Challenges in the Engagement Context
In the last eight posts about the Dynamic Engagement Framework (see Featured Posts), I have explained different uses of the term engagement, the centrality of choice and agency in engagement and the engagement palette. I have emphasised the dynamic nature of engagement and implied that the context in which engagement occurs contributes to this dynamism. In this post I will discuss some of the dynamic factors which influence engagement.
In the post entitled, The Dynamics of the Engagement Palette, I discussed the macro and micro context of engagement. Within these contexts, three key dynamic challenges influence the degree of investment which people make: change, complexity and conflict. Every individual has unique and variable tolerance for these three forms of challenge. Each situation of change, complexity or conflict poses the potential to threaten or to reward the individual. If the challenge is perceived to be potentially rewarding the individual can be expected to increase their level of personal investment. If the challenge is potentially threatening then the individual may withhold investment and be “not engaged”: disengaged, compulsive or depleted.
All three challenges are inevitable and unavoidable in the modern organisational environment.
Change: The rhetoric of change is becoming ubiquitous and the clichés are prolific. Modern technologies and global connections are definitely facilitating more rapid change. As more and more innovations proliferate, more possible combinations become possible resulting in more and more new products, services and ideas to change the way the world works. A common misconception is that people resist change. I challenge that belief. People will embrace change that is rewarding. However, they will resist the pain and loss which is often associated with change. In this case they can be expected to respond by disengaging, acting compulsively or reducing their investment if they are actually or relatively depleted. If we want people to engage optimally in a changing environment, then it is crucial that we maximise the reward or minimise the threat posed by the change. We can do this by tailoring the change process and by increasing the access people have to resources or enrichment to support effective engagement.
Complexity: My favourite complexity theory is Dave Snowden’s Cynefin Framework. Dave is constantly evolving the theory, but he currently describes five domains of complexity in systems and challenges. The ordered domains are the Known and Knowable Domains. The unordered domains are the Complex and Chaotic domains. The fifth domain is Disorder. It is my belief that people are wired and equipped to excel in one or more of these domains. When the challenge presented by a particular context resides within a domain in which the individual is especially comfortable then the demand created by the challenge is potentially rewarding to the individual. If not, then the challenge becomes potentially threatening. The level of reward or threat experienced by an individual is influenced to a great degree by their personal resources and resilience and their inherent needs and desires.
Conflict: By conflict, I am not referring to the various ways in which people seek to establish equanimity by force. Conflict simply refers to a discrepancy or difference. All progress is fuelled by conflict – the gap between what is and what can be. Whilst diversity presents myriad conflicts it is also these conflicts which foster new understandings, innovation and depth of insight. Conflict may be potentially rewarding or potentially threatening. As with change and complexity, different individuals will experience and respond to different conflicts uniquely depending on their personal resources.
Similar to a number of the concepts which have been described in the Dynamic Engagement Framework posts, change, complexity and conflict are not necessarily completely independent of each other. The boundaries may be difficult to discern, and they may impact on each other and thus be difficult to distinguish. However, they are significant forces in the engagement context which potentially have enormous impact on engagement.
In the next post, I will explore Resilience and Engagement.
Snowden, D.J. and Boone, M.E., 2007. A leader's framework for decision making. Harvard Business Review, 85(11),