Employee Engagement Expert Advice – Interview with Mark Sawyier

Mark SawyierMark Sawyier is co-founder and CEO of Bonfyre, a cloud-based employee engagement platformA passionate entrepreneur and an experienced business operator, Sawyier is a creative problem solver with expertise in product, strategy, and new business development. Sawyier graduated magna cum laude in 2007 from Washington University in St. Louis, where he started his first business, MovingOffCampus.com. At its height, it helped more than 1 million students move off campus annually. After graduating, Sawyier launched Off Campus Media, a college and digital marketing agency with clients ranging from the Fortune 500 to local businesses. Sawyier was named to Alive Magazine’s The Buzz List in 2013 and was recently named by the St. Louis Business Journal as one of St. Louis’ five most innovative people.

In anticipation of the Employee Engagement (EE) Awards & Summit in Chicago on June 22nd, Mark took some time to share with us his thought on the event’s theme. His insights into how strong relationships support employee engagement are quite interesting.

HR Gazette: What does employee engagement mean to you?

Mark: Employee engagement describes the ideal relationship between a company and its employees that yields the highest emotional, physical and cognitive attention and output from workers. At the risk of over-simplifying, this relationship is manifested in employee feelings of:

  • Meaningful work – feeling of contribution and/or purpose, opportunity to develop
  • Positive work environment – collaborative, safe, secure, fun
  • Trust – open and clear communication, transparency, fair compensation for work
  • At Bonfyre, we believe that human relationships are the primary medium through which employees express, experience and reinforce engagement because they help to establish a sense of belonging, happiness and trust.

We built Bonfyre to create the digital space employees need to build relationships through content, the same way they do in their personal lives.

HR Gazette: What are your three tips for companies looking to drive engagement?

Mark: Develop and commit to metrics to assess the impact of engagement investments and apply them across HR. This includes active data collection through ongoing polls and other feedback loops (i.e. far more frequent than a semi-annual survey) and passive data collection through bottom-line metrics like employee turnover. In addition, this also includes sentiment analysis, persona development even divorce rates as highlighted in this report Barry Wehmiller.

Create a digital medium for employees to build relationships – the same way they do in their personal lives. Use these channels to support internal campaigns and programs like wellness, employee recognition, culture alignment, wellness, diversity and inclusion and employee resource groups.
(Note: I’m a bit biased on this one

Create an inclusive process. People love what they help create. Empowering employees through having a meaningful voice in driving engagement is critical – regularly soliciting (and demonstrably incorporating!) their feedback and ideas.




HR Gazette: What are the biggest pitfalls that companies should avoid when executing their engagement strategy? Why do employees fail to buy-in when companies try to ramp up engagement?

Mark: I combined these into one question because I think they are in many ways one and the same. Aside from not doing the things I listed above, there are many pitfalls companies must avoid around their engagement strategy. In my opinion, it all comes down to one thing:

Lack of trust.

Trust is the foundation for credibility and buy-in, without which one cannot possibly hope to drive engagement. This is also underscores the importance of relationships because is the source of trust development. Aside from past experiences (i.e. violations of trust), research has shown that trust comes down to one thing: “relatedness”.

You see lack of trust and its cost on the organization when:

  • Leadership is asking employees to do something they are not doing themselves
  • People are second guessing each other’s decisions
  • No one helps each other out in performing their work
  • Leadership is rarely soliciting employee feedback and/or making changes to address it
  • Employees do not socialize with one another

One of distrust’s most common economic symptoms comes from operation inefficiency and bureaucracy. It “takes forever” to complete tasks that intuitively should take much less time.

HR Gazette: What skills are most useful for everyone to have when trying to move towards a culture of engagement?

Mark: Relationship building skills. Whether one-to-one or one-to-many, knowing how to create and maintain meaningful, genuine and lasting ties with your employees is key in achieving a culture of engagement…and a place where people love to work!

HR Gazette: You are a sponsor for the North American 2016 Employee Engagement Awards. What was your main motivator for sponsoring this amazing event?

Mark: The Awards are a celebration of something really remarkable that companies are doing: creating an environment where people love to work. Employee engagement is a 20+ year-old field but, given its enormous impacts on company performance, is one with volumes of research, attention and resources – it’s exciting to be a part of the community!

More about Bonfyre

Bonfyre creates private, social networks for real-time communication that can be customized with dozens of features to support internal communications, recognition and wellness programs, events, team building, collaboration and more. Unlike standard productivity tools, Bonfyre cultivates a culture where leadership and employees build stronger relationships – so critical for creating a highly engaged workforce. Fun and immediately familiar to use, Bonfyre sees significantly higher employee adoption and engagement rates than other products…producing a new kind of HR business intelligence. Bonfyre’s powerful analytics engine and survey tools measure activity, top content, influencers, sentiment, engagement and more, helping companies make smarter employee engagement investments.

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