Everyone is talking about engaging customers and employees as the new management mantra of the 21st century. Marketers are fascinated by the power of engaging customers using social technology. Management is awakening to the power of an engaged workforce or at least they have one eye open to the possible benefits.
The funny thing is that people, regardless of whether you label them customer, employees, partners or suppliers are naturally wired to be engaging. The power of engagement within us is being awoken and accelerated by the digital revolution which has connected everyone to each other and everything. The human network is now free to engage without needing permission from anyone.
Engaging Is the Opposite of Controlling
The mental models of business left over from the 20th century are stuck in the organizational charts of power, titles and control. These models are in conflict with an emerging market of crowds aware that these old models are not an effective for the 21st century.
Telling people what to do is no longer effective or acceptable. Asking people what can be done, how it ought to be done and should it even be done is a much more effective process that creates higher returns.
Jordan Cohen writes in HBR “Stop Telling Your Employees What to Do”: It turns out there is a scientific reason why employees are less effective when tasks are dictated. Amy Arnsten, a neuroscience professor at Yale University, studies the importance of feeling in control. Her studies can be applied to employee autonomy in managing a team. In an interview at her Yale Laboratory, Arnsten explained that when people lose their sense of control, such as when tasks are dictated to them, the brain’s emotional response center can actually cause a decrease in cognitive functioning. This perception of not being in control, whether real or imagined, would presumably lead to a drop in productivity. If a manager describes the long-term outcome he wants, rather than dictating specific actions, the employee can decide how to arrive there and preserve his perceived sense of control, cognitive function, and ultimately improve his productivity.
The world is now connected, engaged and enabled to create more value more efficiently than ever before. The only thing constraining progress is in fact the old mental models being held onto by the powers that have the most to lose by letting go.
In time the longer they hold on the more they will lose.