Retention & Engagement

Two employee engagement lessons learned from design thinking

More than 80 years ago, Dale Carnegie laid out an approach to inspiring and attracting others in what became one of the best-selling self help books ever written: How to Win Friends and Influence People. Among his core principles were several related to understanding others such as: arouse in the other person an eager want, become genuinely interested in other people, ask questions instead of giving direct orders.

And yet today, many businesses still operate from a command-and-control perspective that ignores these principles. Many initiatives including workplace initiatives are often dreamed up behind closed doors by a small part of the workforce and then delivered to the whole. When what’s delivered doesn’t interest others or arouse an “eager want,” employees ignore initiatives and programs intended to help them, resulting in a lack of productivity and motivation to move the business forward.

Design Thinking is the antithesis of that approach. Borne out of the beliefs that (1) people tend to support what they have created and (2) it’s better to research and meet an audience’s needs than to make assumptions about what they want, Design Thinking is an approach to innovation guided by the same people-centric principles championed by Carnegie.

If you are tasked with engaging your workforce, you can incorporate the people-centric approach of Design Thinking with some simple changes to how you approach building engagement:

  • Listen to as many of your employees as you can.

The goal is to both express your genuine interest in them and come to understand their perspectives. In some workplaces, this is easier said than done, but technology gives us a “Hail Mary” here. If your workforce is remote or asynchronous, digital conversations and messaging can be just as effective as in-person conversations (and have the added benefit of imposing more clearly defined time and topic constraints).Consistently send your employees questions that get at the heart of who they are, what they believe, and why they have chosen to work for you over your competitors. Find out how they feel about how your organization does business, your current initiatives, and needs they have that aren’t getting met. Understand who they are and what they need before embarking on new initiatives. (If you aren’t sure where to start, consult our list of suggested questions.)

  • Invite your employees to be creators, not just consumers.

Some of the most popular and engaging products today invite their audiences to be creators, not just consumers. According to Pew Research, more than 70% of adult internet users are members of Facebook (now valued at more than $300 billion)–a platform whose entire content repository is user-generated. Additionally, 67% of smartphone owners say they use their phones to share pictures, videos, or commentary about events happening in their community, with 35% saying they do so frequently. When given an outlet for contribution, people jump at the chance to create.

Regularly ask your employees to contribute to the things your organization is making whether it’s improvements to processes, new initiatives, or even helping a new leadership team transition to leading the company. Ask employees to share what they think you should know before you make changes, give advice on the direction of projects, and provide suggestions for things that need to be addressed. Remember that people prefer questions over direct orders. Give your employees an outlet for contributing and you will be surprised by their willingness to help you make your initiatives a success.


Category: Retention & Engagement

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About the Author: Megan McNames

Megan McNames is a regular speaker and former collegiate instructor with a background in full- stack user experience design, including user research and visual, interaction, and information design. In her role as a Product Owner at Emplify, …

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  1. Megan,

    I wholeheartedly agree with your POV and would add that creating a “safe” environment so you can gather the authentic information from your employees is paramount. Being able to visualize the future is hard enough without fear of retaliation or criticism for sharing that information.

    Good luck with the webinar!!

    Bill –

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