Jenny Perkins, head of engagement at Cirrus, looks at the challenge of ‘taking people with you’.
Leaders are expected to be visionary, to set strategy and goals – and to engage and enthuse the people around them. The challenge of ‘taking people with you’ is what strategic engagement is all about. In fact, Cirrus CEO Dr Simon Hayward has dedicated an entire chapter to this very subject in his recent book, Connected Leadership. But how do you encourage people to follow you to a new place when they would much rather stay where they are?
There was a time, long ago, when leaders believed that all they had to do was tell people what to do and they would do it. In our more enlightened times, where ‘engagement’ has long been a buzzword, we know better – or at least we think we do. Despite the mountain of evidence on how engaging employees actually improves performance, there are still many leaders who adopt a very ‘telling’ style of communication and operate in very hierarchical structures. Unfortunately this style of leadership simply doesn’t cut it in a world where both employees and customers are increasingly demanding. Most people today genuinely want not only to understand their organisation’s purpose, vision and goals, but also to play a part in making all these things a reality.
Taking people with you can be a messy process. Often it involves asking them to change behaviours that they are perfectly comfortable with. Why change when the way they’ve been doing things for years has served them well?
Leaders are often tremendously enthusiastic about new initiatives and may find it difficult to understand why everyone else isn’t too. So it’s important to take time to help others make sense of what’s happening. Explain why letting go of some things might be necessary. Be patient but also persistent – by helping people to understand, you’ll help them to move on. Recognise what’s good about the past while highlighting future goals.
Another common issue is that everyone feels much too busy during times of change to take time out to actually think and talk about why the change is happening. Too often this is considered a luxury rather than a necessity.
One forward-thinking organisation who not only takes time out, but takes time to deeply engage people across the business, is Tesco Bank. It has been a real pleasure working with them on their Connected Customer Programme. The bank wanted to increase levels of customer satisfaction and improve performance in line with its purpose and values. Together we developed a highly interactive, collaborative learning and development programme to engage customer service, insurance, compliance and risk specialists, and developed the capability of leaders to drive change and support their teams. Interactive learning materials such as floor-based board games reinforced key messages and encouraged participants to take ownership of their goals. The results so far in terms of improved confidence and skills, increased customer satisfaction and reduced complaints have been described by Tesco Bank as “spectacular”. Have a look at this short video for some more insights from Tesco leaders and programme participants (and me).
Jenny welcomes your feedback on this post – please do get in touch.