By Bruce Bolger, Publisher
Many companies confuse leadership with engagement. Leadership, of course, is critical to engagement, but it’s only one part of the equation. While management consultants who focus on engagement tend to concentrate on things like recruiting, management training and compensation – all, of course critical – there’s a lot more that comes into play, including communication, learning, rewards and recognition, collaboration and measurement. With larger companies, the engagement strategy requires a critical understanding of how to get layers of leadership working together in a focused way – and the bigger the company, the greater the challenge.
You may not have noticed, but more and more companies have Vice Presidents or Directors with “engagement” in their title. Engagement may be to this century what the advertising industry was to the last: a field that emerged because of a transformational change in the way companies focused their activities in order to grow that yielded a new profession and industry. Organizations are spending millions on engagement surveys and large amounts on monitoring social networking, but lack a concrete way to address the multiple levels of issues and inter-relationships involved with engaging customers, distribution partners, employees, vendors, etc. Where’s there’s a vacuum, capitalism fills it.
In many ways, engagement is like advertising – a multi-faceted strategy comprised of integrated disciplines and tactics designed to induce people to buy or feel good about an organization. In the case of advertising, the tools are assessment/research, messaging, delivery (media selection) and measurement. With the goal of fostering the proactive involvement of customers, channel partners, employees, vendors, and communities, engagement also involves these same tools and tactics.
But this is where the two professions part ways. Advertising is about making promises (many often not true); engagement is about delivering them. Advertising can get away with lying – advertisers do it all the time, everybody knows it and no one bats an eye. Engagement, on the other hand, can’t be faked. Since the very purpose of engagement is to create a win-win relationship with all of the people critical to an organization, any attempt to use engagement as a manipulative tool will backfire.
While engagement shares some commonality in terms of communication tactics, it draws from a very different quiver of approaches than advertising. Engagement requires an understanding of all forms of communication; that is, not just selling, but informing. The traditional approach of marketing is to convince people to do something; engagement focuses on helping people make that decision on their own by providing them useful, high-quality information that demonstrates a willingness to help, not just sell.
Engagement leans heavily on learning, which means providing information that helps consumers be better customers or enabling employees to regularly challenge their product knowledge or other skills that can help the organization. The Vice President or Director of Engagement has to understand the myriad ways learning can be woven into engagement.
Rewards and recognition come heavily into play when used within the context of an overall engagement strategy. Considerable research confirms that, when used as part of an overall engagement strategy, properly selected and presented rewards help foster positive emotions and feelings of support, just as they do for top executives and athletes who most frequently receive them. The person in charge of engagement strategies has to understand the art and science of what builds bonds in ways that can’t be confused with compensating employees or pricing to channel partners and customers.
The sheer complexity of it all explains why engagement has an opportunity to become a critical business profession of its own, with its own management consultants and support companies to assist with the myriad issues involved in the same way an industry of specialists grew up around advertising in the last century. The Marcus Evans conferences related to engagement attract high-level management at major companies specifically focused on engagement; all of them tend to characterize their efforts as “journeys” because they have no hand-holding from traditional survey companies or consultants other than those focused mostly on management training.
I am increasingly approached by people in management seeking to learn how they can advance their careers in engagement. Of course, the place to start is to understand the principles and framework required to help an organization cross the threshold from leadership to engagement. These are principles that can be applied in almost any job in corporate communications, internal branding, recognition, sales and marketing management, etc. The good news is that a search on a career site these days will likely turn up a number of postings for management positions in engagement.
The road that lies ahead is wide open.