It’s early for resolutions, we know, but we thought before you turned to the personal, this might be a good time to make some professional resolutions… after you’ve already taken stock of what worked well, and less well in 2015.
As an engagement professional, facilitator, community builder, community and stakeholder relations professional, consider the following resolutions as ones worth making and keeping in 2016.
1. Invest in the planning
We get it – things are busy. You’ll be working away and all of a sudden, someone in your organization decides it’s time to do an open house, or launch an engagement – often as a response to public or stakeholder outrage. Decision makers might feel pressured to demonstrate they’re listening by launching an engagement too quickly and without proper planning. So this resolution is to build an engagement plan, as best you can, based on strategy and organizational and stakeholder needs, rather than a response to the “urgent”.
This can be hard. Having worked in organizations prior to becoming a consultant, I fully understand what it’s like to be given direction to: “Do an open house in the next two weeks.” There have been times when I have gone with it, but the reality is I often wished I had asked more questions, presented more alternatives, and had a better understanding of the rationale.
Three questions you might ask if you find yourself in this scenario:
- What does success look like?
- May I present you with a few more options for moving forward?
- What is the truth behind the urgency?
Try as best you can to BE the calm in the storm; do not get caught up in the urgency of the moment because this too shall pass.
2. Work to build internal commitment and capacity
Some organizations are relative newcomers to engagement. Commit to showing them the value and benefit. Don’t assume that everyone “gets it”. Engagement is really part of a large cultural shift that is currently underway, and there are some who have yet to see the return on investment. Part of this resolution is also about making engagement easy to do. If massive resources are required for each and every engagement, it’s no wonder organizational decision makers might be skeptical.
Some questions to consider to help build internal engagement capacity:
- Are there templates you could provide to staff?
- Is there a one-stop-shop approach that could make it easy for different department heads to seek engagement expertise?
- Is there a policy or commitment statement that could make it easy for everyone in the organization to understand engagement?
- How can I support the engagement champions to help build a culture of consultation?
Work to understand the internal barriers to engagement and then identify ways to remove them.
3. Develop evaluation measures that make sense for your organization
Directly related to #2 is the resolution to develop meaningful engagement measures for your organization. Moving beyond evaluation 1.0 (how many people attended the meeting?), work to develop 2.0 measures that evaluate the degree to which stakeholders were able to influence the final decision relative to the commitment of the decision maker.
Other examples of more sophisticated measures include:
- How representative were the participants in the process?
- Did they have the information they needed to participate meaningfully?
- Did the engagement process meet the needs of stakeholders, the organization, and the decision maker?
- How well aligned was the engagement with the decision-making process?
Measuring how many people took an online survey or attended an open house is easy and it’s good contextual information, but it’s only a small piece of the story. The real question is: How effective was the process at bringing those impacted by a decision into the process? And, the follow-up question is: How effective were we at communicating how that involvement impacted the decision?
The measurement tools may be different for each organization, but it’s time well spent developing two to three key measures for each engagement process.
4. Invest in your own practice
It can be easy to get into a routine or pattern where you build your own comfort level with a particular engagement approach or technique. However, it’s important to always keep the needs of stakeholders front and centre. Resolve to undertake some professional development, either to learn a new technique, or to specialize in one with which you’re already familiar, or even to become a certified public engagement professional (more on this in 2016).
Expand your knowledge, insights and perspectives and your engagement practice will benefit from new insights and perspectives.
5. Be a participant and learn from others
A few years ago, as part of my journey to becoming a licensed IAP2 Federation trainer, I went to a ton of local engagement events as a participant. I attended open space meetings, took part in local charrettes that were part of a planning process, participated in open houses, and took a bunch of online surveys. What was really great about all this was that I got to see what worked and what didn’t from a participant perspective. I also got to witness techniques with which I was less familiar. I wasn’t an insider; I was “just” a member of the public. It was extremely valuable to me, and I still draw on insights from that time.
Our lives are busy – as I said, I get it – but there are lots of free and fun learning opportunities all around us to be engaged as part of the public, not simply as planners and facilitators of engagement. Resolve to attend at least one event per quarter, and I will guarantee you that you will learn something – what worked, what didn’t or what you would have done differently if it was your process.
These are some ideas to get you started. Before all the eggnog hits and work feels far, far away, give yourself an hour or two to write down some engagement resolutions for 2016. Who knows, they might form part of your work plan for January, and you’ll be ahead of the game!