The Torchbearer’s Toolkit: The Secret To Engaging Millennials

Statue of Liberty at night

Today’s top leaders know one question burns in the minds of every millennial 

You learned it when you were a child.  You have uttered it a thousand times since then.  It has shaped the person you are today.  Who you will become in the future.  Everything about you has evolved from the answers you received to this one simple question.

“Why?”

It’s easy to underestimate its power.  It’s such a small three letter word.  Yet, it is the one question millennials continually seek.  Finding the answers will remain their life’s work.

Why?  Because finding the answer is their safety net.  Once they have it, they are assured that there is meaning to life. With the answer, they find structure, clarity, and a sense of purpose.  All is made right in the world.  Only then can they can move forward.

A New Generation of Leaders:

Today’s emerging leaders know the power this question holds, especially in the minds of millennials.  They place intentional focus and energy on how they answer it.  They know the answer to this question is the key to engaging a younger workforce.  The days of leading people with the mantra of “Don’t ask questions; just do what I say” are over.  No one is listening. Especially millennials.  They are searching for leaders who inspire them, reward creativity and collaboration, value their contributions, and give purpose and meaning to their work.  During times of change and transition, this critical leadership skill becomes essential.

So, how good are you at communicating the answer to this question?  Do your associates understand the mission of your company and the specific role they play in executing it?  Do they understand why they need to make changes and how they will be impacted by them?  If they don’t, resistance is the price to be paid.  Traveling into the unknown and adopting new behaviors requires communication and support from leadership.

Leaders are struggling to address the “Why?” and it’s impacting engagement across the globe.  According to a 2017 Gallup survey, only 33% of employees are engaged in their work.  This leaves a staggering 67% who are not fully committed to their jobs.  This trend hurts businesses which need to become more agile and innovative to survive in today’s market.

So, how can leaders reverse this trend?  How can they engage associates to pursue their work with passion and drive?  How can they inspire them and create the desire for change?

According to Nancy Duarte and Patti Sanchez in their new book, Illuminate: Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies and Symbols, leaders must serve as torchbearers and light the path through communicating in a way that captures the hearts and minds of associates.  Nancy and Patti explain, “The desire to build something significant simmers inside torchbearers; how you communicate determines whether or not you achieve that goal.  Leading people requires not only sensing change afoot, but imagining a brighter future and communicating in a way that motivates others to follow you there.”

This poignant analogy reinforces the important role leaders play in “illuminating the path” and how they answer the “Why?” is critical in getting people to buy into their vision of the future.

Light the path to lead the way

Torchbearers Communicate These Five Messages (And Repeat Them Often):

  1. Vision of the future: Clearly define what the future looks like.  Explain why this change is necessary and what’s at stake if you fail to make it.  This helps others understand why the change is important.  Your ability to effectively communicate this message creates the desire for change.  Until you create desire, associates will resist the future-state.
  2. Impact of the change: Describe how your associates will benefit from the future state.  It’s human nature to ask “what’s in this for me?” because humans are motivated by their perception of rewards.  If they don’t understand how they will benefit, they are less likely to jump on board with the change.
  3. Purpose and Role: Clearly define the purpose of reaching the future state and each person’s role in executing the vision.  People are highly motivated by a sense of purpose. They want to do meaningful work.  Recent engagement research also stresses the importance of intrinsic rewards (associates WANT to do their best work and be recognized for a job well done).  They can only accomplish this when leaders clearly communicate expectations and how they will honor associates who help achieve the future state.
  4. Empathy and Value: Listen to the feedback from associates and acknowledge their desires and fears.  People are naturally inspired when they feel heard and valued. Leaders who listen gain valuable insights (on things that can improve the project) they might otherwise miss by not getting timely feedback.  Provide channels and opportunities for associates to voice their ideas and concerns.  Be sure to follow back up with an action plan for the items that can be addressed.
  5. Reward: Celebrate the wins at each milestone.  Rather than waiting until the project is completed, keep associates motivated throughout the emotional ups and downs of the change journey by celebrating at each milestone.  This provides them with encouragement to keep going when the going gets tough.

Torchbearer’s Toolkit:

Storytelling is a powerful leadership tool.  Since the beginning of time, ideas have been passed from generation to generation (and from tribe to tribe) through stories.  People have been inspired to action through stories that provide a construct for dealing with conflict resolution.

