Metaphors, Visualization, and Discussion! Oh, My!: Three Proven Employee Engagement Ideas

on October 25, 2017

What does your company do? I get that question a lot. And I say something along the lines of: “We help leaders in large organizations create whatever change they need and make it stick.” I get a lot of head nods and varying follow-up questions depending on what the person does for a living. But then someone invariably asks, “Well, how do you guys help organizations do that?” So we talk a lot about the power of engaging employees in the change. Every employee. And this leads to a discussion about some of the methods we use to create that engagement.

Most of the methods we use to help leaders and organizations create engagement use a combination of three key elements grounded in a whole host of proven research:

  • Metaphors
  • Visualization
  • Discussion

Let’s see why each is proven to create better employee engagement.

Metaphors – Emotional Connectors

To make change resonate, people must understand it both emotionally and intellectually. Metaphors can synthesize information, data, and concepts into something simple. And most importantly, they can illustrate the drama of what might happen if nothing changes. (For example, if we don’t make this shift to enter a new market, we’ll have tough time growing and it could jeopardize our bonus structure and hiring plans.) Somewhere in that scenario, people start to recognize how it’s going to affect them. And if you put it into a metaphor of the accounting department sitting on the edge of a glacier that’s crumbling into the sea, it makes the weight of the situation both real and memorable. (Just for the record – I adore our accounting department!)

Visualization – Powerful Learning and Inspiring Action

Think about the crumbling glacier I just mentioned. Immediately in your minds’ eye, you formed the picture of a bright blue frozen landscape with big chunks of ice breaking off and slowly falling 50 feet into the freezing water below. Visualization greatly enhances learning and information retention. There’s a ton of data that back this up, including that people learn only 11% audibly, but 83% visually. How does this work for engaging people in some type of change narrative? Well, as our CEO loves to say – you can’t visualize fuzz. It forces people (namely leaders) to really define and detail what they want to happen. Like the metaphor, visuals can powerfully capture drama and emotions (think about the photos in Life Magazine or National Geographic). They can also inspire action. That’s what every executive team wants to see, right?

Discussion – Channeling the Right Dialogue

A long-dead psychologist asserted that taking a single view of anything is just entirely too narrow and basically serves no one. And without dialogue of some type, you can’t gather other ideas or perspectives. Yet most leaders stand on a platform or use a video to announce a new strategy or change initiative, and there’s typically very little discussion about this change. But for the last 100 years or so, experts have shown that when people can share their assumptions, hear other perspectives, and not have to prove they’re right, that’s when real change starts to happen. When this is done in a constructive, guided fashion, the effect is even more powerful.

While these methods are proven and can be silver bullets on their own to help create employee engagement, they can be the single most powerful silver bullet for driving change and delivering higher performance for any organization when they’re combined. I’ve heard the stories myself. Curious to learn more? There’s a white paper for that.

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