Organising for engagement

Organisations that engage well, are generally doing well (see my online stakeholder engagement post). So how do we embed engagement processes into organisational design? As organising around hierarchy was a core process of industrial age organisations, engaging is a core process of 21st Century knowledge age organisations. This calls for a reorganisation of how we work. From this perspective, if we strip organisations down to essentials, there are three core functions:

  • production of goods or services
  • engagement (internal and external)
  • support (e.g. leadership, management, finance)

The engagement ethos must displace older patterns of relating, and reorganising around this structure will help that to happen. Some functions that are clearly engagement functions are marketing, public relations, customer service and communications. Others, such as information systems could be positioned as either engagement, or support.

Leadership implications

For smaller organisations, especially commercial operations, this could translate easily to a three-person leadership team. Larger organisations is where it gets really interesting. Eric McNutty and Rupert Davis in the December 2010 Harvard Business Review ask, “Should the C-Suite have a green seat?” They discuss the relative merits of having a Chief Sustainability Officer, such as SAP’s Peter Graf. While I believe that stakeholder engagement is a function of sustainability, perhaps sustainability shouldn’t be partitioned off, but rather should be a guiding value of every organisational function, championed by the CEO. Companies that are successfully championing sustainability, such as Interface have a strong CEO or executive team driving it.

If sustainability is the goal, engagement is a means of achieving the goal. As discussed before, engagement represents a new way of relating. While sustainability calls us to rethink how we sustain our environment, society and economic well being, engagement calls us to rethink how we relate with one another – so fundamental to, and vital for, our survival and well-being.

So a Chief Engagement Officer would be a great place to start (its just unfortunate that the acronym is CEO).

Marketing, public relations and customer services

Positioning marketing, public relations and customer services as engagement processes should reorient them in most organisations. In many organisations these functions still have a “hunter-gatherer” approach – go out and score a new customer or fight off competitors. Securing new customers gets more attention than retaining existing customers. Engaging infers a longer-term orientation and creating relationships rather than merely completing transactions. For example, Zappos uses its call centre to engage and as a source of information and opportunity to create a relationship. They have no scripts, quotas or call time limits.

What do you think of the production, engagement, support model? Are there functions that wouldn’t fit? And where would you position human resources?

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