, , , ,

Without Engagement Gov 2.0 Will Fail

For people who are on the cutting edge of the Gov 2.0 movement, we often forget that a majority of government employees are still not enthusiastic about the potential of the new social networking technologies in their workplace. Now many of these folks are using Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc. to keep up with their family and friends but haven’t made that conceptual leap from using these tools at their job (“Surveys see developing use of gov 2.0 tools in state and local government”; Human Capital Institute Study). There are several reasons for this but I argue that the largest cause is due to lack of engagement by government employees.

I say this because of personal conversations I’ve had with fellow government employees on both the state and federal level. There may be a few government leaders who champion the cause of Gov 2.0 but there is not that critical mass of leaders who not only talk about Gov 2.0 but also model the behaviors necessary to achieve Gov 2.0. There are many Gov 2.0 and Open Gov plans out there but some agencies have failed to engage the rank-and-file employees in supporting Gov 2.0 and Open Gov.

So what can government leaders do to bring about employee engagement and help Gov 2.0 succeed? The following suggestions come Jim Haudan’s The Art of Engagement. First, we will look at what prevents engagement and then the six keys for bringing about engagement.

Haudan explains that engagement has four characteristics:
1) Feeling like you are part of something big.
2) A sense of belonging.
3) You are on a meaningful journey.
4) Your contributions will make a significant impact.
Nothing new here. In fact, if these four points are novel to you, then your organization has a severe problem with engagement.

Then Haudon goes on to list six reasons why people feel disengaged:
1) Overwhelmed – You are trying to do your work and deal with the last set of management objectives when they send down another batch.
2) Not Relevant – You don’t understand how this new management objective fits in with your work.
3) Scared – You don’t feel secure enough to question what the new objective means or make learning mistakes while understanding the new objective.
4) Not Seeing the Big Picture – How does this new objective fit in with your agency mission?
5) No Sense of Ownership – Especially common with imposed objectives. If I was not invited to contribute to the initiative and I won’t directly share in the benefits, why should I care?
6) Leader’s Don’t Understand the Reality of My Job – The top leadership has no clue what I do or what I have to work with (technology and resources) while trying to do my job and deal with fellow colleagues and the public. This Gov 2.0 stuff sounds great but it doesn’t help me with my everyday work.
These are very real and important reasons for disengagement. What can leaders do to help people engage in Gov 2.0?

Haudon’s Six Keys to Engagement:
1) Connect through Images and Stories – Don’t try to sell people with the usual text-heavy PowerPoint. The best communicators know that helping people visualize the benefits of a change project will help them see the big picture and how they can fit in. Stories are the best way to help people understand and have been for thousands of years.
2) Creating Pictures Together – Don’t just show-and-tell; involve people in the process of creating the vision. This helps in bringing about the next key:
3) Owning the Solution – People are less likely to resist something that they helped create.
4) Believing in the Leaders – Are the leaders listening to us and answering our questions? Do they actively solicit our ideas and incorporate them into the solution? Are they honest with us in terms of the cost and benefits of the new objective?
5) Seeing the Big Picture – What is the big picture of the new objective and how does my part fit into it? Will I be making a significant contribution?
6) Practicing Before Performing – Let’s do some rehearsals before we make the big change. Can we try some pilot projects first to work out the problems? Will I be allowed to make learning mistakes?

I believe there is a hunger for Gov 2.0 and you can see that with some of the grass-roots efforts of employees who adopt some Web 2.0 tools for their work. But I have also seen that same enthusiasm dampened by a top-down initiative to impose a solution that the leadership feels will work but doesn’t work in the reality of the employees’ daily work. When you strip engagement down to its essentials, it is the leadership and the employees dialoguing together about how to bring about a better organizational future. Gov 2.0 holds that promise but we need everyone’s engagement to make it happen.

Haudan, J. (2008). The art of engagement: Bridging the gap between people and possibilities. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply

Terry Weaver

What is missing in the piece is something I hear a lot – how does this really help me in my job? Just like most government folk are not actively engaged in Gov 2.0 activities, so are many citizens. If Gov 2.0 is to become a reality, it needs to have a more direct “sales” pitch. Merely offering a chance to dialogue may not be the value proposition that overly-harried federal workers and citizens will find all that compelling.

Nancy Heltman

Perhaps we need to work on the idea of customer service before we expect engagement. Judging by how often constituents are surprised when I respond to them the same day or am helpful, I’m thinking that many government employees aren’t meeting minimum customer service levels. Of course, that’s not just in government! There is a whole mind set involved in even caring what your constituents/customers think that needs to be embraced before anyone will care about engaging them.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Terry – Agree to the the comment in that we have to show how Gov 2.0 will help me in my job. Dialogue is the start to having leaders understand what life is like in the trenches. In Haudon’s book, he describes how a supervisor made a collage of all the management directives that were sent down that year. When the top leadership came to visit the worksite they could see how their directives were the biggest barriers to productivity. For Gov 2.0 to work, it has to be based in the reality of the workplace. Dialogue is a just a start but you are right that there needs to be more than a sales pitch.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Nancy – I have to disagree. I don’t believe we can have good customer service without good employee engagement. If I don’t feel valued in my work and I am asked to work harder without any help then I will have a bad attitude. I can tell you from experience that if I am feeling disgruntled I could care less about how the customers feel. Engagement has to be both for customers and employees.

Lindley Ashline

Another missing piece is the simple fact that most federal agencies and contractors have every site blocked that has anything to do with social media and web 2.0. Employees can’t use what they can’t access.

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

@Lindley – Good point! How can we expect government employees to engage citizens when they don’t have the access to the preferred communication tools that citizens use?

