Departments - March/April 2017

Engagement Standards

ISO Decision Affects Marketing, Incentives, Events

By Deborah L. Vence


A recent decision by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) could have a major effect on marketing, human resources, incentives, events and recognition.

The ISO—which is an international standard-setting body composed of representatives from various national standards organizations based in Geneva, Switzerland—formally voted to approve the proposal from the United States for the creation of engagement standards drafted by the Enterprise Engagement Alliance and submitted last year to the U.S. Technical Advisory Group.

The organization's decision prompts the creation of a formal working group that is authorized to begin work on draft standards that could have a major impact on the way employees and customers are managed throughout the world.

"First, it establishes that engaging people is critical to organizational success, which is something the incentive, loyalty and recognition businesses have been advocating for years," said Bruce Bolger, founder of the Enterprise Engagement Alliance, which is the project leader for ISO engagement standards.

"It also means that there's an opportunity to draw from the industry's significant investment in research over the last 15 years to share with those involved with creating standards to make the case for inclusion of rewards into recognition into engagement standards and, if so, to what extent and how," he said.

An extract of the new work item that was approved by the ISO stated: "Based on extensive research and information already in the public domain, this initiative seeks to create a set of standards which can be used as a model for organizations to formally integrate current practices for engagement, such as leadership development, employee and engagement assessment, recruitment, learning, communications, rewards and recognition, return on investment measures, etc., along with analytics, into a set of practices to achieve measurable goals and insights."

The purpose of the employee engagement standards is to provide organizations with a clear framework, implementation process, and nomenclature to design and implement formal engagement strategies in a manner similar to any other business process such that the key components are strategically designed and implemented to achieve clear, measurable results based on the latest research and best practices.

With more than 1 million ISO certified organizations worldwide, these standards have the potential to focus more attention on the sustainable financial benefits of having engaged employees and customers. And, an enterprise approach to engagement has significant benefits for shareholders, customers, employees, and even suppliers and communities. The process can be applied to business, government and even schools.

According to Lee S. Webster, director of employee relations at the University of Texas Medical Branch, the administrator of the U.S. Technical Advisory Group 260, "This move by the international body makes it likely that there will be formal standards related to the implementation of engagement, since the international body has now voted to create a working group."

Webster also stated that the engagement standards could eventually be incorporated into other ISO standards, such as those for quality management and healthcare administration, potentially affecting more than 1 million companies worldwide and countless employees and customers. These standards, he said, could help create an entire industry around engagement, as it has in many other fields.

When asked about the potential impact on marketing, incentives and recognition, Bolger said, "Any recognition by a prestigious international organization of the stature of ISO that a specific discipline is critical to complying with standards presents a significant opportunity to serious practitioners in those fields. An understanding by business leaders that engaging people is critical to organizational success will help practitioners of all of those tactics that help engage people."

He said the "challenge is that formal standards and a focus on best practices require a higher level of discipline and knowledge and an understanding that engagement is not a buzzword, but a formal process that gets baked into the way we do business. Engagement is not a bright shiny object or slogan, but rather a formal discipline based on research and business experience.

"I think the biggest takeaway from this is that there's an opportunity for the field of incentives, rewards and recognition to significantly up its game by leveraging all of the great research conducted by the Incentive Research Foundation, the Incentive Federation, and others on the best ways to utilize rewards and recognition," Bolger said.

"This is particularly significant because it appears that only about 15 percent of award programs are selected, merchandised, personalized or customized, or otherwise designed to maximize the reward experience. Most non-cash rewards are effectively cash equivalents," he said.

"Both end-clients and our industry," he added, "can benefit from leveraging the research to elevate the importance of knowledge, program design and the reward experience to maximize long-term impact."