Why do management gurus still speak of resistance to change and failed digital transformations, yet whole new IT platforms have been rolled out across the globe to billions of people without a single memo, town hall, or training program?
Most of us buy online, check in for flights, use online banking, and spend hours on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, but it’s likely none of us received a memo from a CEO to get on board. Instead, there were early adopters, influencers, and platform coaches who spread the word. People downloaded shiny new apps and created user accounts for a cause—for convenience, connections with long-distance family and friends, and sharing experiences.
What does this teach us? It’s not about user adoption; it’s about community connection. When you master that, you master not just engagement but transformation.
As leaders, we forget that the people who are using these new technologies at home are the very same people who come to work each day to participate in digital or operational transformations. The difference? Their engagement.
So, what if you could bring that same spirit to work? You can. Help people see their cause, and you’ll give them a reason to adopt and engage.
A Job Description Isn’t Enough
A job description isn’t a call for purpose. You could be forgiven for thinking that, as a hands-on manager, you already have your bases covered: “I’ve given my team their job descriptions; they get a performance review each year; I pin up their weekly numbers and email regular updates; I’ve explained how what they do is tracked by the big bosses upstairs, and how their work affects company profitability and customer satisfaction. Surely that’s enough?” Well, no, unfortunately, it isn’t.
Discover What Gets People out of Bed Each Day.
Having a purpose at work that’s greater than the sum of the required tasks is what gets people up in the morning. For instance, when you know you’ll be operating your machine and acting as a coach to a new hire, your sense of fulfillment grows: you have a greater role to play.
Showcase Employees’ Expertise.
Creating community around your people’s expertise and work practices builds interest and buy-in.
Being seen as a knowledge expert who can help develop skills in others reinforces our sense of value. It makes us feel like we’re contributing to the bigger picture. It encourages togetherness.
Give Back to the Community around You.
Making a difference in your community gives additional meaning to people’s efforts. How your workplace comes together to give back can lead to more varied and challenging work, which boosts a sense of purpose and motivation.
Help the Community Grow.
By growing your business to grow jobs, your teams will see their impact on society.
Show People How They Help ‘Win the Prize.’
People want to know how they help win the prize, no matter where they sit in the company. If they can share in that prize—even if not directly but through a sense of shared achievement—then engagement builds.
You’ve heard the old story of the maintenance man at NASA who helped put a man on the moon. This same sentiment was updated during the COVID-19 pandemic as everyday hospital cleaners and workers could point to how they were saving lives. If you don’t link people’s contributions, how will they?
Be transparent with people about what you’re doing and why. Businesses often launch transformation and improvement programs but fail to get people excited because they don’t communicate what this means for their employees directly.
This is one of those “common sense isn’t always common” points: once people appreciate the need for change and have a clear picture of the difference it will make, they’re more likely to get behind it. We’ve known this for a very long time, and yet, my experience with clients shows that we still often miss this step and forget to help people connect the dots. Sometimes it’s simply about a compare and contrast exercise—showing people the difference between where you are and where you want to be.
Watch out for Isolation.
People crave connection. A big trigger for disengagement is when people become isolated at work, perhaps because of their office setup or working hours, an absence of peers in similar roles, or a global pandemic that removes the ability for regular face-to-face contact.
Of course, it’s fantastic if people have flexibility in how and where they work, but if connections weaken, people can lose their sense of community, direction, and, importantly, their purpose. Without people on hand to witness or discuss their achievements, their commitment to excel may be slowly eroded.
Heap on Validation.
Enthusiasm is catching, but enthusiasm only works if we can see and be inspired by what each other is doing. So, give your people validation. Showcase examples and role models of what to aim for– a visible reason to keep going.
These are just a few of the no-cost, at-your-fingertips basics that will help you manage to engage. If we can get whole populations of people using ATMs, digital kiosks, and any number of social platforms and retail apps on our phones, it stands to reason we can learn from how they’re rolled out and do the same in our workplaces.