The Triangle of Engagement.
The Future Does Not Fit in the Containers of the Past. Edition 129.
Since the beginning of 2023, I have had the opportunity to either deliver a keynote talk with questions and answers, run an interactive workshop, or moderate discussions at senior executive off-sites with 11 different companies.
The companies have ranged in size from less than 100 to over 100,000 employees and have spanned categories as diverse as food and beverages, media and entertainment, finance, technology, academia, and healthcare.
While much of the content has focused on the future, managing change, leading in these times, and learning to remain relevant, in almost all these sessions a new topic of concern, challenge and uncertainty has arisen regarding employee engagement.
How does one engage with teams and with colleagues in meaningful ways in a world of distributed and unbundled work, rapid acceleration of the speed of work, increasing burnout, and a workplace with four different generations each with different mindsets and expectations?
The Triangle of Engagement.
Engagement within and across teams, offices and expertise groups have always been a key to culture.
The ability to 1) collaborate, 2) feel connected and 3) learn/grow are three of the four keys to Culture in addition to 4) a commitment to excellence and all of these three require teams to be engaged with each other and the work.
Over the month as the question of engagement arose again and again in different ways during my sessions and I attempted to guide, extract, and build from the talented individuals whom I was interacting with, it became clear that one way to re-enforce both individual and team engagement is through a Triangle of Engagement.
This triangle consists of three behaviors which in combination boost engagement.
The three sides of the triangle are
One simple way to get people engaged is to ask about them and by doing so also get them curious about others.
If someone asks you questions about yourself that are not tricky or puts you in a vulnerable place it is very likely that you will be engaged.
One simple question that few people ask but significantly boosts the ability to connect is this one:
What three decisions or events have made or shaped who you are? (These really two different questions depending on whether you chose events or decisions)
This makes the person who you are asking the question to have to think a bit and in that way is difficult.
However, there is no right or wrong answer and everyone can come up with an answer, so no one is on the spot.
Their answer helps build a conversation because the person who is asked the question may then ask the questioner for their answer to the same question.
Try it on yourself and people you wish to engage with.
Today a mixture of polarization, generational differences, work pressure and speed give us very little time to figure out what we are doing, let alone getting to see people from their perspectives and understand where they are coming from.
But to engage one needs to be empathetic and often part of being empathetic is to understand both you and everyone around you are also vulnerable regardless of projections of strength and power.
Asking others about the events and decisions that made them which is being curious about them is one way to generate empathy.
Answering the same question if they ask you to so builds empathy further.
In addition, a simple question can let you be more empathetic.
How can I be of help to you?
A very simple question that few people ask.
People find it hard to ask for help (though we all should) but we should find it easier to ask people how we could help them.
This question can be refined in many ways to better telegraph understanding of a situation or elicit a particular type of answer.
How can I help you more to manage X (X might be a client, an employee, a situation) which signals you understand the situation and ensure that you can provide the help.
How can I do things differently in the way I work or manage to help you become more effective? This signals empathy by understanding that sometimes helping someone is not changing what they do but what you do.
Whenever you give someone a non-monetary gift of time, kindness, help, or a monetary reward of a special bonus or one time award which is unexpected and goes above and beyond they will be deeply engaged.
Give more than you get.
Give without strings.
And you will find that you will get attention, time and much more at a multiple of what you give.
In a world of transactions and negotiations try not being transactional or a negotiator.
Today people get taken aback when people help people with no strings attached.
When one is generous there are two amazing rewards:
First one earns goodwill which lasts a long time.
Second one feels good about oneself.
Why the Triangle of Engagement may work for you and your company.
Clearly engagement is a challenge and there are multiple ways one needs to address it but this method is one that can be part of the solution and works because:
1. It is easy to do since it involves asking questions or paying attention and can be done by anyone at any level and by managers.
2. It does not cost anything (if generosity is time or attention) or costs little (one time reward or bonus).
3. It works regardless of type and size of company, mix of talent, in-person or over Zoom.
4. It does not require your manager to approve so you can do it today.
5. It is contagious in that when you ask the questions or behave with generosity others ask the questions and think generously.
Photography by Karl Taylor.
Falling Forward Fast. On the newest episode of What Next? Andrew Swinand, CEO of Publicis Groupe, Creative and Production, United States, CEO of the Leo Burnett group and co-founder of Abundant Venture Partners on how problems can be an unlikely means of generating growth. Learn the power of human failings and of kindness in business.
I love this advice. I could not help but to think that this advice can help anybody to be a better father, husband, friend or CEO. Heck, this advice would go a long way towards successful dating. Haha. --- To your point about Empathy: We both know the amazing Charlie Thomas. When I got to work closely with him, he would get a client talking about their most gnarly challenges and then he would simply say "How can I help?" --- To your point about curiosity: Why not advise CEO's to reach down into their organization and ask "How can we build morale and keep employees like you engaged as team members even though we are often working from different locations, feeling pressure to work fast, and asking people who are decades apart in their age and lifestyle to understand each other?" I put that in quotes because I am paraphrasing your question at the start of this essay. In my days as a manager, I always tried to spot the elephant in the room and ask questions very specifically about the elephant. When I was managing down, it was incredibly effective. When I was managing UP, that was a huge mistake. LOL
Thank you for your valuable advice! Unconditional kindness & service help build trusting relationships.