The 8 Engagement Errors Every Change Project Makes

Over 15 years of experience turning failing transformation projects around means I’ve seen it all when it comes to engagement errors. That’s why today I’m sharing the most common mistakes every change project makes, so you can avoid them in your own transformation project and come out winning!


In this week’s blog I take a look at the 8 most common engagement mistakes every change project makes - and what to do instead.


1. Failing to co-create solutions with your user base

There are a couple of parts to this so let’s run through them: 

  • Don't tell your user base what they need

Nothing annoys your people more than being told what they should think, after all, they know what's wrong in the section you're trying to transform better than anyone. When you design something based on your perception, even if it's fairly well-informed, you lose the engagement potential of letting your people tell you what's wrong. Even if the ideas are the same, let them tell you. 

  • Look for the cause

Even once you think you've uncovered the problem, you don’t necessarily know what the cause of the problem is. There's lots of talk about root cause analysis which is good, but a valuable part of understanding the cause is about speaking to your people. What do they think the cause is? Every time you have an opportunity to do so, you should listen to your people because they will know that you understand, trust and believe in their expertise in this area. 

  • Develop potential solutions and choose which is best

Again, this is about working with your users and stakeholders. Just because you now understand what the problem is, it doesn't mean you can run off into a room and create the solutions by yourself or with a select group of people. Your people’s feedback is invaluable as they will be able to look at the solution and identify all the reasons it will or won't work. If you feel that's unhelpful, then you need to re-calibrate yourself, not them because there's nothing more annoying than putting in a solution that doesn't work and which half the people around said, "Well, I knew it wouldn't, but they didn't ask me."

  • Co-create a detailed solution design with your people

Your users and stakeholders have the ability to look into the details where you, as a  Transformation Director or Manager, might skim over them. Some of those key details can really trip you up, so engage with your people on them; They will really appreciate it, and it will be good for you as well. 

  • Co-create the implementation plan 

It might be self-evident to you how the solution should be implemented, but there might be lots of operational reasons that actually that will impede the effectiveness of your implementation and sometimes will stop it working at all. Some aspects of the implementation may need to be done in a certain order or at a certain time in a cycle, maybe a monthly or a yearly cycle. Your users and stakeholders can help you optimise your implementation so it is the smoothest possible experience for everyone involved. 


2. Telling or selling instead of engaging

Always engage. Forget about telling the people about the project or selling the project to people to build awareness. If you tell people too much in an awareness stage they will make the assumption that you have your plans in place and that subsequent engagement isn’t genuine.

“Awareness is overrated. Engagement is key.” 

However if you start engaging people about the project, they will become aware very quickly because you can't engage without building a little awareness first. Building awareness can be as simple as telling them some basics like why change is needed and the vision for the future at the beginning of a piece of engagement. That way individuals know enough to contribute relevant information but still feel their input has value


3. Failing to listen to feedback

Very often, I see companies saying that they want feedback, yet not really listening to what it is. You should be listening to hear and understand the feedback you receive. If your aim is to understand, you need to question your people to clarify what they think. This isn't a moment to disagree with what they're telling you.

At the end of any engagement, both sides need to feel they've been understood and have understood the other. If you go out the room baffled, not sure why you've spent two hours talking to people and what you got from it apart from a tick in the engagement box, then you didn't understand the feedback they were trying to give you. Maybe you didn't clarify it enough. Maybe you didn't really open your mind to all these different kinds of feedback. 

“If you want to get good at engagement, get good at listening.”

4. Failing to respect and take positive action on feedback

Contrary to what change leaders sometimes think, feedback is really, really valuable. When people give you feedback, they're trusting you with their opinions. When you do nothing with that, it breaks the trust and hurts the relationship. They will then be slow to trust you with their opinion again and will shrug and say, “what's the point?” 

“Be the leader people can trust with their valuable feedback.” 

Different and outlying opinions are more important to listen to, not less, because they help you understand the complexity involved

When you hear something and think, ‘Everyone is telling me B and this person thinks it's A. Okay, well, A must be wrong’, stop and question your assumptions. Clarify their point more than you normally would because understanding outlying opinions often leads to understand the complexity far better. Open-mindedness can lead you down some very fruitful routes of investigation and significantly improve the quality of your project.

Pay attention to perception-based feedback too as it can help you with your messaging. If your people heard that the change you are seeking to make is just another surface-level intervention which won't improve anything, then you need to engage those individuals to go even deeper and understand more. Show you are different from those who came before you; don't tell them you are. 


5. Focusing on being right, not getting it right

When it comes to successful engagement, drop the defensiveness. It may seem harsh, but your opinion isn't really important, so don't argue or provide counter views. When you are trying to clarify things, do exactly that, by making it clear that you're clarifying to understand better what they're saying. 

Engagement is not about you giving your opinion, even if you're an expert in the area, because the very nature of being a transformational leader is about enabling other people. It cannot be about your opinion and by extension, your ego. 

If there are clearly contrary views being expressed, you need to understand why. Is it something that in your mind you had simplified and actually it's a much more complex issue than you've understood before? The real key to understanding the situation in depth is in these contradictory opinions.


6. Telling people you are listening, instead of showing you are

“When it comes to really listening to feedback, show, don’t tell.”

A ‘You Said, We Did’ method of reporting on feedback is okay, but it feels like self-promotion. It's better to have real users tell the story of how their feedback directed the changes that have been made. 

Even better than that is to actually show the improvement and then drop a quick thank you note to the user or users responsible for the helpful feedback. They will pass on the message that you really did listen and really did implement based on their feedback, and that message will get around faster and more authentically than you could ever spread it. 

7. Failing to treat your user base and the rest of the stakeholders the same

We often hear about stakeholder management, but what leads to success is stakeholder engagement

For successful stakeholder engagement, try to understand every aspect of what they're saying to you. Don't assume there's organisational politics behind every stakeholder remark. Many comments are genuine concerns or desires to improve what's going on, not necessarily Machiavellian power plays. 


8. Engaging with people on your stuff, not their stuff

Put yourself in their shoes and ask ‘What's in it for me?’ The answer will be different for different groups of users and stakeholders. Use this insight to get really specific in your messaging. Otherwise, you drop back to telling again, and people can't engage with telling. 

This also applies to engagement plans being endlessly talked about; Stop briefing people on your engagement plan and just deliver it.

So there you have it, the 8 engagement errors every change project makes sometimes. Can you spot any you’re currently making that you can change today? 


Do you need help and guidance turning your engagement plan around? My 30 day Engagement Engine could be for you. Get support and tools from me to work through your engagement issues and fix the common mistakes you could be making. For the next month only, 30 days of 1:1 support from me is available with 50% off at £2,499. That is incredible value for an entire month of support and to fix something that you've probably been fighting for the entire project. Send me a DM to stoke your Engagement Engine and get your project back on track. 

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