Economist light-heartedly publishes the "Big Mac" global currency index. However, despite its tremendous influence and brand power over the outside world, McDonald's Corp. has a compelling company culture and value system. In building the framework for collateral on energy efficiency, I relied on my in-store experience and field feedback to construct a message that would resonate with the McDonald's restaurant culture. My conversations with Green Team members, Restaurant Design, Corporate Social Responsibility, Operations and Energy teams gave me a clear understanding of the value system in which strategic decisions are made.

    Takeaway: Solicit a variety of perspectives to gain a real understanding of the company. Frame your goals to focus on developing tools and resources that innovate and strengthen the culture and value system, rather than change it. Remember that these are the foundation for your engagement program.

    • Look Beyond Automation: Automation is often viewed as the "obvious answer" in energy efficiency, yet the importance of human participation cannot be overstated. Nearly every software program, piece of equipment or new technology for energy efficiency can be optimized by human behavior. Communication and education will likely be the tools you come to rely on. Lucky for me, McDonald's had already devoted tremendous resources to automation, but it took dozens of meetings and the solicitation of mentorship to truly understand how I could best leverage these resources.

    Takeaway: Make it a priority to become an expert on the infrastructure, policies, processes, and offerings already available. This knowledge will shed significant light on the feasibility and potential of your employee engagement initiatives.

    With these lessons, I was able to deliver the concept design and proposal for an educational video on energy efficiency for distribution to approximately 14,000 U.S. McDonald's restaurants as well as a summary of strategic recommendations that are being integrated into McDonald's worldwide energy management program.

    None of this would have been possible without significant time spent building a business case that reflects my understanding of the various audiences I was seeking to engage. While many of my Climate Corps counterparts faced technical equipment and finance challenges this summer, I found myself fielding more theoretical process-oriented questions. I had to clearly articulate why engaging employees helps to reduce energy use and how I planned on doing so successfully within a large and complex system.

    All of this leads to a final piece of advice: Get comfortable building a dynamic business case. Employee engagement requires relationship building and strategic intuition that goes beyond a reliance on quantitative data.

    This entry is cross-posted on In Good Company: Vault's CSR blog.