If you don’t know what someone expects from you, you are bound to fail unless you are extremely lucky. If you take the time to learn what someone expects from you, your chance of succeeding increases greatly — unless they change their mind later.
We’ve all been there. We sit in a meeting, debate an issue and come to an agreement on a path forward. Everyone leaves the meeting and sometime later that day, later that week, later that month, one guy’s perspective changes. The reason why doesn’t matter. What matters is that his perspective is different.
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You’re already marching down a previously agreed-upon path, so you don’t realize that someone on the team fell out of alignment. By the time you reach your destination, you have both succeeded and failed, depending on who you ask. And the person who changed his perspective and fell out of alignment? Most likely he has lost confidence in you, maybe even in the team or the whole company and he may no longer want to engage at all.
Suddenly, this isn’t a problem of one person changing his mind along the way. This is a problem of overall company engagement. Imagine the impact of this disconnect happening across a company over and over again. Now we’re not just talking about the success or failure of initiatives. We’re talking about the success or failure of individuals and teams and departments, and overall company morale and culture.
In fact, according to Gallup research, more than 70 percent of change initiatives fail. Another study using Gallup’s Change Management Index found that on average, managers in the top quartile engaged 77 percent of their employees, while managers in the bottom quartile engaged only 1 percent of their employees and 54 percent of their employees were actively disengaged. That’s not a management problem when a majority of people disengage, that is a sweeping indictment of failure.
Overcoming barriers to lasting organizational change.
Let’s face it, making real change is hard. Leaders must confront numerous obstacles to implement effective changes, including organizational politics, functional silos and external market dynamics. Change processes can also be compromised by poorly defined objectives, unclear metrics and milestones that seem impossible.
In addition, human nature often conspires to keep employees from changing their behaviors as well. Many people harbor what’s known as status quo bias, which is a preference for keeping things the same. Another common trait is loss aversion, which is an inclination to avoid losses more strongly than acquiring gains.
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Engagement involves much more than holding company picnics or holiday parties to interact socially with one another. The secret to operationalizing engagement is to make an ongoing, deliberate effort to maintain a two-way dialogue with everyone who has something to say about whatever the company does. Not just what they say about change initiatives, but also about the operational processes they conduct on a daily basis. Operationalizing engagement is about building these bridges, enabling conversations, and providing transparency.
Planning how to get from here to there.
To start, you should take an intentional, structured approach to determine where you are now, where you want to be in the future and how you will bridge the gap.
The path begins by identifying those operational processes where real business value can be gained through better engagement. No department is immune. Every area of the organization has processes that can benefit from increased levels of engagement. Once the processes have been chosen, here are the key steps to operationalizing engagement:
Identify the right touch points for engagement within each process. Pinpoint when it makes sense to bring in additional perspectives. It’s important to engage people at the right moment to make them feel like their ideas are being heard in the overall decision-making process, as opposed to making them feel like you’re simply checking a box.Broaden the audience that you bring into the conversation. Determine who is closest to the pain or the root cause of the problem. Identify who will be most impacted by the decisions that will be made. Then invite those people to share their concerns and ideas for solutions. You’ll get a richer set of ideas and possible actions, and they will naturally prepare to adapt to change.Establish a recurring schedule for these broad conversations. One and done won’t be enough. The environment changes constantly and people are exposed to different situations, causing them to develop different ideas. What’s important today might not rise to the top next month. Ask the same question again on a monthly or quarterly basis, and check back regularly to see if progress is being made, or what new issues have come up.Remove the politics that arise based on whoever raised the concern or suggested a solution. Be sure to give the audience an anonymous voice. Force ideas to stand on their own merit. Let people agree or disagree with ideas in a safe environment, so that you can separate out the squeaky wheels and discover what really matters most.
Talented managers know how to engage their teams to help employees see how their work connects to the company’s overall vision for the future. Such leaders deliver daily nudges to keep employees moving in the right direction, rather than waiting for annual performance reviews to correct course.
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To move from the current state to your future goal, start by assessing the current state. Then paint a clear, compelling picture of that future state for everyone involved. When formulating this vision, avoid being overly complicated, too big picture, or too numbers-driven. Distill the nature of the problem down to its essence and align the team around the urgent need for a shared solution. When everyone knows what to expect and nobody changes their minds, your group’s chance of succeeding will go way, way up.