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Want more engagement? Find your Champions

The future of employee engagement is in-house Champions.

Google does it, SAP does it,
Even little companies do it,
Let’s do it, let’s get a Champion
(with apologies to Cole Porter)

When Peter Bostelmann, a SAP engineer, started talking to colleagues about meditation he could not have foreseen the path that would lead to his becoming a Champion at SAP. In 2013 he persuaded SAP to pilot mindfulness training. SAP and the people who work there have found the programme so beneficial that of SAP’s 91,000 employees, over 6,000 have participated in the program. More than 5,000 are on a waiting list, with some 40 Champions employed around the world. Peter is now Director of SAP’s Global Mindfulness Practice.

SAP has proven the business case for having Champions of opportunities that can impact employee engagement. The business estimates that for every 1 percentage point increase in employee engagement they benefit to the tune of £40 million to £52.5 million in operating profit, while a 1 percentage point increase in its business health culture index can add £70 million to £80 million.

In a similar way Chade Meng-Tan was a Champion at Google and Golbie Kamarei at BlackRock. Other companies have found significant benefit in Champions. Champions have been discovered for all kinds of areas including: Purpose, Values, Nutrition, Onboarding, Random Acts of Kindness, Wellbeing, Volunteering, Journaling, Surveying, Job Crafting, Flexible Working, Vacations, Surveys, Plants (Going Green), Mastery, Character Strengths, Perks, Happiness, Socialising, Buddying, Celebrations (Internal and External – Birthdays, Anniversaries, babies, house moves, new kittens), Showcasing Success (Recognition), Learning Achievements, Simplifying, Fusing customer and employee experiences, Feedback, Storytelling and so on

Most companies stumble upon their Champions. This was the case with Google, Blackrock and SAP. The key to significant benefits like increased focus, better mental and physical health, increased creativity, and a better culture, had been lying dormant under the corporate nose. It was Peter, Chade and Golbie who pushed, shoved, pleaded and cajoled their companies to try something revolutionary. The companies had no process to unlock the vast store of potential.

The value gap

This is where businesses have a huge value gap. In each company there is a wealth of untapped talent waiting to contribute to the success of their business. Why are companies not tapping into their own Peter, Chade and Golbie? The talent is there.

The reason is that companies do not have a simple process to unearth the opportunities and the Champions lying dormant in their ranks. A simple five step process that can be used is the Framework of Champions.

1. Opportunity Discovery

Use a tool such as the Business Happiness Canvas to discover opportunities for improving the employee experience and engagement. Or research what is generally accepted good practice for health, wellness, happiness and engagement. There are hundreds of opportunities in use. List your five priority areas. For example, these may be Purpose, Values, Recognition, Volunteering and Wellbeing.

2. Champion Discovery

Discover who can become a Champion for each opportunity to improve the employee experience and engagement. Once again, a tool such as the Business Happiness Canvas can be used to discover Champions. Doing a word search through employee CVs may unearth potential candidates. For example, a Volunteering Champion may be a person who already volunteers for one or more causes. Alternatively call for a volunteer for the position. University College London did a fine job advertising for a Wellbeing Champion. They set out:

  • A summary of the role
  • What the role involved
  • Examples of activities included
  • Requirements for the role

3. Champion Development

Once an Opportunity and a Champion have been discovered it is necessary to ensure the Champion can fulfil the Opportunity’s potential. Discuss the role with the Champion and agree the Champion’s purpose, what results are expected, how results will be measured, what support the Champion can expect from organisations leaders, how much time the role will require and what skills and training are required.

When University College London advertised for the position of Wellbeing Champion they also listed the following information:

  • What support/development the Champion will receive
  • The time is required
  • The local work area support
  • How long the position of Champion lasts
  • What happens if the Champion wants to stop being a champion

4. Let your Champion Go

Give your Champion the freedom to get on with the job. However, the Champion cannot be a lone voice. When the Champion kickstarts the Opportunity, the initiative must be backed by the leadership team. Support your Champion whenever support is asked for. Talk with your Champion, walk with your Champion. Ask on a regular basis for feedback and what can be done to help the Champion. Look for wins and offer appreciation, gratitude and recognition for efforts made and results achieved.

5. Refresh the Fascination

Find and tell the stories that keep the Opportunity alive. Gather and document successes and look to craft stories around these successes. Stories can be told in brochures, social media, advertisements, press releases, coffee breaks, the back of cereal boxes, team meetings, landing pages…

Your choice

Organisations have a choice: they can view Champions as something that will emerge organically over time or they can be proactive about it, using the framework to realise the benefits of a more engaged workforce. You owe it to your potential Champions to choose the latter course of action.

For a comprehensive guide on developing Champions in the workplace email me at