Employee Engagement: What can the Pumpkin Spice Latte teach us?

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Fall is here. Cooler temperatures, changing leaves (for some!), fall sports, and the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL). Starbucks’ PSL (and the many competing fall drinks) have become a cornerstone of the fall season in the 17 years since its inception. Indeed, the phenomenon is so substantial you can say PSL (or #PSL on social media) and many immediately understand, or can quickly determine, that you’re referring to the famous nutmeg-cardamom infused beverage.

The PSL has become a part of many people’s love of fall, and part of a our culture around fall. The return of sweaters, scarves, fall colors, and the anticipation of the holiday season are deeply entwined with the PSL. Starbucks engineers its marketing and imagery around this meaning to appeal to its core demographic and brand. With this demographic feelings of nostalgia and memories may play a key role, recalling events and life stages of years past (for example, I was in college when the PSL was created).

The PSL (or any product or promotion available for only a limited time) teaches us several key lessons for building committed and engaged teams.

  • For a Limited Time Only. The limited nature of the PSL is key to its success. When our choices are restrained, like with “limited time” offers, our desire and need for that option can increase – in psychology this resistance to constraints is called reactance. Mixing up incentive and recognition creates a sense of urgency and greater commitment in return. Rewarding different behaviors and goals, and having a planned timeline for your engagement efforts (e.g., a planned calendar and strategy for your employee experience and engagement survey) can increase participation and results. You could reward sales, safety, professional development, and boost participation in your wellness program at different points throughout the year. You can also create engagement programs to target specific groups.
  • Everybody’s Doing It! You might notice how pumpkin spice takes over this time of year. Consistent frequent reminders combined with the popularity of Starbucks makes for a powerful one-two punch. Ignite a few initial employees to participate and you can quickly reach a tipping point where participation becomes the norm. For example, we worked with a team that started a program to openly share their own professional development.  Once a few employees started to share their progress the rest of the group quickly joined.
  • Grande with Two Pumps of Meaning, Please. Just as the PSL represents a love for all that is cozy and warm about fall, your engagement initiatives should be directly tied to the purpose and vision of your enterprise. A large retail company with close to 400 locations spread across the country found a strong link between store and multi-unit leadership connection and creating loyal customers. Efforts to build relationships within and across stores ranging from parties and social events to classes and resources created by store leaders to share with others were infused with this purpose.
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Everything remarkable, from an enterprise to a consumer product, starts with a clearly articulated definition of the why. What is the why behind your actions and strategies for the employee experience and engagement? The strategies above can help you build compelling engagement programs driving an employee experience that increases commitment, retention, and the success of your enterprise.

Learn More about the Roots of Employee Engagement. Download our Whitepaper.

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