Employee Engagement for Competitive Advantage

Your brand is only as safe as your least engaged employee. Engage your employees and align them with your corporate vision and values, as they are the face that represents your business at all levels, interacting with all stakeholders. Employee engagement is also an effective source for competitive advantage. Not only are employees an asset that is dynamic, flexible and resilient, but they are also difficult for your competitors to replicate, a source of value and uniqueness.

Businesses are said to achieve a competitive advantage when they simultaneously have resources that are valuable, unique and difficult to imitate (Somaya & Williamson 2008). Value in this context pertains to reducing consumer uncertainty by delivering what you promise them. Porter (1998 p.3) suggests that a business’ competitive advantage can be enhanced through increases in value created for customers. Uniqueness refers to a point of distinction or difference that your business can claim and own, aside from your competitors. Due to the dynamics of people, your employees are a business resource that is very difficult to copy or replicate. An engaged sales force for example is a product of your culture and work environment.

As engagement is critical to achieving this competitive advantage, let’s clarify the term ‘engagement’. When you engage, you actively choose to involve yourself in or to something. Volunteers for the Red Cross, for example make a choice to involve themselves to the cause of providing for the homeless and poor. In the employee engagement context, this refers to the choice to be involved through employment (also a form of engagement) towards the vision of a business be it delivering a good or service i.e. Airlines delivering airline travel experiences. It is this cognitive agreement, alignment and motivation to work towards the vision that is at the heart of employee engagement (Luthans & Peterson 2002).

Employees are a critical interface that interacts with buyers and consumers. This interface serves also as the point of value exchange between your business and consumer. Logically if you are an airline promising superior customer service (i.e. Singapore Airlines), consumer uncertainty is reduced when at both check-in counters, boarding and in-flight they are met with employees embodying sincere, efficient, intuitive and quality customer service. Through each of these consumer touch-points, engaged employees deliver value to consumers, fulfilling their service expectations. Such consistency in customer service can only be delivered by Singapore Airlines aligning and engaging their employees with their company values.

It is your employees that will set you apart from your competitors, and airlines such as Singapore Airlines and Virgin Australia are a great case example of using employee engagement to enhance competitive advantage. Virgin Blue distinguishes itself apart from its competitors through its cheeky jargons and more importantly its corporate value set being value for money, quality, fun, competitive challenge and innovation. Virgin Blue employees embody these five values and convey a message to consumers that distinguishes them from employees of Qantas or Tiger Airways.

Employees are not imitated easily because not only are they of value to your business, but they are resilient to change and depositories for ideas, attitudes and behaviours (Somaya & Williamson 2008). No other asset within a business has thiscapacity. This human capital, when harnessed through employee engagement cannot be cloned, purchased or easily acquired by your competition. Furthermore, if your business can engage and ‘tap’ into this human capital, there is a very real opportunity to maximiseemployee efficiency and productivity. Businesses often fall into the trap of placing consumers first, and employees second. As a business, don’t neglect to nurture the very interface (the employee) that interacts with your ultimate source of business revenue (the consumer). It makes sense to become an employee-first organisation. Your most valuable asset: human capital, when engaged and aligned with your company values is a real source for competitive advantage (Somaya & Williamson 2008). Attract, recruit, retain and engage your employees with your company values to distinguish yourself from your competitors, deliver value to your consumers.