17 January 2006

How do you engage people in a sustainable way?

Here's a problem you have probably experienced if you have ever been in charge of a major change at work:

You are rolling out a change initiative or implementing a new process or program. You know that it's hard to get people's attention, so you launch the change with a big splash event to get everyone's attention. You create training manuals or maybe even quickstart guides to get people up and running. You might have workshops or training sessions, either online or in person, to support the rollout.

But ultimately you are unable to overcome the organizational inertia: the change doesn't stick. People revert back to the way they were doing things before -- back to their "comfort zone."

This is the risk of any change program. Today I don't have answers but questions:
1. Once you have momentum on a change initiative, how do you keep that momentum?
2. As a communicator, what are the most effective ways you have found to keep people's attention on the things that matter?
3. How do you engage with people in a long-term, sustainable way?

What I am looking for is your best practices: How you use your communications not just to launch things, but to reinforce and sustains the kinds of behaviors that you -- or your organization -- really wants; the behaviors that drive success in the long term.

If you have ideas please, please share them! If you haven't replied to a post before, maybe now is the time to share your insights.

Thanks in advance!


Keep in touch! Sign up to get updates and occasional emails from me.


David Zinger said...

Dave Gray,

I like your name, of course one David will often like a Dave and the word Gray has a dash or irony for such a colorful way of thinking about the world.

I chanced upon your site on squidoo and I have put it in my bloglines as I want to stay current with your thinking.

When I teach university courses with textbooks I not only have students read the material but I always have them do an image for each chapter. They are often reluctant but many talk about how valuable it was. They can also put it on the fridge for their children to see what they learned at school(university).

I am very interested in engagement considering only 17% of Canadians report being fully engaged at work.

I have three strong themes that influence my leadership:

1. Drawing upon strengths and leveraging those strengths. And there seems to be an infinite number of ways to identify and use those strengths.

2. Demonstrating caring and love in a sincere and genuine way. And yes, that caring can be tough and challenging. I think emotions are so powerful in relationships and I often think of the motion embedded in emotion.

3. Monitoring and mastering my own spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical energy while contributing to the organization's energy with what Jane Dutton calls high quality interactions.

I appreciated Chris' 51 cents and have added my own two cents so we now have a total value of 53 cents worth of thought in the comments.

Unknown said...

This is great stuff, keep it coming!

Known said...

I'd say one word.

Always make sure that the receiver's credibility is maintained or enhanced whenever you are communicating with him.

Unknown said...


that's an interesting comment. why should the *receiver's* credibility be maintained or enhanced?

please ellucidate, thanks!


Unknown said...

Very insightful Dave

Graeme Watson said...

Hi Dave,

Yes I've posted before, so like Chris, i won't be able to tick the (haven't replied) checkbox. Here's my thoughts about change.

I have worked in two very distinct industries in my working life.

In the Film and Television Industry we deal with constant change, and we work in small teams, we spend a lot of time talking about where we are going, why we are going there and how we are going to get there. We are a small team on a journey together rowing a boat upstream. It's a caring, sharing and collaborative environment.

In the International Casino Industry we had very large numbers of staff, change was dictated, we were ordered to go, and those who weren't coming along were soon hurried along. I used to have a Casino Manager who would give lagers a very simple choice, "Change or Be Changed", this was not a caring or sharing workplace.

BUT the constant thing between these two workplaces was the commitment of the management teams. In both scenarios they never stop talking about it, they chant their mantra, they say it again and again and again.

We often think of change as a willing process, something that we should aim to be able to do fast, effectively that gives us competitive strength and for a small number of people this is true.

BUT for the majority of people, change is resisted - it must be hammered through. You must be relentless.

"We are the Borg - we will assimilate you".

Anonymous said...


I'm afraid I don't have an answer to your question, but do have an anecdote.

Isn't that helpful? :)

In the _Getting Things Done FAST_ set of CD's, The David mentions that the whole "channel stuff through your inbox and track your commitments" thing that everyone finds so useful is actually just something his organization came up with in order to make the _rest_ of a big organizational change project stick.

It just so happened that finally, properly scratching their itch created something that was general-purpose enough, and useful enough, that it grew into a major core of their business. Not the first time I've heard of something like that happening, and I'm sure not the last.

What that suggests to me is, that you won't get an easy answer to this question. In order for change to really happen, everyone has to get out of their comfort zone, and some force has to keep everyone there until they can build confidence and comfort where you want them. One way to do that is to externalize your commitments to everything in your life, review it and update them, and continually check your progress against that external measure... that's the GTD thing.

Or you can come up with something else. :) I'm no cultist selling The Way, after all.

But whatever you come up with, if it works, it's probably going to be a closed system, and it's going to involve some form of radical change, self-imposed by people themselves. It's just the way people are structured, that we will inevitably shift back into old patterns as soon as purely external pressure lets up. And nobody's going to keep up external pressure forever.

See? I told you I was going to be helpful. :)

Known said...


As per this reseach paper there is no such thing as "intrinsic motivation" for human beings.


The transmitter should create an environment such that the receiver feels good or motivated during conversation.

Adski said...

For the first part of your question I suggest that making it easy for people to champion your cause within their networks is key for longevity.

By being mindful of the likely conversations your champions will have with their colleagues, you can equip them with answers to arguments, low or no cost promotional material, and some incentive.

By doing this you are harnessing the collective enthusiasm of your champions and empowering them to act within their spheres of influence.

Unknown said...

Mundlapati -- that article is fascinating, thanks for sharing it.

JJeffryes said...

I have a 3 year old, and the same techniques that work on her work on large masses of people.

1. Make the goal very clear. If you're ambiguous about what you really want to happen, it allows people to subvert your cause. Maybe on purpose, maybe not, but if not everyone agrees on where you are going, none of you may get there.

2. Explain why it's a GOOD idea. Enlightened self-interest is a powerful tool. Change has to be framed so that it is positive for everyone, or why would they embrace it? If it's negative, they'd rather stall and hope everything snaps back to the status quo, which is exactly what usually happens. Even change that seems neutral is usually really negative, since it takes effort and causes distruption. If people think a change will benefit them, they will sign on and push others to support it.

3. Never back down. If a 3-year old gets the slightest hint you might cave in to resistance, they will fight like a wild cat. So will most adults, though usually with less screaming. Make it clear that the changes are good, AND they are going to happen no matter what, and that management is going to keep focused on it until it happens.

4. Incremental rewards. Don't wait until everything is done to start congratulating people. Set small milestones, and be generous with praise. Create a sense of progress. If the big prize seems far away, it's less real, and people lose interest. Let them follow a trail of small reward breadcrumbs to the finish line, so the next reward is always within reach.

5. Punishment must be real and tangible. Things like a "time out" or putting a favorite toy away should be a last resort. But it must be clear that punishment for purposely working against the change will be swiftly and decisively dealt out. Organizations rot from within when bad behavior goes unpunished. It destroys morale and makes management look callous or clueless. I know this one won't be popular, since everyone likes to think all we need is the positive stuff, but unless there are negative consequences somewhere in the background, there will be someone that wants to play the spoiler.

Anonymous said...

It is quite simple - frame the change to have a positive impact or negative impact. For instance, we are rolling out a new process that involves signifigant change in how we monitor and try to improve the data. The "positive" for the people impacted by the change is, on the surface, nonexistant. But it is framed that when they do well in their quality, in how they manage their country information, the frequency of the extra work will be reduced, they will have positive reinforcement (and money) from both their direct leadership as well as the executive leadership of their area, and be able to focus n more strategic things outside of simple data quality, because they will be sure what they are looking at is accurate.