The Fair Process of Engagement


Didier Marlier

July 18, 2010

From Disruption to Engagement

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Who said that Business Schools are way too expensive for what they truly bring? I did… and need to change this slightly: Business Schools may be a good deal when somebody else pays to go at your place and brings you one or two interesting models from an “edutainment” program…

This week, I was shown by Beat Blaesi (the man who locked me in Swiss Army bunkers at the Gotthard pass!), a robust model he’d picked up during a program with Prof. Ludo van der Heyden called the “Fair Process”.

I find it interesting to share with you, as another way to explain and look at what we call the “Engagement Process”, how to intellectually compel and emotionally involve our people during times of profound changes (strategy, organization, culture, post merger integration etc…).

It is a five steps approach and I present here the result of the original tool  hopefully enriched, by extra comments and thoughts of Beat and myself:

  • Engaging & framing: is the stage where the leadership team (Executive Board, but this may be applied at every level of the organization) presents the “Big Picture”, the Purpose of the change (remember General Van Riper) and tries to intellectually compel and emotionally engage people in the principle that the change is necessary. What is negotiable and non-negotiable is clearly stated, boundaries are set and freedom to act within those is warmly encouraged. At that level clarity is co-created and leaders behave and communicate in a didactic way. They go for Openness here.
  • Exploring & eliminating options: once clarity has been co-created on the big picture, purpose and boundaries, leaders move their audience towards “co-creating ownership and meaning” by coaching their people to work on the “how to”. This is the moment for workshops, open space dialogues, inquiry and advocacy followed by suggestions made by the participants to the leaders on how to move forward. By thoroughly and honestly going through that phase, leaders create Commitment. My colleagues and I keep on experiencing this repeatedly: it works!
  • Deciding, explaining & setting expectations: at that stage, leaders take a stand (it is their privilege to decide) and provide feedback to the participants having authored the ideas, explaining why some suggestions were rejected, why some will be accepted and implemented (and carefully setting ownership, accountability and expectations upon results) or need more work. In this decision step, Trust & Transparency are created.
  • Executing & acting: some BASF leaders have taught me a useful difference: Control is something I impose on you. It suggests you are not yet prepared or competent for the job or worse, may suggest I don’t fully trust you on delivering results. Like the “Telling style” of the situational leadership model, it is sometimes needed when no mistakes can be afforded and we need to check and recheck. However, at a high dose it creates dependency, disengagement and mistrust. Discipline (which I wrongly used to assimilate to control) is different: this is something I impose to myself (self-discipline) or that a team decides to opt for. It is not imposed, it is chosen by mature people who engage themselves vis a vis their peers, subordinates and leaders to deliver. Discipline surfaces when people have been treated with openness and transparency, visibly entrusted by committed leaders.
  • Evaluating & Learning: like all other processes, this one too ends up with a feedback, After Action Review to ensure the trust and transparency are maintained and that Improvement continues to take place… Change should stop been seen as an exceptional and disruptive event but as part of the daily leadership practice, precisely through that willingness to improve.

I hope you are as lucky as I to find bright people bringing you in a few minutes the substantial interest of what they learned in days at business school 😉 Belo Horizonte and Zurich on the menu this week. Have a great week all!



  1. Femmeke Ruisch

    Hi there, on the rode from the Netherlands to vacation in south of France, a short note via the BB. I actually used this article a few times when working on engagement as an HR Director. Usefull if you need some extra convincing material demonstrating this is not some sort of fling theory but a real business need amongst other needs who are most of the time more common practise to adress. Warm regards, Femmeke

    • Didier Marlier

      Thank you for sharing this Femmeke… Useful to have your own experience on this. Adds credit! Thanks a lot and best regards from belo Horizonte! Didier


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