I’ll start by asking a question: Are your people afraid? If they are, they can’t be engaged. But just what are workers in the 21st century afraid of?
According to Jim Haudan, the list looks like this:
- We’re afraid that our contributions aren’t really valued.
- We’re afraid that our personal beliefs don’t align with those of the company.
- We’re afraid that we won’t be able to adapt to changes in the way we work.
- We’re afraid that we won’t have a safe place to practice new skills.
- We don’t feel that it’s safe to say what we really think.
- We don’t think it’s safe to suggest better ways of doing things.
- We don’t know how to disagree and not become branded “a problem.”
“Many of the formal aspects of our workplaces are reflections of the rules and procedures that define the culture of the business. Without a level of informality in the workplace, fear and caution take over and cause people to fall short of what they’re capable of achieving. Leaders need to remember that human beings work for them, and human beings need to feel safe.“
There’s also another problem with achieving engagement, and that’s the “piecemeal” problem. Haudan likens this to a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle, where workers get sent pieces one at a time, minus the box top to show employees how the pieces fit together. Without the picture, the pieces don’t seem to hang together: “Once piece says ‘Innovate,’ and another says ‘Cut costs.’ One says ‘Go slow’ and another says ‘Go fast!’ One piece says ‘Delight customers’ and another says ‘Reduce Inventory.’”
The book outlines some typical “conversations” that highlight typical gaps between strategy and execution:
Leaders saying something like, “This is our vision and mission,” with those on the front lines are responding, “Sounds blue sky to me. What does it mean to me and my people?” Leaders are saying, “You need to work smarter,” and the doers are countering with, “We can’t possibly work any harder!” Leaders exclaiming, “You are empowered!” while the doers are responding, “More flavor-of-the-month management.”
The solution? The book drove an excellent point home about the strength of visualization, and how visualization is a critical ingredient of engagement with many benefits:
- Visualization makes it easy to think in systems. It allows people to understand, connect, and focus systematically.
- Visualization creates simplicity. It forces us to “think simpler.” You can’t draw a crisp picture of something that hasn’t been thought through in great detail.
- Visualization captures the drama of business. It illustrates struggles, risks, threats, opportunities, and emotion in ways that data and words cannot. Tapping into this emotion challenges complacency and inspires activism within a business.
- Visualization enables us to think big or think strategically by showing us the whole. Thinking big allows us to focus on the major forces that drive our business rather than the everyday tactics that often occupy much of our time.
- Visualization appeals to most learners. In general, a visual culture is quickly replacing the traditional print culture, and there’s no question that it will be the approach of choice in the future.
- Visualization provides for quick recall. Visual images help most people retain information efficiently.
- Visualization enables nonlinear connections. Not everybody learns in a straight, progressive path. Each of us has to personalize the connections.
- Visualization acts as a universal common language by minimizing misinterpretations. It’s a consistent way to communicate among different cultures and languages.
- Visualization allows visual storytelling. It enables people to easily see an integrated story and talk about how they can add to it.
- Visualization connects people because it can display both facts and emotion. It conveys not only how the business looks but how it feels.
As Haudan observed, when we use visualization to portray the operations of a business, employees can more easily understand difficult concepts. Images eliminate the opportunity for widespread misinterpretation and generate a common, quickly understood language. After all, without an understanding of a company’s strategy, people can’t take responsibility for change.
I like one other quote from the book about strategy, and ties to what other people are saying, such as Dan Pink and his Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose as motivators:
Strategy is an adventure; even more, it’s a purposeful adventure.
If you want to examine connecting strategy to execution from a fresh perspective, this book is a well-written, must read.
Illustrations in this post are examples from the book, The Art of Engagement