Teresa Alley

Haudon missed a critical one – everything has to be pre-approved by Public Affairs, even postings on restricted access portals. That is a Directive at the Secretary level, not agency level. So we can all forget about it.

Theme Grenz

Great topic and discussion! Overall, our policies must continue to evolve and allow for this new paradigm (which really isnt new anymore) to occur seemlessly. Leaders must continue to educate policy makers on the value Gov 2.0 adds to our collective missions. We must also balance this shift with workforce dynamics. Our workforce tends to be more mature and as a result is not “growing up” with the technology and must learn “new tricks”. That impacts how we approach this change. The WIIFM is huge.

Wally Rogers

The question is not if we will use Gov 2.0. The question is how prepared are we to adapt to our changing population.
From the Pew Research Internet and American Life Project April 2010 research.

“The report also finds that 31% of online adults have used social tools such as blogs, social networking sites, and online video as well as email and text alerts to keep informed about government activities. Moreover, these new tools show particular appeal to groups that have historically lagged in their use of other online government offerings—in particular, minority Americans. Latinos and African Americans are just as likely as whites to use these tools to keep up with government, and are much more likely to agree that government outreach using these channels makes government more accessible and helps people be more informed about what government agencies are doing.

“Just as social media and just-in-time applications have changed the way Americans get information about current events or health information, they are now changing how citizens interact with elected officials and government agencies,” said Smith. “People are not only getting involved with government in new and interesting ways, they are also using these tools to share their views with others and contribute to the broader debate around government policies.”
Those who are preparing their organizations to meet the growing demand will not be blind-sided by the change.

How will this help Government. The Gov 2.0 technology helps where members are seperated by organization or by geography. Internally within your building, it’s not much help at all because you have better communications tools. But when you need to share information across organizations and or in locations that are not already on your common network, it has the ability to reduce silos, share knowledge and help keep “group-think” at bay. It requires only an internet connection and can be accessed from your workplace, home or cell phone (this area will grow dramatically).

74% of adult americans are looking for information from the government online. And now they want to comment and interact on policy. Elected leaders have rapidly learned the value of social media. After all, social networking is one of the fundamentals of politics and fundraising. Your citizens are on board (look close at the Pew research and don’t go by your own opinion), your elected leaders are on board. We need to keep up with them.

Finally social media offers us an opportunity to listen better and engage. We all know the most popular form of government is local government. That’s because people get a chance to know and interact with their government. Gov 2.0 gives citizens a chance to know us better, share their opinions and bring ideas we would never have thought of forward to consider. At the same time public opinion is at an all time low. That means we need to have the skills and tools that allow us to better communicate, interact and listen. One way internet communication doesn’t cut it any more.

We cannot expect everyone to “get it”. But leaders need to anticipate the future and it’s very clear that successful governments will learn to master Gov 2.0 as one of their many skills.

Noel Dickover

I think the more successful uses in Gov20 have nothing to do with the open government plans. This is certainly the case in DoD, for instance. This gets to @Terry’s point that it has to be relevant to their jobs. I think its pretty clear that the idea of an OMB-led initiative without real teeth isn’t going to take us to the promised land of open government. A congressional statutue may help things, but really, the answer has to be around showing people instances where this approach is successful, and then allowing them the opportunity to figure out how this applies in their own work.

Bottom line, to the extent a peer to peer method of communication is controlled and directed by the head of an agency, we just aren’t going to get very far. People at all levels in government need the ability to engage directly with the right stakeholder group. This approach has policy and tool implications, but more so, it has internal transparency implications. If you don’t know what the guy two cubicles over is working on, your agency probably won’t be in a position to let the public know what he’s working on either.

There are a few MUSTS that need to be worked in order to get open government principles to be adopted. This includes a significant internal change to providing access (internally) to key data sets instead of building heirarchical reports. It also involves developing an internal culture of collaboration and connection – if you aren’t connecting with one another internally, you probably aren’t going to trust connecting with the random citizen.

In short, I think we all thought that transparency and providing data sets was the “low hanging fruit”. I think we’re finding out that while data sets are necessary, they aren’t sufficient. Lots more is necessary, and mostly, requires real work and effort.

subroto mukerji

Like everything else, the average employee asks what’s in it for me. Currently I work for County Government using a financial system designed in the late ’80’s. We are supposed to be moving up to a state of the art whiz bang system which will take a very long time to implement.

Technology really has a marginal impact here. We have a grand and glorious GIS system but I am not sure what the ROI is on it. We have a state of the art CRM system but once again I am not sure how useful it is. Social networking seems relegated to pushing out marginal information at best.

I am a very great believer in technology but it takes a tremendous amount of directed effort to make it successful. And so far here in my corner of the universe its not a very big deal.

Bob Greenberg

Foe what its worth – I think there is a lot of good discussion here. One lesson learned from my experiences in working on a couple of projects is that we always have to keep in mind that people have day jobs. And in fact in this day and age of budget cuts and Congressional and taxpayer scrutiny they are under increasing pressure to perform their days jobs as efficiently and effectively as possible. The idea of freedom to experiment and freedom to fail is a luxury that most people just don’t have. So they default to what they know and the way they’ve always done their jobs. Its not always the case that they don’t want to engage in new ways of doing things – they often don’t have the time or freedom to do so. Especially if it is a large and complex project. So it helps if the leadership constructs program that while thinking big, starts small. Take a small bite of something, demonstrate how it brings value all around and build a “coalition of the willing” around it. And provide a lot of support and guidance and hand holding where necessary. Once people see the value in something they get won over pretty quickly and completely. Just my two cents