“For every citizen movement that changes the course of history, there are many thousands that hardly create a ripple. The few movements that survive are those that speak to the authentic concerns of substantial numbers of people.”
Immediately, names like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Susan B. Anthony, and Harvey Milk come to mind. These individuals were able to profoundly articulate the authentic human and civil rights concerns of millions of disaffected people, and because of this they became leaders within movements that changed societies.
The ability to sense, understand and authentically communicate the concerns of others is the core of leadership, and it’s as important in leading organizations as it is in large-scale societal change, because at the heart of all workplaces are people with concerns.
An alternative perspective on engagement
Organizations that achieve high levels of employee engagement experience superior results in many critical performance and success metrics, including revenue. And yet for many leaders, engendering deep levels of stakeholder engagement appears to be a difficult challenge. Too often I’ve heard leadership teams, when considering an engagement effort, say, “You can never satisfy them; if we change, they’ll only find something else to complain about.” This perspective of engagement, about giving in or giving up something, is a formula for failure.
An alternative perspective that I recommend to leaders is to frame engagement as a “concern movement”: a process of recognizing and attending to the mutual concerns of both management and employees.
The foundation of a concern movement
In his book Moral Courage, Rushworth Kidder identifies the values of honesty, responsibility, respect, fairness, and compassion as core human values. The foundation of a concern movement starts with a focus on these five universally accepted values, which, when invoked and practiced by leaders, speak to the essence of human concerns.
Honesty, responsibility, respect, fairness, and compassion transcend all cultural and organizational demographics. When they flourish, so does human engagement. To build a culture of engagement, organizations must integrate these values into the “why” and “how” they lead and the structures and systems of their operation.
This approach doesn’t require a leader to be a great orator, or to risks one’s safety for a movement—but it does require that you recognize and understand your stakeholders’ concerns and to be able to authentically resonate with their concerns.
Values are the powerful “why” that influence what people do and how they do it. Try delivering bad news to your organization without respect and compassion; it will inflame passions, kill engagement, or both. When employees perceive their organization to have a disregard for basic human values, it takes a toll on organizational results.
On the other hand, the benefits of employee engagement are well documented, and the road to engagement is paved with core human values. Organizations willing to walk the walk and talk the talk and start their own concern movement will succeed—both personally and as a whole.