So much of the orthodoxy surrounding leading change projects talks about engaging staff in decision-making. In my experience, that is only partially true. Badly done engagement causes just as many problems as good engagement.
I’ve seen large-scale engagement where young people were given a blank sheet of paper and asked what they wanted their new youth centre to look like and what facilities it should provide. The young people did exactly what they were asked and designed the youth centre of their dreams. What they didn’t know was that a site had already been identified and a budget set. This meant that most of their recommendations couldn’t be implemented. They then felt that their time had been wasted and felt even worse about the service than they had done before.
Similarly I’ve seen a similar approach to staff engagement – what is the one thing that will improve your working day. unanimously they said two things: pay us more (despite being at the top end of pay for their work) and get rid of the ERP system – an option that just wasn’t on the table (unfortunately).
When we’d been able to rebuild trust with the team we asked them much more specific questions – what one thing could we do to improve the system so it works for you better. We designed the engagement so the team had to work together to identify one improvement, in some detail – so they participated in more of the thinking and we got an improvement that would work for a larger group of people. With this success under their belt we then designed further work which made it clear that they were being engaged but that there were boundaries.
Put this way – I guess it is obvious. In your home life you wouldn’t pick a new car without knowing how you were going to use it, how much your budget was and whether you had parking. So, why does engagement still get designed this way?
Next time you are thinking about engaging staff in change why not spend some time clearly setting out up front what they can influence and what they cannot – and why? Maybe you will get a better result.