Take for example the hero’s journey where he/she starts in the status quo of a familiar environment. Suddenly faced with a new conflict, the hero embarks on a path down the unknown and meets many challenges and hurdles along the way.  Through persistence and sheer will, the hero overcomes the obstacles (or succumbs to them) and arrives at a new destination, forever changed by the course of the journey.

Nancy and Patti add the hero’s journey into context for leaders who command the power of storytelling by structuring their presentation like a story, “By reminding people of the status quo and then revealing the path to a better way, they set up a conflict that needs to be resolved.

That tension helps them persuade the audience to adopt a new mindset or behave differently — to move from what is to what could be. And by following Aristotle’s three-part story structure (beginning, middle, end), they create a message that’s easy to digest, remember, and retell.”

Leaders influence and inspire others through the Torchbearer’s Toolkit of speeches, stories, ceremonies, and symbols.  Leaders use these tools to communicate powerful messages that connect with the emotions of their associates.  So, how do you answer the “why?” and deliver on the five key torchbearer messages to ignite change using these tools?

The Power of Ceremony:

One of my business colleagues shared a story with me that is a great example of a ceremony.  She was working for a national car rental company at the time and they were undergoing a major transition.  The company was rolling out a new automated HR system to replace the previous manual system they had been using for almost twenty years.

For the rollout to be successful, they needed their entire Engineering and IT team on board with the change.  The challenge was this team created the initial system and the head of Engineering was the brain child.  This was his baby and he wasn’t in the mindset to give it up for something new and innovative.

The leaders knew this was a risk to the project.  How they responded to this resistance from their associates could make or break its success.  They took intentional action to address this in a way they knew would motivate and inspire the team.  As Nancy and Patti suggested in Illuminate, they held a ceremony.  To be specific, they conducted a funeral.

Yes, you heard me correctly, a funeral.  Everyone was asked to dress in appropriate black attire to honor the dead.  During the ceremony, the leadership team got up and reiterated their company mission and how the new HR system would empower them to better meet the needs of their associates (answering their burning question of “Why do we need to make a change?”).

They specifically explained how this system would benefit associates and how it would make their day-to-day tasks much more efficient, allowing them to focus on more important work (answering their burning question of “What’s in this for me?”).

And then something truly amazing happened.  They called the head of Engineering up to the stage.  As he walked down the aisle, he unraveled a piece of paper in his trembling fingers.  He stepped up to the mic and began to speak.  To the shock and surprise of everyone in the room, he delivered a eulogy – this from the guy who wasn’t on board with the change!

Not just any eulogy but one of the most beautiful eulogies ever delivered.  By the end of it, everyone in the room was in tears as he said his goodbyes to the old system.  His involvement in the ceremony provided him with the voice he needed to let go of the past (he was heard and valued for his contributions) and start moving forward.  Then everyone participated in a burial service that was followed by food, refreshment, and entertainment to celebrate the new system that would lead to the company’s continued success.

This ceremony and the speeches presented by leadership were key to helping the associates switch their mindset and get engaged with the change.  It’s no surprise that the head of Engineering soon became the biggest advocate for the new system implementation, encouraging others to join the new vision.

Conclusion:

The future belongs to leaders who understand human psychology as well as they understand business principals.  It belongs to those who can foresee the future and light the path, inspiring others to follow. They are skilled at telling stories, using symbols, and holding ceremonies that connect to the emotions of their people and address the one burning question of “Why?”.  These are the leaders of tomorrow.  They have the power to engage the millennial workforce.  Are you among them?  If so, how will you light the path so others can follow?

Call To Action: 

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Resources:

Kenneth  Thomas; Ivey Business Journal, The Four Intrinsic Rewards That Drive Employee Engagement; http://iveybusinessjournal.com/publication/the-four-intrinsic-rewards-that-drive-employee-engagement/

Nancy Duarte; HBR, Structure Your Presentation Like A Story; https://hbr.org/2012/10/structure-your-presentation-li

Nancy Durante and Patti Sanchez; Illuminate: Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies and Symbols; Portfolio (Penguin Group), 338 pages

Nate Dvorak and Junko Sasaki; Employees at Home: Less Engaged;  http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/207539/employees-home-less-engaged.aspx?g_source=EMPLOYEE_ENGAGEMENT&g_medium=topic&g_campaign=tiles

Business story provided by Jackie Vanderploeg; Change Management Consultant

 

Comments

  1. […] may sound obvious but it’s often the first area to get overlooked during the planning phase.  Good communication plans can make or break a smooth transition and should be carefully drafted by leaders well in advance.  […]

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