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Social Mindset: A Key to Engaging People

It is more than obvious now that the way people feel about their workplace has direct material impact on performance of the business. This simple equation gets even more complex when we think of forces that are fundamentally changing how we work. Our workplace conversations today are dominated by topics like increasing globalization, economic uncertainties, automation, disruptive innovations, social technologies, generational shifts, mobility, people analytics, gig economy and such.

Newer generations at workplace demand different experiences and therefore, organizations are challenged constantly to move beyond traditional engagement programs and think of engagement more holistically. There is plenty of conversation happening today around moving from employee engagement to employee experience, role of design thinking in driving people experiences and creating a differentiating employer brand experience.

These are all worthy topics to take the conversation of talent engagement forward but I think that none of this will be effective in engaging talent unless we address something very fundamental underlying all of these ideas. We live in social, hyper-connected and super-transparent world and therefore, adopting a “social mindset” is and will remain a killer app for engaging people.

Social mindset is about focusing on people more than focusing on process and having a belief that magic happens when:

  • We create ecosystems where good people can thrive
  • People are aligned to purpose and are clear about how their work contributes to larger objectives
  • People have tools and communities to learn what they want to learn and when they want to learn
  • Leaders play an active role in building ecosystems for high performance

Real engagement happens when we focus, not on generating engagement, but doing right things that increase human engagement.

To be able to adopt a social mindset, leaders need to be equipped with deep understanding of how social, networked and self-evolving structures work. Only then can organizational leaders facilitate effective engagement of talent to meet organizational objectives. This is conversation that goes way beyond HR teams focusing narrowly on “employee engagement programs”. This is a more holistic conversation, and one that really engages talent by integrating work design, culture, rewards, learning and career development to deliver superior employee experience. Let us take a deeper look at how social mindset enables each of these and what it means in practical terms:

Work Design: People need a conducive space to perform and how work really gets done is a key driver for engagement. Technology advances have transformed how work is performed and designing work in a way that engages people is a real challenge and opportunity. Organizations have to relentlessly clarify purpose, how an individual’s work enables achievement of purpose and provide autonomy to team members to execute their ideas. People derive sense of control when they have space to do the work in their own unique way and execute their ideas. Social mindset plays a huge role in enabling people to perform. Traditional “once-a-year” feedback mechanisms only disable people. Real enablement happens when people get frequent feedbacks and support throughout the year. Enablement is also about involving people in collaborative problem solving, making goals transparent, seeking their feedback and most importantly, acting on that feedback. The design of organization and work should enable and encourage people to pursue non-linear career paths. Reducing organizational layers, building small teams and empowering them to self-organize go a long way in engaging talent on a longer run.

Alignment and Clarity: In an information intensive world, real empowerment to people is all about seamless communication across different clusters of organizational network. When communication channels are open, people have greater opportunity to clarify their concerns, know the strategic direction and align their local decision making accordingly. Organizations are increasingly using enterprise social networks like Yammer, Microsoft Skype for Teams and Slack to facilitate these critical conversations. Using social tools to not just broadcast but engage in a dialogue is a great way to also build a compelling employer brand. Communication and clarity across the board works like grease to reduce friction, enable clarity and therefore, improve engagement.

Social Learning: People who get the required support to do their work better tend to be better engaged. We have moved beyond traditional one-way forms of training (learning events) to continuous streams of on-demand learning (learning journey) that combine synchronous and asynchronous forms of learning. People don’t go to classrooms when they want to learn – they go to corporate learning management systems, micro-learning platforms like Twitter, Enterprise social networks like Yammer and so on. Enabling social learning is about encouraging people to share their work, get feedback, align their practices and learn from these experiences. It is about building communities of practice and encouraging people to work out loud. For this to happen, leaders have to set the right example and become engaged social learners themselves. When organizations get this right, they build a solid employer brand (reputation) while engaging with their prospective talent pools on external social networks.

Creating Ecosystems of High Performance: Real engagement happens when people are able to play to their potential and deliver superior performances. Effective leadership that works hard to build trust, respects people, engages in seamless conversations and treats people as colleagues and not as “resources” goes a long way in building a performance culture. Social mindset and leadership is about building a fabric of relationships between clusters of networks in organization to facilitate collaboration and performance. It is therefore so vital for leaders to walk an extra mile to clarify goals, communicate, build relationships, foster trust, deliver feedback early and often and set right examples.

Social mindset has existed in our societies and communities since ages but often forgotten in the maze of organizational layers, tight bound hierarchies, complex processes and boxed responsibilities that inhibit shared understanding and learning.

Human beings are fundamentally social and therefore, understanding of how social structures work is easy. It is all around us.

It is often in doing things we know that we stumble the most!


This article originally appeared as Cover Story in PeopleMatters Magazine April 2017 Edition


Also check out: Happy to have contributed a sketchnote to the re-published version of “The Best Leaders are Constant Learners” by Kenneth Mikkelsen and Harold Jarche at HBRAscend.in – a Harvard Business Review publication.

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