By Mary Beth McEuen
The game has changed.
The traditional business beliefs that brought success in the past will not bring success in the future. Whether you call today’s business environment the “new normal,” the “not normal,” or just plain unsettling, the old ways aren’t working. People are skeptical about their relationships with business. Whether they are customers, sales partners, or employees, all are looking for relationships with organizations they can trust, organizations that care, organizations that align with their values. Too often, the real story is that businesses view people as a means to their profit end rather than as stakeholders in creating shared value.
So where do we look for answers to this problem? It takes a fresh perspective about business, about people, and about what really drives a mutually beneficial relationship. It is commonly agreed that there is massive untapped potential in every stakeholder a business touches. Yet, to unleash this potential, we must be willing to shift beliefs about how to engage them. We must understand, enable, and motivate them on their terms.
A new framework for stakeholder engagement is needed—a framework anchored in the latest research relative to human drives and behavior. The goal is to create better business results that, at the same time, enrich stakeholders in ways that are most meaningful to them.
Businesses need principles and passions to guide the thinking and design of business practice that unleashes stakeholder potential and creates “true engagement,” a relational process that unfolds in and through meaningful and motivating experiences. A “relational process” places the emphasis on human interaction rather than simply on economic transaction. Meaningful and motivating is about connecting subjective value with objective value—connecting human values with economic value.
There are three core premises that must underpin next-generation business practices focused on “true engagement” of employees, channel partners, and customers:
To create “true engagement,” we must begin with an understanding of what is meaningful and motivating to stakeholders. Our assumptions about human motivation and behavior need to be updated with some evidence from neuroscience and academia, including the ideas that people are emotional and rational; people are both individual and social; and people are driven by multiple motivators.
The Four-Drive Model
Paul R. Lawrence and Nitin Nohria, with Harvard Business School, published in the book, “Driven: How Human Nature Shapes Our Choices”(John Wiley & Sons, 2002), that human nature is bound by four biological drives:
Each of these drives is independent of the others in the sense that fulfilling one drive does not fulfill the others. In addition, the drives are active throughout our lives and cannot be entirely or permanently satisfied. While these four drives may not be the only ones, they are central to understanding what makes people tick in terms of human motivation and behavior.
The four drives are underpinned by emotions that tug and pull on our choices. It is in the balancing and integrating of these emotional drives by our more rational reasoning that people make decisions on whether or not to engage with companies and people to achieve purposes and goals that are important to them.
While many businesses talk about wanting better, more engaged, more loyal relationships with key stakeholders, it is their underlying assumptions about people that hold them back from creating “true engagement.” Outdated beliefs about human action and interaction hold us in a transactional model of engagement. And a transactional model of engagement is like cutting the human in half by appealing only to their drives to acquire and defend and then wondering why they don’t love you and offer all of their creative energies to making you successful.
True engagementrequires a four-drive approach where the drives to bond and create are as carefully considered as the drives to acquire and defend.
To engage stakeholders in a manner that is meaningful and motivating requires an understanding of what theyvalue and view as important. Too often, business leaders think first about what the company wants and needs in order to generate profit. The problem with this approach is that it fails to place equal attention on the wants and needs of the stakeholders.
For example, if you know that the majority of your employees are motivated by a value system of stimulation and challenge in life, you can stretch your thinking relative to elements of an employee engagement strategy. The strategy could include regular large group meetings where novelty, new thinking, and creative expression are embedded into the meeting design. A regular rhythm of high-impact meetings can be a powerful component of an employee engagement strategy. People in this value system are motivated by working on challenging projects with people who push the envelope. They are interested in being rewarded in non-traditional ways, as well. While someone oriented toward tradition may love spending time with management at a nice recognition dinner, the challenge-seeker would rather be hiking in Alaska with her buddies or provided with an opportunity to enroll in an intellectually stimulating fellows program to advance her skills.
The game has changed, and the belief systems that brought success in the past will not bring success in the future. We need a fresh perspective about business and people. Consider what could happen if business leaders shifted their paradigm to think of their businesses as vehicles for unleashing the potential of people—whether these people are their employees, channel partners, or customers.
Today’s environment calls for a new framework for stakeholder engagement, a framework anchored in the latest research relative to human motivation and behavior. The goal is not only to create better business results, but to enrich stakeholder lives in a manner important to them at the same time.
Excerpted from “The Game Has Changed: A New Paradigm for Stakeholder Engagement,” by Mary Beth McEuen (Maritz; Copyright 2011). To download a copy of the paper, visit: http://www.maritz.com/engagement.