calvinWe Live In A Culture Of Disengagement.

For all of our “smart phones”, FaceBook friends, Tweets, Instagram Posts, and status updates we have somehow become disconnected.

Witness the couple at the restaurant out on a dinner date as their stare at their iPhones, check in on FourSquare and post a picture of their meal for all their friends to envy. The family of four, kids hypnotized by the glow of an iPad or Game Boy (well, at least they are quiet!) while Dad checks his work email and Mom texts her friend about the horrible restaurant service. Look at it closer and it feels more like an exercise in self-gratification and narcissism than a moment of human connection. Living in the age of “instant”, coupled with our constant addiction to multi-tasking has created a culture of short attention span lemmings.

Our Culture Of Disengagement Has Rooted Deeply.

The divorce rate has doubled over the last 5 decades and is up 3 years in a row. Loneliness is up 65% in the last 10 years. In politics we lament two parties in Washington so divided that Standard & Poor’s cited them in downgrading our country’s credit rating and a president seen as disengaged from his signature healthcare initiative. No surprise, as disengagement and dysfunction grow,defections from political parties have doubled in the past 50 years. Similarly, the exit from religious affiliation has doubled in the past 20 years.

The Culture Of Disengagement Is Especially Evident In Corporate Culture.

“Gallup reports 70 percent of employees are not engaged in their work including 18 percent that are actively disengaged”

Engaged employees give 57 percent more effort and are 87 percent less likely to resign. Thirty-five percent of workers say they would forego a significant pay raise in exchange for having their boss fired — permanently disengaged. Employee disengagement also drives concern over customer engagement.

A Korn/Ferry survey cites customer engagement as the top worry keeping Chief Marketing Officers up at night. Why? Because engaged customers average a 23 percent premium in value (share of wallet, profitability, sales growth) and disengaged customers a 13 percent discount.

4 Steps Towards Re-Engagement

Here are four steps that are grounded in improvisational play. Improv is founded on these principals. Try incorporating these principles at the office for increased employee engagement.

Create A Safe Environment

We are not talking about an “accident free” workplace, although that is important, No, what we really need more of is an intellectually and emotionally safe workplace.

In order to make this happen we need to enjoy failure!

Enjoy failure; it isn’t final. Often improvisers fail to achieve a masterful performance. Failure is not final and we should enjoy the mess and move on. We should strive for an open versus a fixed mindset. See this great diagram based on Carol Dweck’s work: Open Versus Fixed Mindset Diagram. Endeavor to experience and live an open mindset.

Many of society’s greatest achievements came about because people who failed refused to quit. Success is birthed from failure. Each mistake, each unsuccessful attempt provides lessons and a roadmap to success. But achievement requires risk.

If you want employees to engage, you need to provide a safe environment, and remove the fear of failure. Playing to the status quo never leads to progress or innovation. You have more to lose by playing it safe than you do by taking a risk.

Just ask Steve Jobs, Henry Ford or the Wright Brothers.

Listen to Understand

I worked in advertising for over a decade. Fundamentally, advertising is a Creative industry. Before you accuse me of being myopic in this point of view, consider all the industry awards that focus on Creativity. From the Super Bowl to Cannes, clients have been won and lost solely on Creative.

But great Creative can be sabotaged by lousy strategy. A good strategy is based on consumer insights. Long gone are the days when a company could just slap their logo on something they didn’t create and expect positive results. Millions of dollars are spent on focus groups and consumer ethnographies. Facilitators, clients and agency folks listen to what participants have to say in an effort to understand the drivers that capture loyalty and share of wallet through engaging and relevant content. The most engaging (and effective) adverting is based on insight and not eyesight.

The truth is, much of today’s listening is driven by the need to respond vs. the need to understand. I’ve been in countless “Creative Brainstorming Sessions” where the only thing people were listening for was a pause in the discussion so they could force their own agenda on the rest of the room. Where the ideas had already been bulletproofed and lacked any opportunity to engage in exploration or discovery. Rather than listening for opportunity they listened for ways to check the box, a sure sign of an environment where risk taking threatens the “safety” of the environment.

