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Engagement for Change

Posted on November 10, 2017

Engagement for Change

The most enjoyable part of writing Connecting Paradigms was the way that it forced me to think more in-depth about certain aspects of trauma and change. Concepts that might just get a short mention in a training rose up to become central themes of the book. Over the next couple of weeks, I want to talk about two of these concepts: engagement and stages of change and their importance to organizational change.

In this post, I want to focus on how we engage people in change whether they are staff or clients. Next week, I will address how leaders can strategically engage staff when considering a change. If you are referencing the book, reading Chapter 6: MI Process Engage provides a more in-depth exploration of the concepts presented in this post.

As change agents and leaders, our actions either promote engagement or threaten disengagement. For a client, engagement has two levels. First, engagement in services. Do they show up to appointments? Do they seem invested in their work with you? Are they open to engaging in other services such as medical care, mental health treatment, or substance abuse treatment? For an organizational change, engagement speaks to how invested staff are in their work and its outcomes for clients. Staff level of engagement correlates strongly with organizational outcomes ranging from individual performance to the financial health of the organization.

The second level of engagement concerns the level of engagement and investment in making a specific change. As we will explore in a future post, people move from one stage of change to another and not always in a linear forward manner. The level of engagement a client has in making a change varies over time; our goal is to build this investment through proven strategies. For staff, this level of engagement concerning an organization change will also vary depending on other factors in the work environment and what is going on in other aspects of their life that could affect their self-care. While this post will examine strategies that promote both staff and client engagement, for a more in-depth examination of client engagement please reference the book. In future posts, we will look at some specific characteristics of organizations that achieve high levels of staff engagement.

The rest of this post will examine strategies that increase engagement and engagement traps which often lead to disengagement. Starting with the engagement strategies, we will consider the role of hope and positivity, desire and goals, importance, and expectations. Focusing on these strategies increases motivation and the self-efficacy needed to accomplish great things.

Hope and Positivity: We all thrive in positive relationships and environments. Being able to see the potentially positive benefits of a change release dopamine and serotonin in our brains. When we feel positive about the future potential a change we become more invested in making that change a reality. If the negative aspects of a change outweigh the positive, disengagement is more likely. For more information on the neurobiology of hope check out the “What is Hopepost.

Desire and Goals: Does the outcome of a change excite us? Desire is the extent to which we want a change to occur. If someone can see how the change will benefit themselves and their clients, they will have a greater desire to make the change a reality. Since change can quickly overwhelm our cognitive and emotional brains, goals and strategic planning processes help break large changes down into manageable steps that are easier for our brains to grasp. Goals help us know what is important to work on now and how it fits into the larger process. Also, accomplishing a goal releases dopamine and serotonin that increase our engagement and motivation for the next steps of the change process.

Importance: Usually, the more important something is, the more engaged someone will be with an issue or change. Importance is related to our level of desire, reason, and need one has to make the change. I wrote a Burning Platforms post on how our traditional ways of creating engagement for organization change promotes disengagement.

Expectations: The brain thrives when reality matches established expectations. It also struggles when reality fails to meet these expectations. I will mention more about the role of expectations when I talk about accountability in a future post.

Next, we’ll examine the four main engagement traps: assessment, premature focus, labeling, and chatting. If not avoided, all may lead to disengagement, resulting in a decrease in motivation and derailing the change process.

Assessment Trap: I spend a great deal of time in the book talking about how our obsession with intakes, biopsychosocial assessments, and other assessments promote disengagement at the crucial initial stages of the helping relationship. In organizational change process, the same dynamics can occur if we are not careful. While measuring key indicators and outcomes is essential to any process, it is important to make sure present data and feedback in a culture where trust and psychological safety are already established. Trying to motivate people by showing them a ton of terrible outcome data (burning platform approach) is more likely lead to disengagement than to motivation.

Premature Focus Trap: Premature focus entails jumping to solutions before the establishment of a shared understanding of the reasons why the change is important. Throughout a change process, we want to make sure that we meet people where they are at in their stage of change. If most of the staff are in contemplation stage and the leadership is trying to force action, resistance and disengagement will result. While many leaders will place the blame on the staff, it is the leadership approach which is causing the problem.

Labeling Trap: The labeling trap is a form of both the assessment and premature focus traps. For clients, labels include homeless, unemployed, impoverish, criminal and many others. Internalizing these labels makes them feel unworthy and limits motivation. In organizational processes, labeling occurs when leaders tell everyone else what the problem is without a process for adequate examination in which to create a shared understanding. Occasionally, due to environmental disruptions outside the organization’s power, a leader might need to define a problem. Regardless, the best solutions come out of processes where leadership takes adequate time creating a share understanding of the reasons and need for change.

Chatting Trap: Chatting creates a situation where there is no focus or direction to guide the change process. In helping organizations, we can process things to death. While deliberate communication and allowing people time to react and voice concerns are essential early in the process. It is equally important that those involved in the process feel the momentum and that their time is efficiently being utilized.

I want to wrap up with a couple of questions.

For an unsuccessful change process you were involved in, why did people struggle to engage and what was the result of this disengagement?

In a successful change process you participated in, how was engagement established and fostered?

4 responses to “Engagement for Change”

  1. Naomi Silva says:

    Thank you for naming and defining the “chatting trap.” I thought I was just being impatient when we would “talk things to death.” Now I realize why it bothers me.

    • Matthew Bennett says:

      Thanks Naomi, it is a tough balance. I’ve learned to listen to my frustration. Not act on it immediately, and ask what it is really about. When we slow down we understand the depth of an issue an often find the best next step.

  2. Jay S. Levy says:

    I think that it is critical to inquire as to why there is ‘chatting’. Is it a response denoting discomfort or some other issue that is impinging on the change process. So even later in the process people can revert back to an earlier stage of change, which is not fully realized by the worker. So one block to change is when the worker and client are not aligned with the stage of change as dictated by where the client is at. This misalignment is a trap that many workers fall into. Similarly with staff,this can occur and perhaps not be identified well by the manager. A group process is a bit trickier as different folks can be at different points, so trying to get under the chatter to see if it connects to deeper issues that may be shared concerns with a number of group members is important as well. So getting under is sometimes a good thing to do, rather than simply turn up or turn off. It can be a nice way of preserving engagement in the change process.

    • Matthew Bennett says:

      Beautiful comment Jay! Thanks for digging deeper into the chatting piece, so much to say on each and every one of these!

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