Engagement – the power of the other

shadowWe have become accustomed to thinking about “engagement” in terms of numbers and formulas. We are told that only 20% or so of employees are “positively engaged” and that around the same number are “actively disengaged”. (I guess the remainder just turn up). These statistics are useful, but I find them “cold”. I can graph them, but not feel them. Engagement is a visceral subject – it’s all about how we feel.

In his book, “The power of the other” Henry Cloud takes a long and deep look at the effect other people have on us – on our health, the way we think, and the way we perform. I can’t think of a much better definition of engagement.

He identifies four types of relationship, and the impact they have. I think we can look at them at both a human, and a technology level. He talks of four “Corners”

Corner 1 is where we don’t really engage at all. We keep others at arm’s length for a variety of reasons, from fear, or uncertainty, or sometimes just because we can’t be bothered. It’s isolating, and we don’t learn much. It enables us to exist in our own little bubble, and see the world the way it suits us. At a human level, we’ve all experienced this type of customer service, or relationship at work. At a technology level, it’s the “ All our operators are very busy at the moment. Your call is very important to us, please stay on the line etc….”. You will have your own favourite examples. Let’s not even talk about trying to call your bank.

Corner 2 is where there is a relationship, but very one sided, and often one based on domination. We have all experienced what that is like at work at some point, and it seems to me it’s also far too prevalent in many customer relationships. From the tone of the TV license renewal advertisements which are not very thinly veiled threats, to communications from utility companies, these convey the clear impression that as customers, we are fairly powerless, and we can take it or leave it. They are clearly not engaged with us – what on earth would cause us to be engaged with them?

Corner 3 is where the relationship is positive but false. Full of bonhomie, and “have a nice day”, it seeks engagement, but is not backed by genuine intent. Some of the efforts are good, and fool us for a while, but always surface. There is an excellent HBR article by Jacob Morgan “Why the Millions We Spend on Employee Engagement Buy Us So Little” that highlight many of these “corner 3” activities. They include, at a human level, those “episodic”, “topic of the month” initiatives, and insincere relationships with busy managers and colleagues. We can often see the same in consumer relationships. At a technology level, badly designed or complex to navigate web pages, and customer service programs can give the impression that “the lights are on, but nobody’s home”

Corner 4, You’ll recognise this is where the action is, the most difficult to do, and where the huge returns are. Honest, open, interested relationships, where the genuine intent is for the joy of all stakeholders. It’s the world of Zappo’s, where staff have unlimited time to make sure the customer is happy, or the Ritz Carlton, where any member of staff has the authority, on their own initiative to spend up to $2000 to solve a customer problem. The same trends can be seen in any of the “best companies to work for” surveys.

It’s all about culture, purpose and intent, and it can’t be faked. At a technology level, the same is evident – technology that changes and adapts, and learns what customers want. It feels like technology that listens. The potential for Machine Learning and Artificial intelligence, used with intent, is huge here.

Engagement is a corner 4 game, and transformational. Anything else is transactional. The equivalent of the around 60% of employees who just turn up.

The good news is that great engagement can be designed. It’s not a process or a formula, it’s a human activity. It’s personal, unique, and uncopiable. At it’s best, to borrow from an old Ford advertisement, it’s humans and technology in perfect harmony. Technology in the service of people.

People, ideas, technology – in that order.

Image:Gabriel Isak Photography – The Shadow and the Self

Richard Merrick a coach / catalyst specialising in agile approaches to strategy, innovation and operations. 



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