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The Art of Engagement

In a presentation I did at Walker’s most recent User Forum, I included some references to a book called The Art of Engagement by Jim Haudan, the CEO of Root Learning. I enjoyed this book primarily because of its basic premise: creating a strategy is far easier than executing it. The reason? Most organizations don’t know how to bridge the canyons that exist between key groups of people within a company: executives (the top), managers (the middle), and front-line employees (the face-to-face customers).


Similarly, creating an action plan based on customer feedback is the easy part. It is much more challenging to engage the required parts of the organization (corporate, functional, and account-level) in implementing the actions. So, as the book points out, to succeed one must bridge the gap(s) between the people and the possibilities.


Haudan talks about what it means to be truly “engaged” and introduces the concept of the disengagement canyon, which is formed when people:

·         Are overwhelmed

·         Don’t “get it”

·         Are scared

·         Don’t see the big picture

·         Don’t feel ownership

·         Don’t see their leaders facing reality

He uses some great stories to make his points, including scenes from movies, common high school experiences, and the old “You can lead a horse to water…” saying.


The “Art” part of the book’s title refers to a unique technique shown throughout the book of bringing people to a common way of visualizing a challenge (actual hand-drawn pictures that map out what you’re trying to do).

The last nugget I’ll share are three steps in a strategic engagement process. These are:

1)      Creating a Line of Sight

2)      Connecting Goals

3)      Developing Capabilities

My favorite example here comes from the step about creating a line of sight – it’s critical to ensure that people are all interpreting something the same way. Take a common spoken word like “bear” – surely everyone would understand that. When asked what the word means to them, responses included variations like polar, grizzly, teddy, panda; but also deviations like Chicago, market, naked, and the biggest surprise – aspirin! The point is obvious, if there’s a lack of clarity around a simple word like bear, imagine the differences in interpretation that would arise from common business challenges like a “growth-based culture” or “world-class customer listening.”


So if you get a chance, pick this book up and give it a read. Then, let me know your biggest take-away and how you apply it to strategic account management or customer listening.


Brad Linville

Sr. VP, Strategic Accounts

Walker Information

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