Saturday, 31 December 2011

Soft power and employee engagement

Soft power is the ability to make people want what you want. It was invented as a concept by Joseph Nye, and has been used by President Barack Obama when talking about foreign policy and international politics. 
As well as its obvious use in politics, I think it is an idea that is also wholly relevant to employee engagement. 
If we contrast it with 'hard' power - i.e. incentivising someone to do something (carrot) or threatening someone (stick), and we think about examples from our own work life, I'm sure we'd agree that hard power has limited influence.
When we have really achieved at work, and our organisations have done well, it's because we've all wanted the same thing. (I really felt this when Wolverhampton Homes was going for our three star excellent inspection.)
You can pay someone do to their job, and they will do it. You can set them targets and give them performance related pay, so they achieve them. But imagine if they want to achieve what you want them to achieve as much (or even more) than you do - they want what you want. 
When you get that alignment; people who care passionately about what they do, they will achieve and take ownership of that achievement to the benefit of your organisation.
Easier said than done right? Nye explains in the video above what he believes to be the three skills you need to achieve soft power: emotional intelligence, the ability to have a vision and communications skills. How much does that resonate with employee engagement?
The four enablers of engagement are about attraction in the soft power sense - selling a compelling narrative to the organisation, behaving with integrity and listening to employees.
When examined through the prism of hard power, employee engagement would seem to be all about improving benefits, terms or conditions. But we know that although improved benefits might give you a bounce in engagement stats, it won't sustain once people have got used to them. Hard power also seems incredibly old-fashioned and out of sync with our work lifestyles now, which are less about control and much more about collaboration. 
Much more important is that staff want what the organisation wants - or even better, the organisation wants what staff wants. 
How can you use soft power with your colleagues, teams and clients?

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