Ingaged Leadership: A New Path to Excellence and Organizational Success

by:Evan Hackel

Evan Hackel

I had a call from one of my clients, a franchise brand. I cannot give the company’s name in this article, but you know them. They have branded walk-in locations in hundreds of cities and towns across America – probably near where you live.

The called explained that the company had a very specific problem they wanted me to solve, which my contact summarized as, “Our annual conference is coming up in a few months, attendance has been very poor in the low 20% for the last few years, and we would like you to get more of our store owners to attend.”

“Okay,” I said, “what is going to happen at the conference that so important?”

“We will be rolling out a new store design and showing it to our people,” she explained, “and that’s why we want to get most of our store-owners there.” Getting the franchises to invest in this new design was mission critical, yet their franchise agreement didn’t require them to upgrade their stores at the time.

My next step was to do some research, so our team called a number of franchisees to ask, “How do you feel about going to your annual conference?” Most of them responded by saying something like, “Oh, the conferences are fun and I get to socialize, but I never learn anything that the company isn’t going to tell me later on anyway. So why go?”  Further we found the franchisees didn’t feel like they were involved at the meeting, they felt like they were being talk at and being sold things.

When we interviewed the staff, we also found that there were some significant trust issues taking place within the system; the first response from the franchisees to about anything would be no.

It became very clear that the rollout of the new design was going to be a disaster.  Not that the design was necessarily bad, but the franchisees were unlikely to attend and even if they did, they would be highly skeptical of what they saw.

Through that process, we determined that we had to change the entire process around. Rather than this being a convention to sell the display system, It needed to be a convention to have franchise owners help design and build a display system.

This small change was very significant. Instead of presenting one display system, the design firm mocked up three different concepts. The franchisees would be invited to come out and see the three different concepts, critique them, and give feedback. As part of this effort we changed the marketing of the event to helping build the future, and let people know that everyone was invited to help design the future of this brand.

All of a sudden, there was real value for people to go. They could help contribute to the future design look and feel of their businesses. They weren’t going to be talked at and – bingo – they were going to be listened to.

In other words, they were being engaged, they were able to participate and their opinions were going to be valued.

The event sold out, to the point there were literally no hotel rooms available in the original hotel or two hotels nearby.  In the end, there was more than 85% attendance. The meeting was a huge success.  The franchisees appreciated the opportunity to contribute. But the very interesting thing is, with the help and advice of the franchisees the final design of the new store ended up being very different and, in the words of management, much better. Furthermore, they got more franchisees to agree to pilot the new design than they thought would sign up for a new design that was merely shown to them.

Currently the new design is in testing in the field, but assuming customer reaction is strong and positive, there’s an anxious group of franchisees who are ready and willing to convert their locations. This is also an example of ingaging the customer.

Involvement and listening where the keys to this success story.  A traditional hierarchical approach would have met with failure.

That Is the Power of Ingagement

I coined the term Ingaged Leadership, and wrote my book Ingaging Leadership about it, because I have observed that leaders become vastly more successful when they truly value and seek input from all stakeholders.  For leaders to achieve results like the ones I describe in my case study above, they need to Ingage people’s minds, creativity and even their emotions.

What Is Ingaged Leadership?

Ingagement isn’t a single action that you take just once. It is an ongoing, dynamic business practice that has the power to transform your organization, your people and your success. It can be summarized this way:

When you align people and create an organization where everyone works together in partnership, that organization becomes vastly more successful.

Everyone in your organization can create Ingagement, including company leaders, middle managers, and people at all organizational levels. Ingagement goes beyond the style of management that you will find at work in many organizations today, where top executives believe their job is to give instructions and provide incentives.

Why have I called my philosophy Ingagement instead of Engagement? Because Ingagement is more than Engagement, I stands for involvement, people can be engaged in a process, but never in involved in process of creating the vision. It is much more powerful when people have been part of the process of determining the direction, not just “engaged” by a leader who was telling them what to do.

The Cornerstones of Ingaged Leadership

  • Move beyond being a good listener. Earlier in my career, I prided myself on being a good listener, but later came to see that I was only listening to people so I could find ways to prove their ideas wrong and advance my own views of what should be done. I have now changed that process to one where I am constantly looking for nuggets of high value in what other people are saying, and to let them genuinely influence my plans and where my organization is doing.
  • Set personal opinions aside and allow people to try new things. This requires some effort. Yet when leaders allow people to try innovative things, new and ongoing improvements often result. And the process is self-reinforcing, because when people see that their ideas are valued and heard, they become invested in your success. If you as a leader have to like everything, then by definition you are a micromanager.  When you allow your staff to do things that in your opinion aren’t the right things, you then truly have an empowered team. It is amazing how often you find you are wrong.
  • Work with people to actively develop and communicate your organization’s vision, values and mission. This core activity of great leaders offers people at all levels a chance to contribute on a higher level and advance your company’s success.
  • Get in the habit of asking for help. Doing so provides many benefits. It affords people an opportunity to contribute, demonstrates that you respect their expertise, cultivates an organization where collaboration is valued, and shows that you are a confident leader, not an arrogant one.
  • Fight complacency. If your leadership reflects an attitude that says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” you are not helping your company grow and excel. It is better to constantly challenge yourself to find new solutions, and to show your people that you want them to do so too.
  • Focus on hiring and retaining a great team. I have noticed that many leaders fall into the pattern of hiring people who are just like they are. Others assemble teams of “yes people” who are only there to rubber-stamp their plans and ideas. In contrast, Ingaged leaders courageously hire people who possess skills and abilities that are different or better than their own. It is also critically important to hire people who have positive attitudes, since even a small dose of negativism can spread like a poison in any organization.
  • Invest in your people. That means having a development plan in place for employees and rewarding them with above-par benefits that make them want to work for you and not your competitors.

Are Ingagement and Democracy the Same Thing?

When I speak about Ingaged Leadership, people often ask me that question. The answer is that Ingaged Leadership and democracy are not the same. Even in an Ingaged organizations, it is still up to leaders to finalize the direction and, when necessary, make critical decisions. If you and your legal team are negotiating a merger with another company, for example, you are the leader who will ultimately make the decision to move ahead with the merger or not – even though you will solicit ideas and input from your people through the ranks.