Many engagement professionals would likely say this is the most important engagement principle. It connects to so many others: never guess, process before content, avoiding surprises, and more.
What does it mean?
To engage early centres around the most important part about this principle: to communicate the intention to make a decision, without already having built internal commitment to a particular solution or option – committing to act, but not committed to any particular approach to problem solving or capitalizing on an opportunity. This defines the scope of the decision and creates the space to later define the scope of the engagement, where the decision maker will commit to being influenced (as per the engagement spectrum). This is the essence of genuine engagement.
To engage often means keeping the lines of communication open – circling back to stakeholders to tell them what you have heard; telling them how their input has influenced you as you go forward; digging deeper to seek clarification and refine ideas.
What does it look like?
During an engagement this year, one of our clients wanted to solve a long-standing and contentious issue. Our advice was to make a strong commitment to decide, communicate the date for the decision, and conduct a detailed decision-making process.
It worked wonderfully. We helped them to engage internally at the collaborate level, in order to develop a list of potential options. We consulted next with external partners and stakeholders, in order to refine and actually amend the list. Then, we went online to the public with a very specific set of options, in order to get public feedback.
One of the keys to success was to communicate broadly at each step in the decision-making process, and to explain the results of each engagement stage.
This is part of an ongoing series exploring Delaney + Associates’ Company Creed. Check out the introduction piece here.