Leadership Requires That You Engage With People

People Engage People

The amount of data that is flying around the world each and every day is increasing inexorably. Within that data stories can be told, opportunities explored and surprises found. Yet with the continued push to use ‘big data’ for everything and anything one thing remains constant, people.

There is more and more talk of robots taking over jobs that once were undertaken by human beings. Let’s be honest with ourselves, this has been happening since the Industrial Revolution, old jobs disagreeing and new one created.

We are a long way off some utopian dream of robots doing all the work and humans doing, well, whatever they want. Let’s leave these ideas to the sci-fi writers. More automation means some types of jobs going and others springing up. Each year we hear about the types of jobs that didn’t exist ten or twenty years ago. Anything to do with social media (although I prefer the term social engagement) certainly comes into this category.

So what we are seeing is people still working with and alongside other people but in ever changing job types and industries.

The age old people skills of communication, collaboration and understanding are still what get things done.

We may talk a great deal right now about engagement (employee engagement is such a popular term right now) but nothing in the new data driven analytics will make this happen. Only people willing to engage will make it work. If you want to call them ‘soft skills’ you can but there’s nothing soft about them at all, they are what gives you the hard cutting edge in any business.

Big Data Doesn’t Do Engagement For You

In the days of paper staff surveys there was always data that was aggregated and interpreted for boards and CEOs. They were intended to take the temperature of the business and guide future people related decisions. Well that was what they were supposed to do, whether they did or not is debatable.

Today’s equivalent may well include collecting huge quantities of data that need to be aggregated but they remain pretty much the same. The danger now is that given the vastness of the data almost any tune can be played on it. Remember the phrase about statistics – lies, damned lies, and statistics. The same is true of the data that is gathered now. Ask the right question and you might get a useful answer but how does that match the reality on the ground?

I wrote a post about the danger of perpetuating a ‘them and us’ mindset between senior leaders and everyone else in a company. Relying on what big data tells you, which usually requires a specialist tool and consultancy to explain it to you doesn’t help in this regard at all. If anything it reinforces ‘them and us’ thinking. People engage with other people. It’s the way it has always been and no amount of data will change this.

People Engage With People

I’m not saying that all the data out there is a waste of time, it clearly isn’t. All I am saying is that it needs to be understood for what it is, and what it isn’t. Capture what is tangible, what is objective data and use that to influence directions. Sales data, conversions from social media to sales for example all make sense but treat what employees say about each other, their bosses and the company with care.

Even in the largest of companies there is no excuse for the ‘feel of the company’ not to be known at the very top. Those at the very top will know from their own experiences how easy it is to filter information as it flows upwards. If you are at the top you know this so don’t accept it.

The Engaged CEO

You now have the opportunity to challenge what you are being told by using what is out there via social media, not from your expensive big data collections. This is perhaps the first time that we have easily assessable data out there that can be used by anyone and it’s data (or information if you like) that shows opinion and feelings. Use it to cross-check what you are being told. Use it to guide your own thoughts on what to do next. Use it to determine where in your business you will go for a walk to find out what is really happening on the ground. And above all else, use it to communicate with those who are producing it. They are your employees, customers, suppliers, potential customers and more.

This is what social engagement is about and it means you are starting to leverage the social media tools at your disposal to truly engage with people in addition to all the authentic engagement you’re undertaking already. You already engage with your people don’t you?

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© Paul Slater and Reflect & Lead, 2015.