This week the U. S. midterm election was held. Unfortunately, voter turnout in most states this year was lower than midterms, 2010,(http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/data-mine/2014/11/05/midterm-turnout-decreased-in-all-but-12-states),and, here in Ohio, the turnout was the lowest in recent years(http://www.dispatch.com/content/blogs/the-daily-briefing/2014/11/05112014—low-turnout.html).
Voting gives people a right to have a say in what is important to them. For example, people have been complaining about wages not increasing but an increase in the minimum wage was on the ballot in a few states and only one of those states had a good voter turnout. What a great way this is to express what we feel is important and what we truly value. It sends a strong message to politicians. So if this is an issue people feel is important, why didn’t more come out to vote in those states?
Some may say people just want to complain but don’t want to do anything. That may be true but there were also some other reasons given that could be true as well. Some people say their vote doesn’t get heard or politicians don’t care about them. Others have said this week the message wasn’t very clear. All of these reasons are good reasons for lack of voter turnout and they are also good reasons why employee engagement may be difficult to get at a workplace or getting union members to participate. Allowing people to have a voice on certain issues is not the only thing voting, employee engagement or union participation may have in common. There are a few other things, too.
Whether it’s politicians, executives, or unions, people need inspiration and encouragement to want to participate. Messages must be clear and distinct so they can actually sell people a reason to be enthused and ready to get involved. Getting that message out can take some time and it’s not always easy but it’s really important for any group or organization to work on communication and create a strategy that can increase engagement or involvement.
One of the problems organizations complain about is the lack of leadership. Human Resource people say they can’t find leaders and some wait for the leader to walk through the door instead of trying to develop them. Some people say leadership can’t be learned but that may not be the case. Learning to walk the talk, communicating with constituents or employees, treating people with respect and dignity can all be done. People can change and sometimes that in itself can be an inspiration.
I always remember one of our colleagues telling the story about an organization he helped. This organization had a horrible strike that had erupted into violence. After the strike ended and everybody was finally able to sit down with each other, our colleague worked to develop a more positive labor-management relationship. Union and management people both spoke honestly about their fears, concerns, wants and desires for their company. Our colleague said the biggest change in the relationship occurred when the owner of the company sat there, after listening to people, and finally spoke to everyone in the room with this sincere apology, “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize you felt that way.”
That single statement from the owner, the leader of the company, who sat and learned from others made a huge difference in that organization. He didn’t tell people they were wrong. He didn’t bully or intimidate them. He LISTENED to their opinions and showed them he valued those opinions. He treated them with respect and dignity. He showed he was human. That single statement turned the relationship and the organization around and made an enormous difference for that organization and the people that worked there.
So the next time you wonder why people aren’t participating or voting, think about what it takes to get people to participate or vote. Think about the message leaders are conveying. Is it clear and distinct? Is it sellable? Are they sending a message not of fear but one of inspiration and encouragement? Are they really LISTENING and not just hearing? Do they show some real interest in the people they want to participate?