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Selective Engagement

BY mikeklein One of the common themes in internal communication that has never sat well with me is the idea of egalitarianism—that all internal communication should treat all employees, or all employees of a hierarchical class, on an equal basis.

There are some places where egalitarianism has its place in the corporate world—compliance with codes of conduct and adherence to agreed processes and values being obvious choices.

In internal communication, the idea that all employees should be treated equally is often counter-productive, and manifests itself in a number of ways.

It lives in measurements that focus on raw numbers, like a focus on views and hits on Intranet articles.

It fuels the never-ending drive to sanitize content and simplify language, so that it reaches the most apathetic corners of the organisation with minimum offense.

And it bankrolls the persistent insistence on all-employee “sheep-dip” workshops, conferences, and “engage-athons.”

But as seductive and intuitive as the idea of “getting everyone on the same page” may be for executives, budget-holders and engage-athon vendors, an alternative approach is beginning to gain momentum.

My name for the alternative is “selective engagement”.

My definition of selective engagement is the effort to change organisational direction, or improve organisational performance, by identifying, connecting and mobilising the organisation’s most influential people in the pursuit of one or more common objectives.

Selective Engagement aims for efficiency with effectiveness.  Lower costs, higher impact, and reduced alienation and irritation.

It’s about reducing the number of people targeted by communication, increasing the depth of content and expanding the resonance of social connections.

Moreover, by targeting a small number of influential people; messages and intentions actually spread as widely as they do through broadcast or even “sheep-dip” communication.  The added credibility coming from the involvement of these formal and informal leaders who spread and connect the message helps move beyond mere awareness and towards active adoption.

One of the barriers to this approach in the past is that the research required to do the social mapping and identify the influencers has been seen as cumbersome and expensive.  Another is that some senior leaders like the idea in principle, but want to choose the participants themselves rather than assess their influence more objectively.

But the approach, finally, is becoming more common.  Research and mapping are becoming cheaper and easier, and some leaders are becoming more receptive.  Selective Engagement is generating selective momentum.

To learn more in 55 seconds, read Bethany Haley’s excellent article.

To learn more in 55 minutes, order my book, From Lincoln to LinkedIn (Abraham Lincoln had this idea back in 1840, by the way)

To explore a from a behaviour change angle, and you have more than 55 minutes, try Leandro Herrero’s Homo Imitans.

Selective engagement is a powerful challenge to the persistence of the “one-size-fits-all” model of internal communication.  It has massive potential to Change The Terms.

4 thoughts on “Selective Engagement”

  1. Michael, we’ve been targeting performance improvement efforts for a long time. A major part of lean/six sigma includes focusing on the critical few and using quantitative analyses (Pareto charts) to identify the best and sometimes most leverageable places to improve.

    I’ve been saying for years that it usually makes no sense to engage everyone. That’s because not all aspects of a business affect top and bottom line results equally. And generally weaknesses in some areas have a greater impact on overall performance than weaknesses in other areas. So “engaging the organization” usually isn’t as prudent as engaging people where the performance most needs to rise. For instance if a pharmaceutical didn’t have anything in its R&D pipeline, would you focus your engagement efforts equally on R&D and sales? Unlikely. You’d focus where you’d get your greatest return.

    Engagement can also reach a point of diminishing returns. At what point do we stop investing in engagement because the investment is larger than the results we’re getting from it? That’s why I don’t believe broad brush engagement efforts make good business sense when resources are finite. Nor do I think engagement scores in broader (e.g., corporate-wide) efforts always represent leading indicators of anything important.

    One of our client’s supply chain was experiencing significant quality problems in part because of the company’s stress on productivity. We focused tightly on improving engagement equally around both quality and productivity so when quality improved it wouldn’t rise at the expense of productivity. We tracked engagement regularly through the project. We were measuring causation between what we were doing to engage people and its impact on productivity and quality. There was direct causation. As engagement went up we could count on an improvement in both quality and productivity.
    In the end there was a 65% improvement in quality and a 16% increase in productivity.

    So I agree with you but it’s not a new approach. And influencers need to be the people–often on the front line–who can most directly create improved results.

  2. Thanks for this-would like to do something more with this excellent response. Agree none of this is new. But this type of approach has become less common in the communication world of late because, in my view, engagement has been seen as more of an end than a means. And, for that matter, the pursuit of engagement for engagement’s sake has sucked the oxygen out of the internal comms profession. I appreciated your continued efforts to bring light and air to these matters.

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