This article was originally posted on my business blog: www.socialfire.ca/jblog/ownershipandsuccess

Have you tried to implement programs for your employees that didn’t deliver the results you were hoping?  I am mainly referring to team building or community involvement programs with a goal of engaging employees and boosting morale – but the lesson could apply to anything.

I have found that companies with young employees are the most creative in getting employee buy-in for extra-curricular programs.  It is probably because they are least invested in their career and aren’t afraid to say no, or just avoid opportunities, that more seasoned employees might feel they “should’ participate in.  If the employer is determined to get high levels of participation and engagement, they need to figure out the formula that works with their staff.

Some stories of ideas that do work:

Have your employees plan the program.  Give them a goal or an objective, and a budget, and let them run with it.  Trial and error, seeing your own ideas in action and being able to take credit for successes are very effective motivators.  If you want employees to volunteer as a group, let them pick the organization and plan an event.  Support them with time and resources to deliver an impact and watch them feel the pride.   This is completely different then saying: “Our company supports the xxx charity because it aligns with our values, please contribute to our fundraising drive.”

Getting staff to “invest” beforehand.  For example, putting on a ski-day – pay $20 to sign up and if you attend you get your $20 back.  The employer found that if it was free and easy to back out of, participation levels were very low despite up-front promises.  Getting people to put ‘skin in the game’, however minor, increases their commitment.

Lead by example – the management needs to walk the talk.  If you are going to hold a fundraising drive or a company picnic – the management need to be there with enthusiasm.  They need to donate themselves, roll up their sleeves to get dirty or volunteer to sit in the dunk tank.  Giving a program lip-service and expecting those ‘below you’ to be enthusiastic about it, is generally unrealistic.

Notice I didn’t talking about ‘making it fun’ or ‘putting a carrot on a stick’.  Although those concepts are important in certain situations, the key to making a social program successful is ownership.  The management and the employees need to feel and promote ownership of a program.  And this ingredient is required as a first step in program development – not as a later inclusion when people notice the lack of involvement.  Ownership of an idea leads to a commitment to see it succeed.

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