What Organizations Can Learn from Movement-Building

setembro 7, 2016


Everyone agrees that higher levels of employee engagement lead to better outcomes, for the business and for employees themselves. It’s no news that Gallup’s poll revealed the highest levels of employee engagement in March, hovering around 34%. The fact remains that this leaves a lot of people who feel disconnected from their jobs, aren’t motivated and probably have one foot out the door.

Increasing employee engagement is, at its very core, an attempt to change how employees see themselves in relation to their organization: Are employees empowered and excited to achieve a well-defined goal? Or are they marginalized, disinterested and unsure of what they are ultimately trying to do? For most organizations, the answer lies somewhere in between, leaving you with the task of bridging the gap between organizational goals and what your employees feel empowered to do.

At Purpose, we approach the world through the lens of participation. The core elements of movement building that put the participant at the heart of the solution, combined with responsive ways of measuring engagement on an ongoing basis, have a lot to offer organizations as they navigate employee engagement.

Before setting out to change how employees relate to their job and your organization, the first step is to look at what type of change you want to create in order to achieve your goal. At Purpose we think about four types of change:

  1. Behavior change: shifting individuals’ habits and behaviors
  2. Perception change: shifting public opinion, beliefs and narratives
  3. Policy change: shaping political outcomes and decision-making processes
  4. Infrastructure change: creating technologies  and processes that control how change happens

Once your organization has defined the change you want–or need–to create, we recommend considering how these four elements of movement building can amplify the impact of your employee engagement initiatives.

  1. Put the employee at the heart of the solution

In political and issue organizing it’s called a User-focused Theory of Change.  In lay terms this means articulating the thing that you want someone to do and how it will change the outcome.

To do this well, you must be able to succinctly describe the opportunity, one that reinforces the change you seek to create and how an employee can help you get there. Throughout your campaign, to maintain and increase engagement, you will need to develop participatory tactics that tie back to your Theory of Change. That’s where the narrative comes in.

  1. Create a compelling narrative that ties it all together

A strong campaign narrative will feature the moment story, and the movement story. Translated, this means, what’s happening now and where are we headed? Good examples abound; take, for instance, Obama’s first presidential campaign. He and his team created a compelling movement story, one that captured the hearts and minds of millions of people, articulating hopes and dreams of a future America. The moment story was Obama himself, a progressive candidate whose campaign pioneered new ways of organizing and promised to usher in a new wave of progressive leadership. The campaign featured hundreds of clever tactics, but the most compelling tactic reinforced the User-focused Theory of Change: Vote. And vote people did.

A corporate mission might not be as compelling as Obama’s stirring homilies but the lessons are relevant. Tell a compelling story about how you got here, where you are going and how your employees can contribute. But that’s not all…

  1. Don’t just engage, mobilize

So far, talking about the narrative and placing your employee at the heart of the solution probably hasn’t sounded that different to most communications campaigns, but at Purpose, we like to think about mobilizing, not just engaging. Throughout any issue or political campaign there are a number of opportunities for people to get involved at any level and do something that contributes to reaching  the end goal.

To capture the energy of the most people we create low, medium and high barrier actions that give everyone the chance to pick the opportunities they connect with — it provides diverse entry points, helping you meet people where they are.  Importantly, including low-barrier actions allows people to start with easy actions and then increase their engagement along the way as they become more invested.

  1. Measure what matters and adapt your approach

Most companies measure employee engagement through online surveys on an annual basis. But annual surveys only measure sentiment once. They don’t give you a chance to respond to the needs of the moment, and can lead to employees feeling like they only have one chance to tell you how they feel.

This is where developing a participatory campaign can help. We recommend creating a nimble program that lets you experiment with different tactics, double down on what’s working and leave behind what doesn’t. To do this, think about what we call signalling and confirming indicators. For example, if you’re trying to get employees more engaged and contributing to the company’s sustainability goals a signalling indicator might be the number of people who participate in an online forum on sustainability, while a confirming indicator might be the number of people who include a sustainability goal in their professional development plans. The benefit of this approach is that it lets you measure sentiment in small ways first and see what works before doubling down on bigger asks.  

Purpose focuses on creating participatory campaigns that are linked to clear organizational objectives, but keep in mind, these can – and in some cases should – change the power dynamic, away from top down and towards bottom up. This is when an organization needs to put its money where its mouth is, so to speak. If you want employees to feel more connected, invested and interested in success, you need to get comfortable with giving them more power in their day to day activities.

Marguerite Pettit Campaigns Director
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