“Systems of engagement.”
Isn’t that an evocative term?
The minute I read it, I knew that the term “systems of engagement” captured something important–but what? I searched the web, I even consulted Quora, but I found no definition of “systems of engagement” that incorporates all that the term evokes for me. So at the end of this post, I’ll propose a definition.
But first let me tell you why the concept of “systems of engagement” is useful.
The term “systems of engagement” evokes complexity, dynamism, a sense of purpose, and a set of values about stakeholder interaction.
As a term:
- “Systems of engagement” includes any kind of tool or medium that focuses on engaging any stakeholder–internal or external.
- “Systems of engagement” encompasses all forms of “social media”, but they aren’t limited to the activity of the organization connecting outward to external stakeholders.
- “Systems of engagement” highlights the complex, recursive, dynamic nature of the tools and the processes that they support. Explicitly, the term takes us away from any notion of broadcasting.
- “Systems of engagement” focuses on the goal, the reason for being, behind these tools & processes: Engagement. These tools are built and used explicitly to facilitate people getting involved in the interpersonal, communicative and creative elements of the work that they do.
“Systems of engagement” invokes a perspective on technology that captures how we need to think differently about technology, when we want to use this technology in a social organization.
“Systems of engagement” is a term that will –I hope– be used to describe all manner of interactive, digital, communication oriented systems, used by organizations, to support engagement among stakeholders.
Where did the term “Systems of Engagement” come from?
Geoffrey Moore coined the term “systems of engagement” (though I cannot find a citation) and contrasted them to “systems of record”. Moore offers a simple definition of systems of engagement, calling them
“social business systems designed to dramatically improve the productivity of middle tier knowledge workers. … (they) enhance the ability of knowledge workers to quickly cooperate with each other in order to improve operating flexibility and customer engagement.”
That definition is a good start, but it really doesn’t embrace all that the term implies, and all that the actual systems mean to an organization.
The term popped into my awareness with the Jan 2011 AIIM report “Systems of Engagement and the Future of Enterprise IT”. It has been discussed somewhat by process management specialist Jacob Ukelson and by CRM/eCommerce specialist Richard Hughes, both of whom bring an IT/Content management perspective to it. Michel Bauwens has created a Wikipedia page for the term. And, JP Rangaswami has elaborated on the concept of Systems of Engagement, especially drawing in some history of the evolution of these sorts of social systems.
But no one, as yet, has directly addressed the organizational, cultural, and leadership issues related to systems of engagement. (Richard Veryard, I’m with you in this concern.)
Consider just this one direction:
When we think about systems of engagement, we are triggered to think about engagement as a concept, and as a process, as it has been understood and facilitated by organization development and change agents since before the dawn of the human relations movement.
We are triggered to remember, for example, that engagement requires a commitment to four organizational principles:
- widening the circle of involvement
- connecting people to each other, to ideas, and to emotions
- creating communities of action
- embracing democracy
When we think about these underlying principles of engagement, and consider how they need to be built into digital tools to support stakeholder interaction, we explicitly create the bridge from a tech focus (like Enterprise 2.0) to a social focus on individual and organizational flourishing (e.g., social organization, wirearchy).
Let’s Co-Opt the Term “Systems of Engagement”
I want to co-opt this term, popularize it, and promote it in conversations about social media, social business, and social organizations.
“Systems of engagement” reminds us that we need to step beyond customer relationship management– we need to include more than just customers, and to focus on processes in addition to “management”. Even when we talk about constituent relationship management, we’re still talking about a view where the organization controls the medium and controls the engagement for its own purposes–not necessarily for maximizing the value that’s exchanged between and among stakeholders.
When we think of systems of engagement, not just ‘social media inside organizations’, we invite ourselves to think differently, more expansively, and more creatively about what we need to do to support the engagement of all organizational stakeholders.
The term suggests, maybe even reminds us, that these tools are attached to values, norms, and a worldview about users, managers, leaders, and those whom these systems will serve.
As a term, “systems of engagement” solves a problem for us.
The term creates room for our imagination, for us to create additional systems that support and facilitate stakeholder engagement. It also triggers us to think about the organizational context that will support, and use these systems.
Old Wall, New Coat of Paint?
Craig Rhinehart, an enterprise content specialist, believes that “systems of engagement” is really just a clever label for systems we have been using all along, a “proven idea with a fresh coat of paint”.
He’s right, I think, in recognizing that tools such as email and instant messaging were used to facilitate engagement long before “social media” etc. were created. It is a proven idea that engagement needs tech system support.
But we haven’t yet fully explored and explained how systems of engagement are attached to values, norms, and a worldview about users, managers, leaders, and those whom these systems will serve. There is still a lot we can do to understand how a class of systems, engagement systems, can be fit in next to old(er) paradigms of digital technology, and older paradigms of leadership and organizations.
So here’s what I propose:
If the term “systems of engagement” feels useful to you, let’s hear how. Let’s just co-opt the term, and work together to define it. Where do you want to start?