Posted by: rayseghers | August 22, 2009

Building Engagement in Small Businesses

Several weeks ago I started a discussion on the OD Network Group on asking if consultants used different engagement-building strategies when working with small businesses.  I won’t repeat all of that information here since it is still available on LinkedIn.  (Please consider joining this group if you are not already a member.)

The first conclusion was that the concept of engagement was the same for small businesses as it was for larger businesses simply because “people are people.”  This meant that the basic strategy and the measurement tools were independent of organizational size.  But then there was the recognition that the sheer size of the organization, or lack thereof, would have a tremendous impact on the actual tactics used to build engagement.

The simplest advantage of working with small businesses is that it is often literally possible to get everyone in the same room at the same time.   Everybody knows everyone and all get a chance to hear firsthand what is going on and get to respond and ask questions.  It is much easier to feel engaged in this type of situation.  So, it would appear that engagement ought to be higher in smaller organizations.  (I am not sure if there is any hard research data to support this or not.) While technology, for example webcasts, allows larger numbers to view information at the same time it still does not allow the same dynamics that an in-person session allows.  Maybe someday, but not quite yet. 

Larger organizations often hold group/department meetings to make up for this, but this practice may backfire from an organizational perspective.  These meetings often do a great job of building engagement with the group/department but may actually lessen the ties to the larger organization.  Managers building “silos” or “fiefdoms” put their own interests ahead of those of the organization.  This is related to the often-asked question about the role of the supervisor in building engagement. 

In fact, the other advantage when working with organizations had to do with the complexity of the structure and the number of reporting layers between the rank-and-file and the C-Level.  Obviously, most small business tend to have a simpler organizational structure than do larger organizations and this, again, makes the organization easier to work with.  So, a simpler structure ought to increase employee engagement as well.  (Again, I am not sure if there is any hard research data to support this or not.)

So, the bottom line in this discussion thread was that building engagement was basically the same no matter the size of the organization but that it was generally easier to do in small organizations.  I guess a question for a future discussion is whether one can build engagement in a larger organization successfully long term.  The deck certainly seems to be stacked against this.

So, what do you think?



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