Panera’s Pay-What-You-Can Conundrum: Highlighting The Power Of Employee Engagement

Just four months after its launch, Panera Bread is pulling its "Meal of Shared Responsibility" from cafes. The meal, a turkey chili-filled bread bowl with a suggested retail price of $5.48, was featured in 48 locations as a pay-what-you-can option – a complement to Panera's work to fight food insecurity in the U.S. Despite a strong start, the program slowly faded into oblivion as marketing efforts ebbed and employees stopped "explaining the concept to customers," according to the Associated Press. While Panera reexamines the program and how it might reactivate it successfully, the sputtering of the "Meal of Shared Responsibility" shines a light on the importance of employee engagement… and what can happen when that engagement is put on the back-burner.

As the face and mouthpiece of your brand, employees are often your strongest advocates. They're on the front lines and wield the power to motivate broader consumer buy-in to your CSR program. In fact, 70 percent of consumers said they are more likely to make a cause-related purchase or donation if an employee recommends it, according to the 2010 Cone Communications Cause Evolution Study.

Employee engagement is a critical, not-to-be-overlooked component of any CSR program. Recognize their power, and engage them consistently. Although Panera's "Meal of Shared Responsibility" possesses some imperfections, it may well have lived longer and more successfully if Panera employees received continued motivation to communicate the program after the initial buzz died down.  

Working on a CSR program? Consider these four tips for effective employee engagement:

1. Don't Be Afraid to Ask for Help: The best way to get employee buy-in is to involve them in the process from inception. In the case of Panera, maybe it's asking employees what types of menu items would work best for "The Meal of Shared Responsibility" or perhaps even inviting suggestions of other models to help the hungry. Employees will feel invested in its success of a CSR effort if they've contributed to its creation.

2. Make it Matter: While program communication may take place at the register, a robust employee engagement program should extend beyond this point. On-the-ground company or store-wide volunteer opportunities can make an issue real and personal to employees. Companies like Panera can offer employee volunteer opportunities at local soup kitchens or food banks, making the hunger cause tangible, urgent and personal.

3. Measure, Motivate, then Celebrate Success: Employees, not just consumers, want to know the success or impact of programs. Make sure to track and communicate these victories to all employees, then charge them to push goals even further. Maybe a little friendly competition between store locations would encourage Panera employees to consistently communicate the programs benefits and successes to consumers.

4. Don't Stop, Adapt: As frontline ambassadors for your brand, your employees are often the first to know if there is a glaring problem with your CSR program. Seek feedback from employees regularly and empower them to be frank and honest about what they are experiencing. Embrace this feedback and innovate. While Panera may be retooling its efforts, it can still look to employees for critical advice on "The Meal of Shared Responsibility," learning from those important insights as the company continues its hunger-fighting efforts.

What employee engagement tactics have helped your brand spread your CSR message? Let us know on Twitter using #ConeCSR.


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