After the fanfare: HQ2 and employee engagement

Employee Engagement

Last month, 238 cities, states and regions submitted their bid to host Amazon’s much-anticipated second headquarters, HQ2.

Since then, technology and business commentators have been speculating nonstop about which location will receive the project and with it the tax incentives, revenue, increased workforce and the general halo effect from having one of the most admired companies anchoring the local business community.

Where the rubber meets the road (or perhaps where product hits doorstep might be a more apt metaphor) is in the execution of the move. Specifically, how will HQ2 impact the people already there and how will the company be impacted by the existing business community? It’s easy for both sides of this development to get caught up in the excitement of the process. But after the last photo opportunity and the last clink of champagne glasses, there’s a lot of work to be done in preparing a massive workforce for a new location. Similarly, the winning city needs to be ready to receive the influx of new people and ideas.

HQ2 is a good reminder to any company considering growth, geographic expansion or the relocation of its workforce that employee engagement takes hard work and diligence, and it also pays huge dividends if done correctly. As someone who has moved locations both voluntarily and involuntarily in her career, as well as helped clients of all sizes guide employees through change, HQ2 prompted me to think about the individual aspect of what’s to come:

Employee retention for those “left behind”

Yes, it’s exciting to think about a fresh start and companies spend significant amounts of time convincing top performers to move. But what about the ones left behind? Solid performers who are not chosen for whatever reason risk being lost in the shuffle, at which point engagement levels can drop. Companies should be aware of “shiny object” syndrome. Make sure the entire employee base understands what a big move means to them as individuals and contributors and most importantly, where they can find opportunity and advancement in any location.

It’s not a big deal…until it is.

Some moves are so drastic that it’s almost easier for employees to deal with the impact (think cross-country moves or those with major cultural shifts, such as from a suburban corporate park to a high-rise near a subway station). When the move is that drastic, people tend to be more aware of the potential pitfalls and they prepare themselves accordingly.

But what if the move is not that drastic, such as to a nearby town or region? That may seem like an easy sell, but buyer beware: commutes will be different and perhaps more costly, impacting employees’ quality of life. Just as important, the ways of doing business will be different; the business and civic groups one joins and the profile one builds all change with a relocation. With change, employees and their families will always be impacted in some way: kids attending different schools, spouses losing jobs, or rooting for different sports teams. Managers need to be aware of the people dynamics more than ever during a relocation.

Mission, vision and values: do your employees know what these are?

Without knowing a company’s current “why” — its aspirations and guidelines for living it each day — employees are left to interpret this on their own. For individuals also in the throes of a move, it can be reassuring to turn to a company’s mission, vision and core values throughout the process. It may be tempting for company leadership to shelve this until after the move, but having an engaged workforce aligned around cultural priorities will be an important first step in building a strong new location while firmly anchoring the original. A fresh look at the awareness and integration of one’s mission, vision and values is a must before a major change.

The devil is in the details.

One of the biggest mistakes companies make with any change initiative is not articulating clearly – and often – the changes to come. An informed workforce is the first step on the way to an engaged workforce and hopefully, a new group of inspired brand ambassadors from the new location. Companies should spend time thinking about what questions employees in various levels, geographies and departments of their firm are likely to have regarding a move and communicate to those internal stakeholders accordingly.

Growth and change can be an exciting time, but it’s never experienced the same way among all employees. Companies who get change right focus as much on the details behind the scenes as the big picture in front.

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