As a manager, how many times has this happened to you? You are sitting at your desk, intensely focused on meeting a deadline or wrapping up a time sensitive project. Unexpectedly, an employee walks in your office to engage in conversation. As they express their concerns or seek your guidance, your inside voice is screaming, “Get the hell out of my office! Can’t you see I’m busy? I don’t have time for this!”

Instead of listening to understand the issue, you listened just enough to give the appropriate response that successfully sends them on their way, allowing you to get back to what you were working on before they came in a busted your momentum. And how many times did that issue raise it’s ugly head until you took the time to fully understand and address it? And how did your quick response influence the employees confidence to engage with your in future problem solving opportunities? At the end of the day it probably took more time to solve than it should have.

As a husband and father, I continue to realize the importance of listening to understand.

Listening to understand is extremely important in Improv. Listening to respond is the equivalent of “being in your head”. Let me explain. An improv scene is driven by an offer. One player makes an offer, the other player acknowledges the offer and builds on it. When an improviser is in his/her head, it usually means they are thinking about what they want to say or how they want the scene to go, instead of being present in the moment. In this scenario, the improviser in his/her head usually misses the offer and engages in “offer surfing” until they find one that connects with their agenda.

Being present is the key to engagement. What offers are you missing by listening to respond vs. listening to understand?

Say “Yes! And…

If I had to summarize improv in two words, “Yes! And…

The reason improv doesn’t need a script is because we’ve agreed to say yes to every contribution. Whenever someone adds an element to the show (“There’s a Martian over there!”) the entire group onstage reacts and accepts that, yes, there is a Martian over there. Such immediate acceptance is contradictory to typical adult responses. We tend to disagree, play devil’s advocate, or look for problems first. These behaviors make people feel as though their contributions are not valid, shut down interaction, and kill creativity and collaboration.

Agreement however, opens up possibilities in people. The holy grail of development today is figuring out how to engage people in their work and encourage them to give discretionary effort. By voicing the word “yes,”you are embracing possibility. Yes is not a literal commitment, as in “yes, we will.” It is a commitment to considering an opportunity, as in “yes, we could.” This means that every idea or contribution is considered valid.

In improv, the belief that every idea is valid also assumes that every person is valid. It is imperative to acknowledge an idea’s existence and importance by saying yes to both the idea and the person behind the idea. Saying yes becomes an impulse for improvisers, and it can become an impulse for the leaders in your organization.

That second word, “and” is just as critical. While saying “yes” is key to embracing opportunity, saying “Yes! And…” is key to making those possibilities a reality. Saying, “Yes! And…” requires you to engage and collaborate. Collaboration is the key to creativity and innovation, both of which are desired competitive advantages in today’s corporate culture.

Make Each other Look Good

This is another critical behavior in improv. As a young improviser I had misinterpreted this concept as “get out of the way”. This led to hesitancy in decision-making and a lack of confidence in my instincts, always fearful that my choice would be the wrong choice. It also led to getting run over on stage! Fortunately, I had an experienced mentor who helped me realize that instead of worrying about making a wrong choice, I needed to focus on making a strong choice. When you make a strong choice you give your partner something to respond to and an opportunity to engage. You set them up for success and make them look good. It’s hard to look bad when you have a strong choice to respond to.

The workplace is full of employees who “keep their head down”, who are hesitant to make decisions, and whose intuition is suppressed by the fear of making the wrong choice rather than be nurtured by an environment where they feel safe to make a strong choice. They are afraid that if they engage, they may get run over and so would rather get out of the way. They do just enough to keep their job while they anxiously stare at the clock and wait for quitting time.

What strong choices are you making to engage your team and build their confidence by setting them up for success and making them look good? In the end, making others look good makes you look good.

One The Verge

We are on the verge of a tipping point in our culture of disengagement. There are signs. People are deactivating their FaceBook accounts, restaurants are offering discounts for patrons who drop their phone in a basket while they eat, Wi-Fi Free Resorts are gaining popularity and companies are starting to embrace Creativity and Play.

Let’s give it a push by engaging with each other in authentic and meaningful ways. Create a safe environment that encourages taking risks, listen to understand, learn to say, “Yes! And…” and by all means, let’s make each other look good!

The Play Storming Group is a collision between work and play, a consulting network that uses experiential learning methods – including techniques from improvisational theatre – to help people with communication, creativity and change.