Hailed as the World’s Leading Business Strategist, award-winning professional speaker Scott Steinberg is among today’s best-known trends experts and futurists, and the bestselling author of “Lead with Your Heart,” “Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate, and Succeed Despite Uncertainty,” and “Millennial Marketing: Bridging the Generation Gap.” He is also president and CEO of BIZDEV: The International Association for Business Development and Strategic Partnerships. His website is www.AKeynoteSpeaker.com.
As a futurist and a trends expert, I attend numerous conferences on how to create positive change and accelerate business growth each year. Ironically, the No. 1 buzzword as of late at these events isn’t ‘innovation’ anymore. Rather, it’s actually ‘incentivization’ — how to motivate your workforce to routinely speak up, share their insights and make more concerted attempts at rapidly transforming ideas into actionable solutions. Happily, finding ways to boost employee engagement, and your ability to spark positive change, doesn’t have to be difficult. You can radically increase your ability to lead and succeed just by making a few simple adjustments in strategy and thinking to your leadership and workforce development strategies going forward.
To begin with, it helps to realize that simple shifts in business or communication strategy — or even simple shifts in presentation or packaging — can prove every bit as powerful as game-changing breakthrough innovations at driving positive results. That’s because in today’s high-tech world, where one person or one idea can change the shape of an entire organization, evolutionary changes — minor tweaks in approach — can prove every bit as powerful as revolutionary changes, especially as they’re more frequently implemented and compound over time. For example, when young adults in Australia stopped drinking Coca-Cola as often, the company didn’t take out millions in radio or TV advertising or create all sorts of crazy new flavors. Instead, it printed the 150 most-popular Australian names for boys and girls on Coke bottles and — via cost-effective social media programs — invited citizens to share them and strike up conversation. Within three months, it had blanketed the nation and increased consumption of its beverages among young adults by double digits. Likewise, when Liberty Mutual Insurance wanted drivers to behave safer behind the wheel, one of the company’s most popular solutions for doing so was to launch an app for mobile phones called Highway Hero that lets you turn the act of driving into a game — and that awards deeper real-world insurance discounts the better you comport yourself on the road.
But in addition to reminding people how easy it is to create positive change at every turn when you apply simple shifts in thinking, you should provide them with welcoming and inviting forums where they feel comfortable speaking up — and can make their voices heard. For example, one large government agency we work with has found ways to fast-track learning and growth by specifically adding positions for young professionals to contribute to on its internal committees, and holding regular breakfast meetings where experienced and emerging team leaders are encouraged to sit down, share fresh ideas and collaborate in casual settings. Likewise, a popular nonprofit association has found ways to unleash innovation at scale — and more rapidly identify emerging trends and topics of interest — by offering online matchmaking tools to members that allow them to quickly find and partner with researchers who have similar interests in different fields. In effect, finding ways to win with innovation isn’t just about implementing a variety of programs and platforms that allow for greater teamwork and communication. It’s also about offering staffers more rapid ways to transform ideas into action, and creating more opportunities that allow them to consistently speak up, take ownership of challenges and make necessary shifts in strategy when they see the need for change impending.
As you think about how to fuel this transformation in your business, it may help to consider which factors most effectively drive employees to positively engage with your organization as well. Counterintuitively, you’ll often find that the answer to encouraging peak performance is most frequently not found in financial rewards. In fact, contrary to popular belief, the fastest way for your business to encourage people to speak up and participate more is seldom to just throw money at the problem. Because not only are today’s workers — especially younger generations such as millennials and Gen Zers — more motivated by opportunities to learn, grow and build lasting careers than a paycheck. They’re also increasingly drawn to businesses who champion innovation and give employees an opportunity to make an impact — especially those that consistently work to equip workers with the skills and insights needed to succeed.
It’s especially worth noting, as with 73 million people and counting, millennials — born roughly between 1981 to 1995 — have now surpassed baby boomers as the single-largest generation in America and are now the single-largest generation in the workforce. So if you’re looking to better engage and inspire them, remember they won’t necessarily be looking for bigger paychecks going forward. Instead, they’re going to demand more regular opportunities to exercise and boost their skills and insights thru hands-on exposure in real-world environments — and want to see immediate, instantly visible ways in which their contributions are making a difference.
Gen Zers — individuals born after 1995 — are also predicted to be a major group in the workforce. And like millennials, they much prefer interactive exercises, lifelike simulations and opportunities to shuttle between roles and responsibilities over traditional training and career development programs. However, these scrappy young professionals are also harder to reach and engage than previous generations, especially noting that their average attention span lasts 8 seconds — less than that of the common goldfish. So if you want to connect with tomorrow’s top workers, and boost employee engagement around various initiatives, it’s important to design every program you’re offering to be more interactive, more instantly attention-getting and more approachable and social. Likewise, for that matter, be aware that most of tomorrow’s workforce — regardless of their age — won’t measure success in terms of money, but rather their ability to accomplish goals and make a meaningful impact on the organization.
So basically, if you’re looking to empower tomorrow’s leaders to succeed, let alone encourage them to be more involved or inspire them to greatness, you won’t just need to make a point to offer them more leadership opportunities and more favorable salary and benefits packages. You’ll also want to work with your colleagues in every department to create a more welcoming and supportive environment that emphasizes professional growth and development — and offers ample opportunities to spotlight leading performers and their work. That said, the secret to radically boosting employee engagement isn’t all that secret when you come down to it. In fact, enabling and inspiring people to do great things can be far easier and more cost-effective than you think when you make a point to find ways to more actively work with top performers — not just have them work for you — in the years to come. C&IT