Engagement experts know that if employees are sitting in the bleachers, they're not in the game.

That's why smart leaders work hard to involve employees in strategy development, change management and problem solving. Doing so is time-consuming and sometimes challenging, but the result--motivated employees who feel valued--is worth the effort.

You should continue to do the heavy lifting to encourage employee participation. But also consider another way to involve employees--a communication method that's easy, effective and even fun.

The concept: invite employees to express themselves about an important topic through photography. 

Yes, that means holding a contest and inviting employees to submit their work. But this is not about vacation photos or snaps of puppies. To make these experiences meaningful, focus on a subject--like this year's strategy or a core initiative such as improving customer service--that matters to the organization. 

For example, Terracon, a consulting and engineering firm with 4,000 employees, holds a photo contest that "highlights our employee owners' passion, creativity, and dedication to the diverse work we do." The images represent Terracon's service lines (including geotechnical, environmental and materials) and the unique project locations the company serves. 

Some of the winning photos were not artistic or even pretty. But that wasn't the point: The idea was to give participants the chance to show where they work and what they do. And the result was that all employees had the opportunity to see Terracon in action.

How do you organize a photo contest? Here are a few guidelines:

Set parameters. If the contest is too open-ended, it's harder for employees to understand what to do--and makes judging difficult. Create an overall theme (like How We're Meeting Our Customers' Needs) and consider establishing subcategories like:

  • All about people. Colleagues doing great work.
  • Go big or go small. Capture a (literally) big-picture view of the topic . . . or something very small (but still significant).
  • Just a metaphor. Instead of taking a photo of something specific, use a metaphor (water? fire? wind?) to convey an idea.
  • Black and white. Go retro.
  • Selfie. All about you (doing something awesome).
  • Taking action. We move fast, so capture us in action.
  • Instagram-worthy. Use effects and filters to put fun in your photo.

Decide on prizes. You want to find the right balance here--the prize should be significant enough to invite participation, but you don't have to break the bank. After all, employees will be motivated by the chance to win the contest and to be recognized.

Make the rules clear, but not too technical. Try not to get the lawyers involved; this is supposed to be a friendly competition.

Recruit judges. Assemble a team of employees from various functions and locations to serve as judges. (After all, judging is another opportunity to encourage participation.)

Follow best practices in communicating about the contest--and make a big splash when the winners are announced. I think it's great that Terracon posted winners on YouTube; after all, why shouldn't you recognize employees publicly for sharing their work?