The call came yesterday. A good friend is engaged to be married! Smiles, heartfelt congratulations, hugs, handshakes, break out the champagne, ‘tell me everything!’ These are all typical responses when a couple becomes engaged because we understand that being engaged is more than just a proposal and a party, engagement is the manifestation of shared joy, shared commitment, shared goals, shared hopes and dreams, and a willingness to share the tough times as well. Engagement, and marriage, signify a mutual understanding and mutual support. Joy. Hope. Happiness.
In this sense, engagement embodies the definition of to ‘occupy, attract, or involve’. Synonyms include such wonderful words as capture, snag, attract, draw, captivate, and engross. You can feel the power, the effervescent joy in these words. Who wouldn’t want to experience the joy of engagement?
And then we have engagement in the business sense, the other definition of the word, ‘participate or become involved in’. We drone on about ‘engaging the public’ (guilty) but pursue this engagement with all the joy of forcing marriage to a narcissist. It’s a one-way street. We tell you to like us, and you go forth and dedicate your life, money, and first born to our cause. In return we’ll send you some return address labels. Maybe. This is not true engagement, this is meeting the numbers.
If you want people to truly support your organization and your cause, you need to be doing more of the ‘captivate’ type of engagement and far less of the ‘participate’.
I’d been thinking of engagement during my recent travels. I was sitting in The Temple Cafe on the Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland enjoying the food and the astounding scenery between hikes when I noticed an RNLI Leverburgh jacket slung over a chair. It got me thinking. Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) seems to manage the first type of engagement exceptionally well. Throughout my travels and years living in the UK, I’ve always noticed a true pride and commitment among people who support RNLI. The avid sailors who always send RNLI Christmas cards, the simple certificate of recognition for support that I have seen posted in countless businesses, and the pride with which the RNLI jacket is worn. When I approached the couple with the jacket and asked to take a photo, explaining I worked in drowning prevention, they went out of their way to make sure I got the shot I wanted. Of course! Would I like the man to put on the jacket? Could I see the words clearly? But more than indulging another nutty American tourist, there was palpable pride in representing RNLI and having an important role in RNLI’s mission. This was the difference for me. This was the action that got me thinking about different types of engagement.
RNLI does the usual great branding job, all the things you are supposed to do to ‘engage the public’ in the business sense. The consistent and evocative strapline, ‘Respect The Water’ for their national drowning prevention campaign. The presence on the London Underground and other well traveled public venues. A great social media presence. But the culture of the organization has translated support into the ‘capture, snag, attract, and captivate’ level of engagement. I don’t know the history so can not comment directly, but I do know that congratulations to RNLI leadership are due, because an organization’s culture comes from the top and is developed over time. You can kill a culture practically overnight, but you can only build strong public support with consistency and time.
If your organization is practicing forced marriage to a narcissist over crack open the champagne engagement, here are some actions you should take to change your engagement:
- Look at how you count results. It’s easy to look at membership, but take a closer look at what those members actually do. One fully engaged and committed member is worth far more than a thousand members who just pay the dues. Find those captivated members and support them. Help them to host events, to reach out, to spread the word for you. Recognize them. One person with influence in their community will do more good for your organization than a mass mailing to thousands that is deleted, recycled, and falls on deaf ears.
- Take a hard look in the mirror. If you are the top management, do you actually communicate with people in your organization and the public or do you just pass down proclamations? If your initial defensive response to that question was ‘I’m too busy for that!’, you almost certainly aren’t engaging effectively and neither is your organization. A true leader doesn’t sit on an ivory throne. A true leader listens, engages, is willing to learn, and hires people who are smarter than them and have different skills. But don’t take it from me, take it from Richard Branson.
- Be clear on what you are trying to accomplish. Every person involved in your organization should be able to describe your organization’s purpose in one or two sentences with no hesitation. This does not mean you are locking everyone in a room until they memorize the words, this means that you funnel every decision through those core values, you communicate changes and initiatives in the context of those core values, and you live those core values. Walk the talk.
Engagement can lead to a meaningful and lasting relationship or it can lead to a transactional business relationship. One yields substantial benefits, the other, attitudes ranging from apathy to disgust. It’s worth getting down on bended knee and then following through with your promises.
Excuse the quality of some of the RNLI photos, I was hanging precariously on a moving train during rush hour. The things I do to end drowning….
And finally, one photo from my vacation. And yet another reason why water calls to me, soothes my soul, and makes me so passionate about working to have the whole world respect and love the water.