July 14, 2020  /  Jennifer Tomasik

Engagement is the art and science of including people in the shaping and implementation of strategy and change. In our experience, intentionally planning what we call the engagement architecture of a project or initiative that you want to advance is absolutely essential for creating strategy and change that stick. We advise building inclusive processes through which to surface a diversity of voices and opinions, using a variety of methods for tapping into the guidance, expertise, and passion of your people—including leadership, staff, board, family members, and others whose outside perspective can be helpful. 

When considering engagement, it’s important to remember that people are incredibly busy and being pulled in many different directions, especially now. Combat adding to any potential sense of overload by looking for efficient, effective, and stimulating ways to engage them in order to get their best thinking—while minimizing the overall amount of time they need to contribute. Building in engagement from the outset to ensure that stakeholders can participate in authentic and meaningful ways at appropriate times provides important benefits.
For example, if done well, engagement:
— Takes into account decision rights and your organization’s authority structures to generate and vet ideas through vehicles such as interviews, focus groups, surveys, and/or working sessions. The results provide information that contributes to the work, but more importantly, the results promote ownership of the ideas and increases the likelihood that those involved will embrace and implement those ideas—thereby doing double duty with your budget.
— Provides a way to test the framing and reframing of key ideas, strategic concepts, and choices, and also helps you understand the unanticipated consequences of potential decisions and actions.
— Enables the surfacing of differences to both determine where greater alignment is needed and to understand how to set the stage for change that may be needed as a result of a change or a new strategic imperative.
Relies on and uses resistance to determine how far to go and how fast. In other words, by taking seriously what is learned from the skeptics, you can identify critical questions and issues to address that may not otherwise surface. In this way, you can tackle these challenges head on, rather than bump up against them later in your work.
— Is more than just a buzzword or an idea to talk about in presentations. CFAR brings discipline to its approach to engagement by intentionally focusing on the architecture for how people will be involved and in what ways.
Gets your organization aligned—your proverbial boats all rowing in the same direction—so that different parts of the organization can better see the full picture of your strategy and how they contribute to it.
Well done engagement, however, shouldn’t be limited to internal players. Building relationships and sustaining joint efforts with external partners—ones whose networks and knowledge compliment your own—is critical to ensuring that your efforts make sense not just for your organization, but for the broader world in which your organization must operate.
Ultimately, the goal of a focused effort on engagement is to carefully include a meaningful breadth of contribution, while at the same time building support and ownership for the work that you ultimately choose to undertake. This means not only asking people to differentially participate, but also being clear about how they will ultimately contribute to decision-making. In the end, you will have a cadre of people who understand what has been decided and why—and the role they will play in carrying the work forward.
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