Why Is There No Urgency About Engagement? Five Problem Areas to Address

We find it curious that for all the effort and expenditure that goes into employee health behavior change initiatives, the element of urgency to improve engagement is just not there.

Maybe it’s because our main focus is on engagement strategy that we see so many engagement problem “nails” for us to smash with our engagement solutions “hammer.”

When I went to work at Healthways as their Director of Sustainable Engagement back in 2009, there was broad agreement across the enterprise that engagement was an important issue and that it had to be addressed. From the sales and account teams, I’d hear:

We need more engagement
Our engagement isn’t what it should be
The customer isn’t happy with the engagement levels

There was clearly a problem, but the context was missing. What did we really mean by engagement…?

The concept of engagement has not been well articulated. Its definition is vague and open to many interpretations, as it has broad scope and is inclusive of many actions and behaviors. Like marketing, it is a balanced mix of art and science.

We do know we need more of it and that it has to be better for programs to succeed.

Our view is that effective engagement incorporates critical elements of strategic process, behavioral economics, effective communications and timely measurement. It links strategic purpose to overall performance.

Yet, improvement efforts continue to lack priority and urgency. We see five key problems as being deterrents here:

Problem #1 – Engagement is not baked in

The industry has made strong efforts to design smart approaches to change health and lifestyle behavior. The emphasis, however, is too often on a given intervention or two rather than on more of a continuous process of change. Engagement needs to begin much further upstream to set the stage for it to occur more naturally and ideally, without the need for incentives. People need to better understand the specific rationale and end benefits of participation.

Problem #2 – Players don’t know their place

Many internal departments, external vendors and other entities need to be coordinated in care management and wellness efforts. To be effective, these groups need to understand the overall intent of the initiatives as well as their specific roles. There also needs to be more accountability and better peripheral vision to smartly string together the activities. And, most critically, engagement ownership is sorely lacking.

Problem #3 – Reporting stinks

Most customers have no clue about what’s happening in their population until it’s too late. There is not nearly enough real-time reporting to make timely and necessary adjustments in communications and outreach. We ought to be able to regularly see the levels of enrollment and participation to allow for promotion to modulate up or down as needed to achieve the goals. This is an industry-wide challenge that needs much more attention than it’s getting.

Problem #4 – There’s not enough marketing

The employee health management field has its roots in disease management and much of that clinical mindset remains. But, as organizations continue to evolve toward total population solutions, consumer marketing needs to have a bigger role in delivering the behavior change story and its rationale. Consumer marketing strategies and tactics are engagement drivers.

Problem #5 – It’s not due tomorrow

Most decision-makers will nod their heads at the above points. And then move on to address something else that has to get done today. Think about open enrollment that is probably abuzz at most companies right now. The urgency to “get it done” and meet that deadline is palpable. That same sort of urgency needs to be instilled into engagement strategy and actions.

The Engagement Gap is a long-term problem that requires a big picture solution. There needs to be more ownership and commitment to positive change. Key focal areas are strategic process and consumer promotion, where smart and effective planning can be a game changer.

When Daniel Pink introduced his thesis at the opening of Drive, he noted that there are decades of research about what motivates behavior change, and noted that “for too long, there’s been a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.”

That is what needs to happen with engagement strategy – business knows how to address issues of process and promotion, it just isn’t getting it done well enough to effectively improve engagement and produce measurable results.

Are you ready for a stronger and better engagement strategy? Let’s get together and work on ways to get your 2013 initiatives started on the right track. Call today to learn more…!

About Frank Hone

Frank Hone is Chief Engagement Officer at Healthcentric Partners, Inc. the first and only engagement strategy and marketing consultancy for employee health and well-being improvement.
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