IDEO’s Employee Engagement formula that worked wonders

IDEO's employee engagement

Employee Engagement is an important aspect for any organization. It is the emotional and functional commitment an employee makes to his organization. Companies with engaged employees perform better than its competitors by 202%. Engaged employees are enthusiastic towards their work, are happier, and stick to the company for longer period of time. Majority of companies take necessary steps to increase engagement of their employees. However, IDEO’s employee engagement methods take it to a whole new level.

There is an endless list of benefits that are achieved when employees are highly engaged with their organization. Have a look at few of them.

  • Better engagement results in better productivity.
  • Engaged employees are less probable to quit.
  • Employees get job satisfaction when they are engaged.
  • Employees become philanthropically minded
  • Engagement boosts creativity.

While the benefits of engagement are very clear, it is a struggle for most companies to implement it successfully. More than 71% employees report that they are not fully engaged to their company due to one or the other reason.

IDEO’s origin story sounds like a fable or a myth, but it’s actually true. The company was started by David Kelley with a simple goal; to create a workplace made up of his closest friends. In fact, in the very beginning, he brought in some of his best buddies to help him launch the Silicon Valley firm, IDEO. After 30 years, the company has employed more than 650 people and is a globally known design company. Obviously, the company did not reach to that size by just hiring their friends. But David’s early goal still immensely affects the way it works.

David Kelley wanted to run his company by having fun and collaborating while being productive and creative. To achieve this goal, even when their employees are continuously growing in size, Duane Bray, head of global talent came up with four key strategies to help establish a friendly workplace culture. IDEO’s employee engagement strategies are mentioned below.

1.Experiment and Play

When employees have fun time together, they form stronger bonds. And as a result of that, they will feel more comfortable to express their opinions and take risks to imagine new possibilities. Their employees know that experimenting new things is not only allowed, it’s highly appreciated. Specifically for experimenting, the company has made separate maker spaces, where employees can get right environment and required material to convert their ideas into reality. In every meeting room, employees are provided with brainstorm kits that include Sharpies and Post-Its, which will signal the employees that they are free to express their opinions in a variety of ways. Employees are also allowed to create the work environment that is more suitable to them. For instance, in company’s New York office, all the employees collaborated to design their own “phone booths”, where they can attend their private calls. Each of these booths are themed after some famous New Yorkers, may it be Woody Allen or Robert De Nitro. The company has also created various tour stops, which clearly shows company creation and goals. Any visitor is taken to those “tour stops” to give them a clear idea about what the company cares about and their creations till date. They IDEO persistently tries to make its workplace more engaging rather than mundane.

2. A common but tailored purpose

IDEO’s ambitious and internationally broad purpose statement is “Positive and disproportionate impact in the world through design.” It may inspire and motivate company’s employees around the world but sometimes they are not able to connect the dots to their work due to such broad mission. Employees might often think how they can have a positive and disproportionate impact and where should they start from to contribute to this mission. Or maybe, he will compare his own passion and interests with the company’s and will doubt if he possesses the relevant skills. Due to this reason, IDEO has tailored their purpose for each office on the basis of their location, markets, and studios. Each manager brings the overall mission down to earth by simplifying it and connecting it to their team member’s daily tasks.

Tailoring company’s mission to each team’s specific tasks will help achieve the mission as a whole. For instance, a localized purpose in China might be “Create new values for the country by facilitating progressive leaders to deal with systemic challenges.” While in London it can be,”Enabling businesses to deliver and go beyond their promises to people.” And for a larger office like the one in San Francisco, location based purpose can be further divided according to each part of the business. Its food studio might have a tailored purpose like, “To solve world’s food problems, combining the worlds of science and culinary.” Such tailored purpose will allow employees to figure out which work best suits them and is relevant with their skills. They can also figure out which department will be most engaging for them in the organization.

3. Create a social contract

You might be familiar with the “Little Book of IDEO.” It mentions seven key values of IDEO that bind the company together. These key values mentioned below, are the behaviors that drive company’s social contract.

  • Be optimistic
  • Collaborate
  • Take Ownership
  • Embrace ambiguity
  • Talk less and do more
  • Learn from failure
  • Make others successful

These values allow employees to govern themselves without requiring much oversight or management, and they also help people to visualize success. These values provide a great help in overall development of the company. Generally, employees possess relevant skills required to do their job but sometimes they need support to hold on these key values.

4. Bottom-up innovation

It’s not that top-down directives work terribly well at IDEO. But it has discovered that most creative ideas are often nurtured from bottom-up approach through people’s personal dedication and commitment. One of the IDEO’s businesses focuses on education, for example. The managing director of IDEO, Sandy Speicher came up with this idea due to her passion towards education and thought that IDEO should also take some initiatives in the education field. Today, she leads this field with 23 people in her team and works for projects across the world. When leaders decide to initiate some project, employees are clearly explained the needs of underlying that project and are also informed about the desired outcome to align all of them around a common goal. The best ideas and strategies are those which employees can make their own.

In today’s world, when talent is hard to recruit and even harder to retain, companies can succeed only by keeping their employees happy, fulfilled and engaged. There is no secret recipe to it. But IDEO’s employee engagement principles have helped it to go a long way while achieving this goal.

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