Tuesday June 15th, 2021

Participation for Dummies: Walk Your Talk. And Talk Your Walk.

Projects only work when people are involved. How do you get them to participate? Be easy to follow. Very simple, isn’t it?

“There is no movement without the first follower.”

This can be heard in the worth seeing and a bit famous YouTube video “How to start a movement” by Derek Sivers.

The core message, easy to understand:

Great ideas become even greater with people who participate. Isn’t it surprising, that in so many projects and change initiatives the question of how to attract people to the cause is treated like a neglectable topic?

And this, even though so many decision-makers in many expert circles thoroughly discuss many important (and probably not so important) details: Roadmap, milestones, work packages, deadlines, etc. The purpose and background of all this will mysteriously unfold on their own. And then colleagues will magically take the right action.

However, the mere project assignment, the bare information today is rarely enough for employees to blindly obey, engage and purposefully do whatever seems to be the order. That is a good thing. Because experts, who do the value-adding work every day, also consider the big picture. It is quite simply part of their job to think before they do something. So that they do many things right and few things wrong. That is their ambition. And it’s what they get their money for.

So how to turn them into followers? How to involve the people, whose commitment we so urgently need?

“A movement needs to be public.”

The project must be visible and easy to access to everyone. Public relations work must be done! That has nothing to do with zeitgeisty friendliness or democratization of processes. Quite simply, it is because it is the only way people CAN participate with commitment.

People do not only WANT to decide whether something is meaningful for them and others, whether they want to or perhaps should participate. They MUST do that. It’s our (evolutionary) success pattern.

Provided there are good (!) reasons

… no decision-maker, stakeholder, or project group has anything to fear. On the contrary! Sooner or later, people will turn to the project out of conviction and support it. We, humans, know very well (see above): meaningful social cooperation – which includes teamwork in general – gives us advantages. It gives us security.

Hence, people always and mainly unconsciously check whether they can trust a thing or people who stand for it: Is all of this good? Is it trustworthy? Is it all going in the right direction? Can I agree with that? Who else is in? Is it worthwhile to get involved?

This takes time. And opportunities. In other words, situations in which we can get answers to our questions and build trust.

Personal or even organizational meaning or trust is not created by speaking, hearing, promising or believing, but solely by experiencing. And this repeatedly: Experiencing and not just reading or hearing that something is relevant, important, good, and therefore: meaningful.

Walk your talk!

So if you want to gain the trust of others, if you want him or her to follow, you must set a (good!) example: “Walk your Talk”! Again and again, you have to prove: “We mean it, we want it, we need you! It is urgent and important for us and all of us. That’s why we ourselves are engaged. We are willing to get involved. And we are also willing to change.”

Leading and being led is only possible this way: By setting an example of what you are asking for or demanding.

If you fail to do so or

… worse still you say one thing and do the other, this is the sure (!) sign for everyone (!) that the matter is NOT urgent, NOT relevant, NOT meant seriously, maybe even a dangerous rip-off. So: Best not to get involved! Could be dangerous. A waste of time and energy. Unattractive. Useless. Stopped before it starts.

So “Walk your Talk”, leading by example, is undoubtedly a decisive principle for the success of entrepreneurial or any other venture. Everyone whose job is to manage, instruct, push projects, managers, project managers, project groups, stakeholders of any kind: they all have to follow this principle.

Being a role model – walk your talk – won’t be enough, though.

Talk your walk is a very important part, too. Because: If you are not visible, you hardly can be a role model. If you set off without announcing it, you will go on your own. If you don’t hear about a movement, you hardly can join.

Be easy to follow!

Therefore, every successful undertaking should be accompanied from beginning to end (!) by an honest, open, and adult exchange about it. Again and again, the goals, ideas, background, and planning need to be explained, discussed, questioned, supplemented, changed. Publicly.

It makes the whole venture visible. And it develops, it becomes better. By showing the decisions pending, the considerations. By clarifying questions, obtaining feedback, and making joint decisions.

There are a lot of tools available for this.

Smooth-running, uncomplicated, and above all interactive formats are better than elaborate “one-way” or “sales or persuasion” formats. After all, it is all about exchange.

So if you are responsible for successful results in projects, organize project meetups, open spaces, town hall meetings, brown-bag sessions. Write a project blog regularly or inform in a project podcast. Report on the status in the company magazine or the intranet. (Is there still a message board?) Organize regular public project retrospectives or fuck-up nights. Show and discuss publicly what you have achieved together, what you have learned together. And celebrate this together and openly. In short: Make it as easy as possible for yourself and others to join in!

Be easy to follow. Walk your talk. Talk your walk. All the same thing.