Recently, we’ve been having a few conversations at work about engagement processes, in part because we’ve seen a few requests for proposals that have some focus on engagement with a particular audience. Often, this engagement takes the form of listening in some way to the audience of interest. While hearing from a group of people that you are interested in engaging with is critical, I would argue that it’s just one part of an engagement process.
In fact, if you look at various types of research on engagement with different groups (employees, customers, etc.), there are a couple of similarities that stick out. Based on this research and some our own experiences at Corona, I identified a couple of themes of a successful engagement:
- Listening. Listening is a critical part of engagement. It is important to think carefully about which methods of listening will produce the type of information that is most useful. Are you making an attempt to hear from less engaged people? Are you interested in what kinds of ideas/concerns/problems/etc. people are having or are you interested in how common those are? Have you ensured that people feel comfortable being honest? Do people need additional information before giving input?
- Reflection. Often, it is easy to get so wrapped up in translating what you hear from the group into action that you forget to reflect what you heard back to the group. Telling people what you have heard from them is an important part of the engagement process. It makes sure that everyone is working with the same base of information and helps people understand why different decisions or changes are being made. Also, demonstrating that you understand what people were telling you can make later criticism less harsh.
- Expectations and Accountability. Finally, clarifying expectations and how accountability will be incorporated into the relationship is important. People generally like knowing what is expected of them and why. Initially, this can be as simple as explaining clearly the goals of an engagement process and why the group of interest is so vital to the process. Later in the process, this might be aligning expectations and goals with what you heard when listening to the group. Also, it’s important to think about how you will evaluate whether those expectations and goals are being met.
While there are definitely unique components to engagement processes with certain audiences (e.g., employees, stakeholders, community, etc.), the three components above stood out as common themes to all types of engagement.