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Evan Hackel


‘Ingaged’ Leadership: A New Path to Organizational Success

Involvement and listening are key

Published: Tuesday, March 8, 2016 - 14:59

I had a call from one of my clients, a franchise brand. I can’t mention the company’s name here, but you know them. They have branded walk-in locations in hundreds of cities and towns across America—probably near where you live.

The call explained that the company had a very specific problem it wanted me to solve, which my contact summarized as, “Our annual conference is coming up in a few months, attendance has been very poor, in the low 20 percent for the last few years, and we would like you to get more of our store owners to attend.”

“OK,” I said. “What’s going to happen at the conference that is so important?”

“We will be rolling out a new store design and showing it to our people,” she explained, “and that’s why we want to get most of our store owners there.” Getting the franchises to invest in this new design was mission critical, yet the franchise agreement didn’t require them to upgrade their stores at the time.

My next step was to do some research, so our team called a number of franchisees to ask, “How do you feel about going to your annual conference?” Most of them responded by saying something like, “Oh, the conferences are fun and I get to socialize, but I never learn anything that the company isn’t going to tell me later on, anyway. So why go?” Further, we found the franchisees didn’t feel like they were involved at the meeting; they felt like they were being talked at and being sold things.

When we interviewed some of the corporate staff, we also found that there were some significant trust issues taking place within the system; they felt the first response from the franchisees to just about anything would be “no.”

It became clear that the rollout of the new design was going to be a disaster. The design wasn’t necessarily bad, but the franchisees were unlikely to attend the conference to find out about it and, even if they did, they would be highly skeptical of what they saw.

Through that process, we determined that we had to change the entire process around. Rather than this being a convention to sell the display system my client had chosen, it needed to be a convention to have franchise owners cooperate to help design and build one.

This small change was very significant. Instead of presenting one display system, the design firm mocked up three different concepts. The franchisees would be invited to see the three different concepts, critique them, and give feedback. As part of this effort we changed the marketing for the event to “helping build the future,” and let people know that everyone was invited to help design the future of the brand.

All of a sudden, there was real value for people to go. They could help contribute to the future design, look, and feel of their businesses. They weren’t going to be talked at and—bingo—they were going to be listened to.

In other words, they were being engaged, they were able to participate, and their opinions were going to be valued.

The event sold out, to the point  where there was literally no rooms available in the original hotel or two hotels nearby. In the end, there was more than 85-percent attendance. The meeting was a huge success. The franchisees appreciated the opportunity to contribute. The interesting thing is, with the help and advice of the franchisees, the final design of the new store ended up being very different and, in the words of management, much better. Furthermore, management believed that more franchisees agreed to pilot the new design than would have if a new design was merely shown to them.

Currently, the new design is in testing in the field, but assuming customer reaction is strong and positive, there’s an anxious group of franchisees that are ready and willing to convert their locations. This is also an example of engaging the customer.

Involvement and listening were the keys to this success story. A traditional hierarchical approach would have met with failure.

That is the power of ‘ingagement’

I coined the term “Ingaged Leadership,” and wrote my book Ingaging Leadership (Hatfield House, 2015) about it, because I have observed that leaders become vastly more successful when they truly value and seek input from all stakeholders. For leaders to achieve results like the ones I describe in the case study above, they need to “ingage” people’s minds, creativity, and even their emotions.

What is Ingaged Leadership?

Ingagement isn’t a single action that you take just once. It’s an ongoing, dynamic business practice that has the power to transform your organization, your people, and your success. It can be summarized this way: When you align people and create an organization where everyone works together in partnership, that organization becomes vastly more successful.

Everyone in your organization can create ingagement. Ingagement goes beyond the style of management that you will find in many organizations, where top executives believe their job is to give instructions and provide incentives.

Why have I called my philosophy “ingagement” instead of engagement? Because ingagement requires more than being willing to go along with an idea or project. The “I” stands for involvement, being engaged in a process, but also involved in creating the vision. Great things happen when people have been part of the process of determining the direction, not just “engaged” by a leader who is telling them what to do.

Are ingagement and democracy the same thing?

When I speak about Ingaged Leadership, people often ask me that question. The answer is that Ingaged Leadership and democracy are not the same. Even in ingaged organizations, it’s still up to leaders to finalize the direction and, when necessary, make critical decisions. If you and your legal team are negotiating a merger with another company, for example, you are the leader who will ultimately make the decision to move ahead with the merger or not—even though you will solicit ideas and input from your people through the ranks.

Key concepts of ingaged leadership

Move beyond being a good listener
Earlier in my career, I prided myself on being a good listener, but later came to see that I was only listening to people so I could find ways to prove their ideas wrong and advance my own views of what should be done. Now I’m constantly listening for nuggets of high value in what other people are saying, and I let those nuggets genuinely influence my plans about what my organization should be doing.

Set personal opinions aside and allow people to try new things
This requires some effort. Yet when leaders allow people to try innovative things, new and ongoing improvements often result. The process is self-reinforcing, because when people see that their ideas are valued and heard, they become invested in your success. If you as a leader have to like everything, then by definition you are a micromanager. When you allow your staff to do things that in your opinion aren’t the right things, you then truly have an empowered team. It’s amazing how often you find you are wrong.

Work with people to actively develop and communicate your organization’s vision, values, and mission
This core activity of great leaders offers people at all levels a chance to contribute on a higher level and advance your company’s success.

Get in the habit of asking for help
Doing so provides many benefits. It affords people an opportunity to contribute, it demonstrates that you respect their expertise, it cultivates an organization where collaboration is valued, and it shows that you are a confident leader, not an arrogant one.

Fight complacency
If your leadership reflects an attitude that says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” you aren’t helping your company grow and excel. It’s better to constantly challenge yourself to find new solutions and to show your people that you want them to do so, too.

Focus on hiring and retaining a great team
I’ve noticed that many leaders fall into the pattern of hiring people who are just like they are. Others assemble teams of “yes people” who are only there to rubber-stamp their plans and ideas. In contrast, ingaged leaders courageously hire people who possess skills and abilities that are different or better than their own. It’s also critically important to hire people who have positive attitudes, since even a small dose of negativity can spread like a poison in any organization.

Invest in your people
This means having a development plan in place for employees, and rewarding them with above-par benefits that make them want to work for you and not your competitors.


About The Author

Evan Hackel’s picture

Evan Hackel

Evan Hackel, the creator of the concept of Ingaged Leadership, is a recognized business and franchise expert, and the principal and founder of the Ingage Consulting firm headquartered in Woburn, Massachusetts. Hackel is also a professional speaker and author, and a leader in the field of training. Hackel serves as CEO of Tortal Training, a Charlotte North Carolina-based firm that specializes in developing and implementing interactive training solutions for companies in all sectors. Hackel is the author of the book Ingaging Leadership (Hatfield House, 2015).