Companies Focus Energy on Mobile Workforce Engagement
Workplace engagement is a safety issue, a culture issue, an ethics and compliance issue, a communications issue--and very much an employee development and retention issue. Engagement is not just with employees, but also with regulators, contractors, partners and other stakeholders.
While engagement has always been important, the advent of mobile technology is changing the nature of how companies can interact in real-time with their people, allowing for new ways to deliver messages of safety, compliance and good behavior.
As part of panel discussion I moderated on Tuesday at the SCCE Utilities and Energy compliance and ethics conference in Houston, my panel guests talked about the ways they using technology to deliver real-time messages, training and access to their code of conduct and other guidance that can be accessed by employees where and when they want.
Why does engagement matter? The engagement firm C.A. Short Company last year published a report that found, for all industries, engaged employees:
-- have 41% lower absenteeism
-- 70% reduced employee safety incidents
-- 17% increased productivity; and
-- 21% increased profitability
In the same report, C.A. Short included stats specific to the oil and gas sector, and found:
-- Engaged employees in the energy sector are 5.5 times more likely to stay with their company
-- Disengagement is responsible for 25% of turnover in the energy sector; and
-- Compared to national averages, the energy sector has 16% more of what the company described as “hostile” workers and 35% more disengaged workers
Go where they are
Antonio Fernández, chief compliance and privacy officer for energy company Public Service Enterprise Group, said the company wants to meet employees where they are, and that means getting to them through the phone.
PSEG late last year launched an app with the goal of being better able to engage with the substantial portion of its workforce that doesn’t have access to a work computer.
The app contains the company’s code of conduct, scenario training, quick-hit reminders that tell the story of, for instance, what happened at the end of an investigation, said Fernández.
“In addition, we also can push videos and other content,” he said. “We can administer it ourselves; it doesn’t really cost much. We’re trying to meet employees where they are, rather than trying to push information to them in ways they’re already kind of bored of seeing.”
Lori Spence, executive director of regulatory affairs and the former chief compliance officer at MidContinent Independent System Operator, or MISO, said the company began its mobile presence on social media, and maintains active accounts on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
In addition to encouraging its interns to tweet and blog, MISO produces podcasts to promote exciting initiatives the company is taking on, said Spence. Last summer the company hosted an energy summit and offered an interactive app every person at the conference could put on their phone to download speaker bios, and even to send the speakers questions while they were presenting.
MISO is asking its customers how they want to receive information from the company as part of an initiative to improve the customer experience, she said.
“We’re in the process of trying to determine what types of mobile technology our customers want,” said Spence.
Fernández said it wasn’t difficult to get support and resources for the app from senior leadership. “I was asking them to make a small investment, but they all use their iPads for almost everything, so it was very easy to convince them that me adding an app to their device was a good thing because they already knew that,” he said.
Compliance was the first native app the company pushed out internally, and when you’re the first to have this role, Fernández said he had license to be disruptive.
“From the very beginning I’ve told them that’s what we needed in our compliance, we needed to shake things up,” he said. “So I had laid the groundwork from the beginning for them to expect things they might perceive to be new or different. ... The fact it wasn’t going to cost them a lot of money made it even easier.”
Spence said MISO’s board created a tech committee in 2010, and that helped gain support and money for technology projects. They led efforts to bring Apple products into the organization, and installed a new wireless network, among other achievements.
“Every year we’re spending more and more money on technology to keep pace with what the utility industry has been doing,” said Spence.
Mobile beyond people
It’s not just people being impacted by the move to mobile--oil and gas companies are using technology to keep track of equipment, helping determine when to conduct maintenance or when to alert headquarters to a problem.
Given the employee safety considerations at play, how does the Internet of Things factor into a company’s engagement strategy?
Spence said the Internet of Things is something MISO is watching to best determine how to use, but sees opportunities in being able to better track movement of equipment and other assets. “I think the Internet of Things is going to help us keep control of that,” she said. “Whether the new workforce will appreciate that or not is yet to be seen.”
As the cost of developing sensors has gone down, having those sensors feed data to the cloud, the cost of storing data and applying really large analytical tools to that data, has made the whole Internet of Things possible, said Fernández.
While there is much more data, having it in a form that makes it usable is critical. For instance, Fernández spoke about all the data captured in the hundreds or thousands of investigations that are conducted every year by an organization.
“At the end of an investigation you probably have a Word document or a PDF with a report with a bunch of information that unless you sit down and read all of those reports, take copious notes...you don’t harness the power of that data. It’s a static, or potential, energy waiting to be harnessed.”
By adding structure to the data--an example is having root cause codes applied to all cases--compliance can provide more insight to help the executive team and board assess risks and allocate resources.
“By next year I hope to have a conversation with the audit committee where I’ll be able to say, ‘I believe because of these five things in this particular line or business, it’s likely that this type of issue is going to occur,' ” said Fernández.
By building a large enough data set, compliance can start telling stakeholders the trends it foresees, based on trends it's seen before. “Such as there might be issues with this leadership team, or issues with the type of training we’re giving,” he said. “It does sound like it’s pie in the sky but I’ve seen it work.”