By Debbie Bolla
As the talent market continues to tighten, the importance of employee engagement continues to increase. In fact, 93 percent of respondents in a recent HCI survey believe that employee engagement is critical to business success. The topic was a frequent visitor to the stage of May’s HRO Today Forum in Philadelphia, especially during a session I hosted with Southwire’s Executive Vice President of HR, Kathleen Edge.
Edge joined the wire and cable organization a year and half ago, and is very candid about both the successes and obstacles in her role. When we had our pre-Forum call about our on-stage interview, she enthusiastically suggested covering employee engagement -even after a challenging few months for Southwire. The company entered the largest acquisition in their history this past year and as a result had to reduce their workforce by 10 percent. During a formidable time to say the least, Southwire decided to move ahead with their employee engagement survey as planned. “This was the absolute right time to read the pulse of our organization,” explains Edge.
While the organization saw overall numbers decline from 2014, they are still well within industry benchmarks:
- Before the acquisition: 95 percent response rate, 85 percent of workforce engaged
- After the acquisition: 89 percent response rate, 73 percent engagement
- Industry benchmarks: 70 percent response rate with 74 percent engagement
“We are in a commodity wire and cable industry, where people truly are the only differentiator,” says Edge. “Employees produce our quality product, deliver shipments on-time, create the customer experience, and provide the innovation. Attracting and retaining skilled, knowledge- based talent will be a key competitive differentiator in the coming years.”
To help solve the engagement gap following the acquisition, Southwire asked their employees to provide feedback on areas for improvement, and communication of strategy was named a top concern. To address this, Southwire leadership met to brainstorm and develop action plans. Out of those meetings, top executives participated in videos to communicate upcoming action plans to employees, including CEO Stu Thorn, who addressed “the big picture” to the entire organization.
Such forthcoming transparency is certain to have an uplifting effect on employee engagement and productivity in Southwire’s future.