When the leaders show up

Recently I watched a young man in our organization stand up in a crowd full of our staff and address a problem we were facing with some practical solutions. Many people looked on, some even nodded in a agreement.

However, no one engaged the young man. Not a word was uttered. Days went by without any dialog.

I gathered a group of our leaders and said, “this guy has some great ideas, we ought to engage him. He’s trying to be a change agent and we’re silent.”

A colleague took the lead and stood up and responded to the young man. Suddenly, lots of other staff lined up to add their thoughts and practical solutions to our problem. There was a buzz of excitement around figuring this out.

Many voices from a broad cross-section of the organization began to chime in.

This wasn’t at a conference or series of town-hall meetings. It was on our intranet on a staff forum the whole organization can participate in.

I believe it is essential for your leadership team to be engaging your constituents online. Three things happen when you do this.

1. You show you care – You aren’t just sitting off in your office at the Ivory Tower, you are right in there with the rank and file, feeling the tension of situations at ground level, understanding the current reality and identifying with the cause giving a feeling of, “we’re in this together”. In the scenario I described above, the leadership team was present and everyone could see we cared about solving this problem.

2. You grant permission – I think somehow when leadership begins to comment on blogs or post on internal forums, people feel a greater freedom to participate and share their opinions. The discussion becomes legitimate, not just some back room murmuring.

3. You get good solutions – Online blogs and forums can often serve as sandboxes or incubators for good ideas. We once had a national campaign flow out of someone throwing an idea up on a forum, allowing others to massage it, working out the kinks and bringing it to market in a collaborative way.

What practices have you found effective in engaging your organization online?

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