“HR is pushing this change out again.”
“I’m not sure why we need to do this, but HR sent an email.”
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, or if you’ve said something similar.
Many of us in HR spend our days, weeks, and months building programs, systems, and tools to help our organizations and its people get from A, to B.
Performance management, company values, management training, feedback systems, a new HRIS. Although each of these changes or upgrades to our way of working is meant to help bring people together around a common goal, the way they are introduced can create more divides. These divides aren’t just ‘us’ vs ‘them’, but ‘on-board’ and engaged versus ‘dissenter’ and disinterested.
Then how do we mobilize and motivate others around an idea or a new way of working that sticks and spreads?
Though we rarely want our change efforts and our impact to be seen as check-the-box, the three common mistakes below can keep much of our work in the compliance zone.
Mistake #1: We over-invest in the tool instead of the outcome
When it comes time to communicate change with our employees, we often bring people together with a gathering (a meeting, training class, town hall, offsite, etc) to share the message.
In creating and marketing these gatherings it is tempting to focus on the content first, like slides, talking points, or logistics. This is akin to a carpenter who attempts to increase business by starting with the tools they will use (nails, hammer, saw) instead of what he or she is creating and the outcome they and the customer want (a table that doesn’t break, a new closet, a bookshelf for your child’s room).
Those same tools can create drastically different outcomes depending on how they are used. Same goes for our gatherings.
We can start by being more mindful about what outcome our gathering is driving towards.
Say you are a musician thinking about how to structure your next tour. Instead of starting with your set list and instruments, you can instead begin by choosing what you want your audience to walk away doing:
- Compliance: Our default gathering method; “check-the-box”
- Informed: Audience listens to your song
- Entertained: Audience sings the song with you
- Engaged: Audience sings the song on their own, and shares it with others
Say you are introducing your company’s core values at an upcoming town hall. Within this gathering (town hall) we can be intentional with the strategy and design to drive towards a specific outcome.
The same gathering can live in each of these quadrants. This model I've created can help you diagnose your change effort:
Whereas a PULL change effort involves and includes employees, a PUSH effort relies on extrinsic motivators like a sense of duty or even fear to draw others in. With PULL, employees are active and co-creators of the gathering, and with PUSH they are more passive.
A PUSH gathering may be heavily skewed towards consumption of facts or information whereas a PULL gathering highlights context and what is at stake for the employee.
If our gatherings are ONE SIZE FITS ALL they are made for anyone. The more PERSONALIZED they are, the more unique, relevant and applicable the material is for the people in the room.
Seen this way, the same tool (town hall) can produce dramatically different outcomes.
Each of these outcomes is necessary and ‘correct’ in various instances, and our employees will want or expect different outcomes at different points.
But by starting with the outcome instead of the tool, we are able to deeply understand and intuit why our gatherings might be viewed as either a hindrance or an enabler for positive change in our organizations. Then, we can adjust accordingly.
Mistake #2: Though we seek engagement, we tend to stop at compliance
Chances are, if you survey your stakeholders, you’ll find that what people want out of a change effort isn’t all that different: HR wants people to take responsibility. Leadership wants an engaged workforce with a unified culture. Employees want to be utilized and recognized.
There are some one-and-done changes for which compliance is sufficient. Take, updating information in an HRIS, for example.
Too often though, our default response to get someone else to do something is to focus on compliance instead of inspiring them to reach for more. In this instance, change feels pushed, as if something is being done to us instead of with us.
Done too often, employees become further locked in this compliance orientation, driven by fear or extrinsic carrot and stick rewards waiting to be told what to do and when.
Instead of shining the spotlight on employees, these often default choices put the onus on HR to be the owners of each change. Gatherings only designed with this outcome limit the employees' ability to take up this change as their own.
Despite our best intentions, lasting change hardly happens when it is forced on people.
Because of this, igniting engagement goes beyond an initial idea or simply a gathering. It’s how we connect to it. We often place our investment on the information without understanding how or if others will, in fact, connect to it. That's why, when we gather others around a change we must pay attention to not only the content but also the context.
Mistake #3: We forget that context is king
These days, content is everywhere. “Can you just send me the slides?” is a phrase we often utter or wish we could.
Success now depends more and more not only on our ability to share information but to forge a lasting connection between our work and those we wish to reach. That’s one reason why HR Leaders of the future need skills in not just encouraging consumption of content one time, but sharing context that fuels momentum and buy-in for the long run.
To move from compliance to engagement, we can adjust our gatherings to focus more on how we create ripe conditions like these for change to stick and spread:
We hold the reins by providing a sense of the path and confidence that we’ll help employees get from A to B
We build community. The beautiful thing about a live gathering is although we all experience it differently, everyone in the room is sharing in something similar. Great craftspeople use this to their advantage to create a strong in-group sensation that binds a group of people together in time.
We unlock motivation by drawing in people who want to experience what we have to offer. We expertly play upon the gap between where people currently are, and where they want to go.
As we move up the ladder and advance in our careers, our success is fueled by the ability to bring people together around a common idea. We don’t just want people to listen to our song. We want them to sing it on their own and share it with others.
In order to create positive change in those we work with and for, we can better utilize the power of a group and how we gather together.
After all, when we think about the impact of our work, do we want to build a system or a process, or do we want to build an organization where no matter what we are introducing, people will take it up as their own?
Lindsey Caplan has been gathering people for over 15 years - first to entertain, as a comedy writer in Hollywood, then to educate for companies like DreamWorks Animation and McKinsey, and now to transform as an organizational psychologist as the Head of Talent Development for successful Silicon Valley companies like Zendesk and most recently, Credit Karma. She earned a Masters Degree in Organizational Psychology from Columbia University and a Bachelor's Degree in Film and Creative Writing for the Media from Northwestern University. She believes work can be a place where you become your best self. Please don’t dissuade her. You can follow Lindsey on LinkedIn, and read more of her writing on her website.
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