Interview Your People

9_engageIt’s the corporate dance that never ends.

Management sees the need for change – in strategy, values, brand or execution. The change will succeed only if employees embrace it. Management struggles to engage and inspire employees with the change, which takes longer and costs more than anyone wanted. Repeat.

Human nature plays a role in the dance, by making people leery of anything that pulls them out of their comfort zone. This goes double when people have been through the dance before and seen it bungled.

Yet for some reason, management and their consultants seem bent on ignoring human nature instead of embracing it. They come up with slogans, and catchy program titles, and announce them like a principal addressing an elementary school assembly. They expect the employees of the company to just fall in line and have a new set of priorities, values, or thought processes.

This is the beginning of the bungle. And it could easily be avoided by asking employees three questions:

  • “Can you tell me about your experience and how it applies to where we’re going?”
  • “How do your skills and interests and fit with our goals?”
  • “What would you do if you were leading this effort?”


If this sounds like a job interview, that’s because it is. Only the goal is different. Instead of looking for a good hire, the goal is getting people ready for a good transformation.

It works because of human nature. When people are invited to report on their readiness to do something, they perform a mental and emotional inventory that is completely different from when they are told they must do something.

Imagine that you’ve just told me that I have to change my priorities and how I do my job because the CEO said so. Internally, I am already starting to resist. First, I will remember how this kind of executive order has failed before, and then I’ll start figuring out how my team can evade the lousy parts.

Now let’s imagine that you’ve asked me how well I’m prepared to help the company move in a new direction, and what I would bring to that if it happened. This I do not want to resist. This is an open door, and I want to walk through it. If anything, I’m going to sell myself. I’m going to tell you about the skills and interests that I would love to put to more use. Plus, I’m going to give you some ideas for implementing the change that would help win over my skeptical co-workers.

Even if I express doubts about the new program – based on seeing the dance bungled before – it’s not negative. It’s letting my interviewer know the real state of mind of people in the company, instead of keeping it secret and allowing it to block progress.

If you want to make the interview approach work with full effectiveness, start with the people on your management team. This may surprise anyone who thinks that arriving in or near the C-suite means the end of job interviews. But doing it diligently will surface up ideas, resources, and potential traps before the dance begins – and, with luck, prevent the bungle.

Outside facilitators can help with this, as long as they can genially speak truth to power and address corporate challenges both intellectually and emotively. That’s our approach at Emotive Brand, because experience shows it works. If you were to interview us before your big change, we would tell you all about it.

Photo illustration by Laurel Daunis-Allen

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