Managing Director Melcrum
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Blog: Segmentation as a tool for employee engagement

26th Nov 2012
Managing Director Melcrum
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 As we work towards the end of the year, one of Melcrum’s research team’s key priorities is to connect with our Strategic Communication Research Forum members to agree on the themes we should focus our research efforts on next year.

One of the topics we’ve been discussing year on year is the constant changes around the concept of engagement – what it is, how we measure it, how and why companies should be focused on it.   Before I go deep into some of the newer elements of engagement we’ve been exploring, let me say upfront that – if you’re challenged with even just getting leaders and stakeholders to grasp why engagement matters – Engage for Success (a fantastic movement helping companies across the UK really understand the value of engagement and the ROI for employees, employers and society alike) has just released a film that provides a clear and compelling narrative. You can find it at their website http://www.engageforsuccess.org/. Take a look. In the meantime, one of the newer areas of engagement that we’ve been exploring recently involves segmentation and how we can more scientifically understand the profiles of our employees to hone in on their key drivers of engagement.   We tend to associate segmentation most strongly with marketing. The very purpose of marketing is to understand customer needs and develop propositions that appeal to them, so that those customers build brand loyalty, buy more products and the company makes more profit. For this reason, marketing as a discipline has a long history of using segmentation. The techniques used have changed and become increasingly sophisticated as marketing practitioners learned more about the relative benefits and limitations of the methods available. 

The diversity issue

 Our preliminary research into this concept shows that we should perhaps start taking our colleagues in marketing and market research for lunch! While the specific tools and techniques used by these disciplines often can’t be used inexactly the same way by internal communicators, the basic challenges are the same. What constitutes a segment? How far do you keep going before you get paralyzed with data for little payoff? What is demographic data useful for? What are the benefits and limitations of information about people’s attitudes and interests? How do you develop content that will appeal to your target stakeholders and make them interested enough to engage with it, despite all the other things competing for their time and attention? Where can you most usefully focus your efforts? Most importantly – why should we be so focused on this right now?   Well, within the next 3 to 5 years, we’ll continue to see an increasing number of companies with three or more generations working side-by-side. They will embody diversity beyond geographical issues (or the gender issues that companies have continued to grapple with for decades), and raise questions for organizations such as how to understand the different priorities of these employee groups as well as the channels they’ll most value for information and to enable them to achieve their goals. It will also be important to understand their ability to leverage new technology to enhance productivity, and their desire to ‘participate’ in dialogue and find ‘meaning’ in their work versus clocking in and out. In light of that last point, ask yourself - which demographic in your own workforce would that resonate with or not? 

Beware of generalisations

Interestingly, we have heard reports from businesses that the segment most appreciative of this acknowledgement of diversity is not the younger “Gen Y” group that we might expect, but rather from the “ageing” Boomer segment, with different and diverse lifestyle priorities.   So what does this mean for businesses overall? As Richard Donkin outlines in his paper for The Good Work Commission (Work Futures):  “Tomorrow’s workforce, therefore, is going to look quite different from that of today. Employers must expect and learn how to deal with more grey hair. Pensions policies, reward systems, retirement concepts and job design will need to be adjusted to utilise the experience of valuable older workers.  "The default retirement age must go. Company health monitoring and interventions will have to keep pace with these changes.”   What is irrefutable is that we will increasingly be unable to generalize about our workforces, and so the need for segmentation and a deeper understanding of what traits – beyond generational – they do share will be key.   In The Kenexa Research Institute’s recent paper, The “Generations” Debate Degenerates: Finding Facts amongst the Myths, author Brenda Kowske stresses that there are risks in generalizing the attitude, values and work-place approach of different generational segments, but that there are some themes that businesses should be aware of that serve as just one illustration of the diversity challenge across employee generations.  Employee value proposition  “The natural preoccupation with identifying differences between “us” and “them”, sometimes gets the best of us. Since the days of cavemen, it has been important for a society, such as an organization, to identify and delineate roles and responsibilities so there is no unfamiliarity within the group.

"Proactive organizations are well-served by examining values, opinions and behaviors that are not understood, and rather than strong-arming younger workers to copy their predecessors, being flexible in accommodating new ideas.

"Who knows – maybe these new ideas are founded in a changing economic climate and way of doing business and will clinch the competitive edge.”   I’d recommend that both these papers be important reading for you and your teams – they are available for download on the internet and are worth the time. Because for HR, internal comms, working with senior leadership, finance, legal and other key groups to understand the “human capital” we have in our businesses, and then to outline and communicate the Employee Value Proposition that can balance those varying expectations, needs and desires will be key. And segmentation could well be a crucial tool in this drive towards the engaged workforce.

Rebecca Richmond is managing director for EMEA at research and training provider for the internal communications industry, Melcrum.

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