For CLOs who seek to achieve workforce engagement, one of the first things they ought to do might sound counterintuitive.
“Don’t think about workforce engagement — that phrase suggests you’re going to try and get the entire workforce engaged, and even in a small to midsize company, that can be a nearly impossible task,” said Leo Flanagan, Ph.D., president of Flanagan Consultants. “The first thing is to change your view and say, ‘Which part of this workforce is pivotal to our success?’ in terms of getting it engaged. It’s about strategic engagement, not about ‘Let’s get everyone engaged.’”
In addition to this change in mindset, Flanagan said organizations must have a solid definition of engagement and, accordingly, a concrete plan as to how learning can make strategic engagement a reality.
“Engagement is about dialogue, it’s about action, it’s about creativity and it’s about reality. Having said that, this means traditional classrooms aren’t your solution of choice,” he said. “That means e-learning, if it’s going to be part of your solution, really has to be high-quality — it has to be engaging, it needs to tell a story, it needs to immerse people in that story.”
More important than e-learning, however, is fostering a culture in which learning thrives and has support from the organization’s upper echelons.
“You’re looking more toward leader-led or manager-led and true learning, not just rote scripts,” Flanagan said. “I would challenge chief learning officers to not to think about programs but the culture. And you don’t build culture only through programs — you build cultures by coaching and taking advantage of opportunities.”
Flanagan stressed business acumen as a means by which CLOs can accomplish this.
“The CLO should be like any other good businessperson,” he said. “If I’m in charge of manufacturing capacity, then in some cases, I’m going to say, ‘You know what? We need to build one new plant.’ In other cases, I’m going to say, ‘We need to rebuild our manufacturing capacity.’ The CLO has to come to the table with that same kind of thought process.
“Sometimes it’s, ‘You know what? If there is one executive vice president who can get that person to change their behavior, we’re going to get terrific results.’ In other cases, it’s going to be some group of front-line workers who really get engaged with senior leaders.”
Once a strategic segment of the workforce has been engaged, however, neither the enterprise nor the CLO should sit back and relax. Rather, the engagement must be sustained, and certain phenomena must be monitored.
One element is turnover, both high and low.
“If I’m an employee who’s trying to figure out where we’re going, what the rules are and getting engaged in that, and the division president’s changed twice in a year — and not for good reasons like getting a promotion — that can be really troubling,” Flanagan said. “On the other hand, if you have a very, very stable management team with a ‘We built this business, and we know how it runs’ kind of mindset, that can really stifle creativity.”
Another thing CLOs must consider is how achieving strategic engagement will affect learning delivery. Essentially, it’s a matter of anticipating if or when an organization will “outgrow” certain methods.
“If we’re a growing company, and if we’ve already started being more strategic about engagement, what are going to be the limits to growth?” Flanagan said. “When are we going to get so big that this way of learning isn’t going to work? When are we going to get so big that we’re going to have to change systems?”
— Lisa Rummler, email@example.com
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