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.