The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge has dominated the Internet in the past few weeks, ruling Facebook feeds, trending on Twitter, rising to the top of YouTube, and spreading broadly across news platforms and other media sites alike. What started as a simple campaign to raise awareness for ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, developed into a widespread Internet sensation and philanthropic success, raising around $31.5 million for the ALS Association as of August 20th – a $26.9 million increase year over year for the organization from the same period last year. According to the ALS Association, they have had more than 630,000 new donors since July 29th, including Derek Jeter, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and other celebrities who participated in the challenge. Ultimately, the campaign’s success was driven by the widespread involvement of individuals. But what made so many people participate in the challenge? And how can we apply these lessons to drive similar engagement in company tasks or overall employee involvement?
Image courtesy of HG Italia via Flickr
The task for the Ice Bucket Challenge is simple:if you are nominated, you are to pour a bucket of ice water over your head and nominate others to do the same. But there’s a catch – if you are nominated and do not complete the task in 24 hours, you must donate $100 to The ALS Association. Participants post the video of themselves doing the challenge on Facebook or YouTube, proving they completed the task and asking those that they nominated to do the same. Of course there is no actual binding obligation of those who are nominated to pour the water over their head or donate to the cause (beyond peer pressure), yet so many have. This level of involvement is likely driven by 5 key characteristics of the task:it’s challenging, team-oriented, personal, fun, and, finally, meaningful.
5 similar ideas for employee involvement:
1. Make your employees’ tasks a challenge – Get them engaged
Although pouring water over your head is a simple task, in the Ice Bucket Challenge it is not framed as such (hence, “challenge” in the name). Many participants end their video with a daring phrase to those nominated:“You have 24 hours. Good luck.” This aspect of the task adds another layer of entertainment and encouragement for involvement of nominees. In the same way, tasks in the workplace should be challenging and stimulating so as to involve your employees intellectually. The more brainpower a project takes, the more engaged one must be to complete it. We’re not saying to assign impossible jobs on compressed timelines, but rather to make sure even simple tasks are accompanied by more difficult ones or include challenging aspects. Try following up a simple assignment by giving the employee something more difficult or complex to do, or split the number of mundane tasks amongst employees to give time for more challenging projects. Yes, simple tasks must be completed, but mental challenges are also crucial. This idea focuses on a key aspect of employee involvement – intellectual engagement.
2. Make your employees’ tasks involve group cohesion – Get them working together
The Ice Bucket Challenge would lose all value if just one person had completed it; the high number of individuals participating drove its popularity. In the same way, your company’s performance requires a group effort, its success is the result of the contributions of many employees. When a group is aligned and working cohesively, you are optimizing your resources. Part of employee involvement is employee collaboration and how they work with each other, for the whole office can complete tasks more efficiently and thoroughly with strong group cohesion. To create this unity, engage your office in team building activities and events. For example, start a soccer team after work – a place where employees can get to know each other in a new environment. At 9Lenses, our weekly soccer games provide a fun, casual place for us to build relationships with each other and develop as a group outside of office. By forming these bonds, we have become more invested in our workplace, more comfortable with our coworkers, and ultimately more involved in our jobs as a whole, creating the perfect environment for a high-performance team to develop and thrive.
3. Make your employees’ tasks personal – Get them to feel appreciated
Although group cohesion is key in the success of any company, individualization is another aspect that must be addressed. After completing the Ice Bucket Challenge, each participant nominates other individuals by name to do the same. Part of the widespread involvement in this campaign is due to this personalization, for people want to feel unique and individually important. One of the main principles in Dale Carnegie’s book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” has to do with this topic. As Carnegie states, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language”. In fact, MRI studies have shown significant and unique brain activation in particular parts of the brain when one hears their own name versus hearing someone else’s name; we are wired to respond when someone addresses us personally. In the same way, this personalization can resolve problems that may arise in groups. According to the psychological concept of the diffusion of responsibility, the more people in a group, the less people assume responsibility because they expect someone else will complete the task. However, this problem can be eliminated when addressing people individually to complete a certain part of the project. All in all, people want to feel appreciated as individuals, and this personalization can lead to further involvement. Thus, another idea for employee involvement is to get to know your employees on an individual level, address them personally, and value them as unique individuals. This seemingly simple task can result in substantial outcomes.
4. Make your employees’ tasks fun and entertaining – Get them interested
There’s something exciting about pouring a bucket of ice water of your head, just ask the hundreds of thousands of people that have tried it recently. Although the cold water is unpleasant, many have made their experience comical and their videos unique. Bill Gates even made his own device to hold the bucket. Ultimately, people enjoy the Ice Bucket Challenge because it is simple yet fun. Granted, not every task that needs to be completed in the workplace is going to be fun; many projects are tedious by nature. However, a more general way to increase enjoyment in completing tasks is to improve the workplace itself; the environment in which a task is completed can often dictate the enjoyment or one’s attitude while completing the work. Try adding an area to your office with beanbags or couches, or extra snacks to the kitchen. Make Fridays a day to dress down and wear jeans. This more enjoyable environment will make your employees more interested in the workplace itself, ultimately improving the quality of work produced. We’ve see this first hands at 9Lenses, with our bright green bean bags providing a fun place for us to finish a project. It’s a win-win situation – entertainment in the workplace, as produced through a better work environment, leads to more interested and invested employees. More involved employees produce better quality work.
5. Make your employees’ tasks meaningful – Get them invested
When it comes down to it, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is successful because of its underlying importance. Teenagers, celebrities, and businessmen alike all completed the challenge to raise awareness and money for a deserving cause. Without this aspect of the campaign, its popularity likely would have been significantly lower. In the same way, your employees will be more involved in their daily tasks and your company as a whole if they understand the meaning behind their job and the overall mission of your company, therefore allowing them to see the task as bigger than themselves. When employees can view their work from this perspective, they can find motivation in its deeper meaning, as participants in the Ice Bucket Challenge are intrinsically motivated by its impact on ALS research. Ways to encourage this broad perspective and thus make tasks more meaningful include sharing your organization’s strategic vision, and working to have your employees aligned with this daily in all of their tasks. Another way is to focus on serving the customer and adhering to their needs, rather than just thinking of the profits gained by the company. With this broad perspective comes deeper meaning, leading to personal investment in the work and thus more involvement from employees in every task, big or small.
Achieving employee engagement is a task in and of itself. Even though the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge attained large-scale involvement seemingly overnight, reaching complete involvement from your employees may take some time. Thus, finding ways to have everyone onboard and invested can be a challenge – but it’s one worth pursuing. Adopt these five ideas for employee involvement to your own workplace, and you will likely see increased devotion from employees, higher quality work, and therefore better company performance overall.