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News Analysis: More Solution Providers Make Shift to Engagement

For the past eight years, the Enterprise Engagement Alliance has advocated for the application of the invaluable research developed by multiple organizations to design more effective programs to engage people across the enterprise to perform or help achieve organizational objectives. Evidence is mounting that a growing number of the nation’s solution providers have begun to see this as an opportunity. 
In addition to the Enterprise Engagement Alliance, organizations as varied as the Incentive Research Foundation, Deloitte, Gallup, Aon Hewitt, the Conference Board’s Engagement Institute and many others have produced research providing insight on how to design and implement programs to foster the proactive involvement of those critical to success in a more measurable way. It is clear that corporations today are seeking out more strategic and measurable ways to spend the dollars used for traditional employee surveys, training, communication, rewards & recognition, incentive and marketing initiatives, and public companies are under increasing pressure to do so from investors. 
We believe this shift to a more scientific approach to engaging people provides significant opportunities, not only for traditional management consulting firms, but also for incentive, recognition and promotion companies with the expertise and resources, because the budgets for these efforts come from the dollars often spent on incentives, recognition and loyalty programs, not to mention learning, coaching, communication, innovation and other human resources tactics. It’s a “blue ocean” opportunity with enormous potential because so many traditional solution providers are heavily invested in legacy business models and market positioning that suddenly are prone to disruption by more effective, less costly and more measurable strategies. 
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More Solution Providers Start the Shift 
It has now become clear that we’re not alone in this view. In the management consulting space, many of the leading suppliers of engagement surveys – including Aon Hewitt, Sirota, Kenexa and others – have positioned themselves as engagement solution providers, and each has a specific approach to addressing engagement issues. The challenge is that organizations of more than a few hundred people need an integrated strategy that addresses not only branding and culture, but the alignment of internal and external marketing, as well as better integration of traditional tactics so often siloed in most organizations.
Over the last few years, at least a half dozen companies in the management consulting, incentive, recognition and promotional field have renamed or rebranded themselves to focus on the broader issue of engagement, and the pace appears to have quickened. These companies already tap into traditional budgets spent to engage people, but they promise to provide client solutions based on their specific challenges rather than a solution pre-ordained by what the company sells (i.e., incentive or recognition programs, incentive travel, engagement surveys, coaching and learning, technology, etc.) Unlike the management consulting companies, these new engagement firms promise to identify and integrate all of the levers of engagement into a formal program. 
In the recognition space, Lipic’s Engagement in St. Louis and CA Short in Shelby, NC were among the first to make the shift, not only rebranding their websites. but making changes to the fundamental way they go to market. Atlanta-based Eagle Recognition hasn’t changed its name yet, but company President Randy Nobles said in a recent interview that "engagement is changing our entire conversation with customers to focus on promoting values and behaviors critical to the organization," an approach he feels has helped his company woo some major clients away from leading competitors. Go to the websites of many of the major recognition companies, and you’ll find they still heavily focus on products and the traditional view of recognition, rather than on strategies to drive a customer-oriented organization or support other values or objectives. 
On the incentive side, BI Worldwide was undoubtedly the first to embrace an organizational-wide approach to engagement; in fact, it can be said its journey began as early as the 2000s. (BI Worldwide recently received the EEA’s ‘First’ Award because of this.) EGR International, also a ‘First’ Award winner, was one of the few firms to completely rebrand its website and business approach to engagement in 2009, and company President Jeff Grisamore says it’s the best decision he has ever made. The Fire Light Group, whose President, Sandi Daniel, was Vice Chair and Chair of the Board of the Incentive Research Foundation, started repositioning her company a few years ago. 
Recently, venerable incentive company Dittman Incentive Marketing changed its name to Next Level Performance; 25-year-old Taico Incentive Services has become Divvy Engagement; and the highly respected incentive travel and meetings company Creative Group Inc. of Appleton, WI, has brought on Paul Hebert, a curriculum and social media contributor to the Enterprise Engagement Alliance with many years of front-line experience in program design, to provide clients a solutions-based approach (read more). 
While the incentive and promotional products industries have renewed efforts to train promotional products distributors on incentive and recognition programs, some traditional distributors are leapfrogging to engagement along with other traditional incentive and meeting firms to provide a more holistic, scientific approach.
Ben Baker, who came out of the printing and event business to create a Vancouver, BC-based promotional products firm seven years ago recently changed the company’s name to Your Brand Marketing to focus on providing a solutions approach, rather than focusing on products. “We want to use our experience and resources to help our clients address the critical challenges they face in their organizations,” he explains. 
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What It Takes to Succeed 
So what is the difference between a traditional management consulting, incentive, recognition or marketing company and an engagement company? The difference is easy to define but difficult to execute because in the end success requires formal expertise, which is challenging in a field so new. While the term “engagement” has been bandied about with increasing frequency over the past decade, most businesses have yet to develop and apply a formal framework for fostering the engagement of people in business to achieve key organizational goals in a measurable way. This is because many large organizations are poorly structured to align such efforts. Rather than focusing on tactics such as surveys, management coaching, rewards & recognition, incentive programs, communication and ROI investment using a silo-based approach, engagement focuses on identifying precisely the right levers of engagement required of each initiative – whether it involves promotion of the organization’s culture, or achieving more tactical sales, marketing or productivity goals – and applying them in a holistic, enterprise-wide fashion. 
Most of today’s management consulting, incentive, recognition and marketing companies focus on engaging people from a tactical standpoint – i.e., implementing surveys, coaching, incentives, recognition, etc. without much integration or overall measurement. And there will remain a tremendous need for each of these tactics because, when integrated in the right way, they are all essential at various times to making sure people are equipped to achieve goals.
Engagement integrates traditional tactics in the same way advertising integrates media and other marketing strategies. The early engagement pioneers mentioned here hope to profit by developing the talent and resources needed to bring ROI-based engagement solutions to their clients, because program design expertise in this domain cannot be faked or taught without front-line business experience.
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