Engagement versus communication: making transformation stick

Posted on: January 8, 2020 by Noel Smith

In a highly competitive life and pensions market where customer experience and brand loyalty increasingly inhabit the battleground, why do some organizations fail to deliver successful transformation?

Transformation programs are challenging and demanding; they can reach a point where change feels really hard work, like pushing the proverbial rock uphill. In general, people usually start to resist change when they believe they will lose something of value, or they fear they will not be able to adapt to the new ways. What’s more, when organizational change goes wrong, this is often because it is being treated purely as an implementation of a new process.

Traditional barriers

To drive truly successful transformation, businesses need to develop a strong vision and strategy to engage their teams in a collaborative program of change. The critical word here is engage: many organizations, whilst they acknowledge the traditional people-related barriers to change, choose merely to communicate with their employees rather than to engage with their people as their most valued asset.

Without a compelling vision and a clear supporting story, the risk of failure increases. Any momentum that is established at the start of a transformation journey erodes and traction is lost just at the time when a strong will and determination to succeed is most needed.

Understanding what motivates employees is critical to engaging them successfully in any change.

Subtle differences

When, for example, over 51% of employees come to work to pay for things they either need or want, is it little wonder that there is a degree of trepidation when transformational change is communicated in a way that people feel threatened by? If teams feel they don’t understand the vision and strategy, or feel that they haven’t been able to contribute to that strategy, those logical tensions arise and the blockers to change materialize. This is why it is so important to understand the subtle differences between communication and engagement. In essence, communication focuses on content and target audience, while engagement is more about who to listen to and what they hear in that conversation.

Andrea Di Maio, Managing Vice President for Public Sector at Gartner Research, suggests that communication and engagement can even be opposites in certain cases. “In essence… an effective communication strategy is likely to be almost the exact opposite of an effective engagement strategy. The former chooses and controls channels, while the latter joins somebody else’s channels. The former determines the rules of engagement, the latter follows somebody else’s rules”. Communication and engagement about the new vision and strategy can be effective partners because they complement each other. While communication can happen without engagement, engagement cannot happen without communication.

Collective effort

It’s no surprise, therefore, that an effective and sincere engagement strategy and well-planned communication is more likely to get buy in and co-operation from key stakeholders because they are engaged, onboarded and become part of the solution. This means they are not, as so often happens, sitting on the side-lines predicting failure. In sporting terms, they are on the pitch trying their best for their team.

Building trust through open and honest engagement and listening to feedback (all feedback) and acting on that stimulus will demonstrate that change is a collective effort. Employees will truly feel part of the solution, worrying less about the impact of a failed program on the reasons they come to work in the first place. Employee engagement in transformational change should not be seen as a line item of a project plan; it is at the very heart of successful transformation.

Digital Vision for Life & Pensions

This article is part of the Atos Digital Vision for Life & Pensions opinion paper. We explore the realities of digital transformation for life and pensions companies amidst wider societal change and an increasingly disrupted market.

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About Noel Smith
Head of Customer Experience Communication and Engagement, Atos UK and Ireland
Noel is a highly skilled Customer Experience (CX) Director with a proven track record in transformational change initiatives. He has led significant change programs and has developed a world class CX proposition in Atos that is now embedded into our key accounts in Business Transformation Services. Noel leads by example, and always strives for excellence, whether in customer deliverables or in the development and successful delivery of ambitious change programs.

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