Learn how to script experiences that drive morale, engagement, and long-term retention with lessons from entertainment, education, and business.
A lot of time and money is spent on how to get employees to change, whether we want others to comply, be informed, entertained or engaged. Often our tool to communicate and trigger this change is the gathering. We spend millions of dollars on virtual and in-person town halls, hands-free, off-site, leadership courses, conferences and new employee orientations. Yet few gatherings produce the long-term effect we want, and the change we seek for our employees does not hold.
Julia, CEO of a global healthcare company, had noticed a disturbing trend in her organization. Employees were reluctant to speak up or provide constructive feedback. Without the ability to voice her concerns or help others improve, she worried about the effects on innovation and learning. So Julia called a leading feedback expert and invited him to speak at her company’s monthly general conference. If everyone heard the same message at the same time, they would start acting on it, she thought.
Later that month, during the virtual contest, the pundit was greeted by a sea of hundreds of smiling Zoom faces and generous applause. For 45 minutes, he shared his story and slides and engaged in a lengthy Q&A. Julia was hopeful and excited about the impact of the event.
In the days that followed, employees discussed town hall in messaging systems and meetings as copies of the pundit’s book adorned every desk. Orders for additional books have even been placed to meet demand.
Julia was happy. But not even two months later, Julia changed her tune. No one seemed to mention the speech or refer to the model anymore. Books still adorned the desks but they sat like fossils, admired but untouched. She shared her disappointment privately with her management team. Why did the problems she had identified still exist, she wondered? “Our employees seemed to enjoy the event, but they’re not changing; What is missing ? »
The listless response affected him even more. It was personal. Why hadn’t his idea taken root or been taken up by his own company? Julia’s story is not unique. To facilitate change or spark movement in others, we often rely on what seems to be the most effective way to reach many people at once: a gathering.
I define gatherings as bringing people together to match one message to one moment. They can be the most powerful form not only of communication but of connection. But when we come together in a room, whether virtual or in person, we don’t always maximize that.
We bring people together only for our efforts to fall flat. We invest money and then wonder why the change didn’t last. Subsequently, few of these gatherings go beyond short-term impact to create real change or engagement.
What would make gatherings like these go from just ticking the box to truly transformative? To assess the success of our change efforts, we can start by looking at how we come together. I created this “gathering effect model” to define, diagnose, and adjust our gatherings for the effect we want.
When we think of the gatherings we’ve all been in, they tend to fall on a spectrum from push to pull (control) and one size fits all to customization (uniqueness). For example, the all-in-one where the new talent assessment model is deployed (push) to all employees (one size fits all) is different from the interactive workshop (pull) that helps leaders create career for their team members (custom).
What do we need from the people we are trying to affect? We can make different choices within the same gathering to produce radically different effects. You can apply the template in two ways. First, design a gathering. Second, assess how the participants perceive it.
How change is communicated determines the level of people’s ownership and commitment. Often what seems to be “attractive” and “personalized” to those leading the change is “push” and “one size fits all” to others. Therefore, many organizational change efforts, like Julia’s, often feel like something is being done to us rather than with us. This is where they fail.
Pull and custom gatherings are additive and multiplicative. They engage people not just at one point, but often beyond. They do this by focusing less on the content they share and more on the conditions they create. Instead of insisting that someone comply, these five conditions establish an atmosphere in which people want to participate.
See and recognize your audience
High on a stage in a dark theater, Julia’s gathering seemed too physically and figuratively removed from the needs of those she was addressing. Erase the distance by connecting the dots between what is at stake for Julia and what others are invested in.
Unless we understand the needs and motivations of others and can describe them in their own words, gatherings only stagnate at the rational level. The difference between entertained and engaged results is emotional involvement. It is the equivalent of a burning platform. This emotion is accompanied by an increased ability to remember the gathering and store it in long-term memory.
do it just for them
“So we could have emailed about it?” »
Part of what makes change efforts successful is feeling like it was made just for you, even if someone has said the same thing hundreds of times. When we outsource a gathering, we typically seek to personalize it with facts about our organization or culture, and a Q&A session at the end.
People want to feel that their experience is unique in time and space and that they have a special and necessary role to play in its success. We do this by listening to who is in the room and, like a good comedian, adapting to the audience’s reaction. Personalized meetings create a strong group through shared experience and vocabulary.
Giving ownership to the public
Typical rallies place the audience in the passenger seat, passively listening to pre-determined content without their input. People will own what they help to create. This involvement leads to commitment. Leave space in the gathering to invite people to digest what they have heard and share it in their own words. This can be done with a simple question or prompt, especially after a content-rich section. This small shift hands control over to employees and moves them from passive consumers to active co-creators.
Connect to a universal concept
What is the universal truth that everyone in the room can nod their head about? Although one might assume that we gathered to hear them, the master pickers do not start from their experience. They start with our experience, so the audience can see themselves in the material. Here you will hear the words “you” or “we” and rely on the Socratic method to reach the audience figuratively.
Allow agency and choice
The town hall of Julia was obligatory. But even within a mandatory framework, we can treat our employees like adults by giving them agency and choice and improving their status. Typical rallies highlight the power and status differences between leaders and employees. Rather than asking employees to adopt a new behavior, Julia could have first discussed engaging her own leadership team. By showing her company how much she needed their help, the employees would have understood their important role in this process, thus raising their status and their desire to participate.
When we’re part of a gathering that transforms us, it’s rarely because of the content alone. That’s how we connect to it. A leader’s role is not simply to create the content but the conditions for the change they seek to stick to and extend beyond them. The combination of choices we make can fuel motivation, attract people, and ignite their desire to make change their own. Success is not necessarily measured by an immediate reaction, but by their continued commitment to join you in the change you seek. If we come together well, that’s just the beginning.