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Photo: Nick Fewings

How to Perfect the Skill of Listening

Coronavirus has changed the way American businesses operate, to say the least. And from work-from-home mandates to reopening strategies to locking down again in the face of virus spikes, it’s taken a toll on effective communication in the workplace. 

Communication is a two-way street. But it’s not just about what we say. As the old saying goes, we have two ears and one mouth — so we ought to be able to listen twice as much as we speak. Or consider the inverse, as Ken Blanchard says: “I often like to joke that if God had wanted us to talk more than listen, he would have given us two mouths.” 

But in reality we aren’t listening very well, and it’s not new news. The Harvard Business Review published a famous article way, way back in 1957 about a study of manufacturing executives in Chicago: it found that listening is a much neglected skill. Benchmark research found that the average listener remembers only about 25% of what they heard, and that number has been repeated in many posts on why we can’t listen, time and time again. Flash forward more than half a century and for all the work on refining and clarifying our message, the weakest point of how we communicate is what we actually hear. Compound that by the fact that so much of our work is happening online and remotely, and it makes the listening part of communication even harder.

But we need to be better listeners, especially now. To be able to actually listen, take in someone else’s points and retain the information is not only better for whatever work process is going on at the moment. It also builds far more trust, promotes empathy, and forges a work culture of engagement and exchange. You can’t tout transparency if there’s no emphasis on listening, either. So here’s a refresher with eight ways to improve your skill at listening now, including some tips that will greatly boost the quality of remote communication:

1. Allow for Silence

Give the person speaking time to pause and collect their own thoughts as they’re talking. Everyone talks with a different style and pace. Some get nervous when they’re talking and tend to need to slow down and clarify for themselves before saying an idea out loud. Some may be broaching a difficult topic and try to circle around it. Listening requires patience and slowing down our own rapid-fire internal thought process: we think faster than we speak. Don’t try to fill in the silences with your own interjections. Let the speaker have the room and the time to say what they need to say.

2. Repeat Back in Your Own Words

Don’t respond to the speaker with your thoughts right away. That’s the default setting for listening, but it’s far more effective to restate their thoughts in your own words. It cements the fact that you understood it — and if you didn’t, they can clarify. For example, start with “I hear you saying that …” and reiterate carefully. Not only do you demonstrate that you are actually listening, but the speaker will, in turn, be more receptive to your point of view knowing you understand theirs.

3. Ask Useful (and Relevant) Questions

Asking useful questions can help you better understand what the other person is saying. To encourage further discussion, make them open-ended prompts that give them the opportunity to further elaborate. Try asking, “What do you think we should do about this?” Asking questions is not about controlling the conversation or pushing back on someone’s perspective. It’s about understanding.

4. Work toward Empathy

We all fear being judged as we talk. Make a concerted effort to truly understand and acknowledge how the other person feels; to put yourself in their shoes. By carefully reiterating their feelings as you understand them, you build empathy and set them at ease.

5. Do a Recap 

We may listen, we may hear, but do we remember? One highly effective way to recall a conversation is to recap what was said. Restate the point of the discussion, and list the action steps each party is going to do in response. This doesn’t need to be word for word, just an overview. And let the person who spoke weigh in, so they’re comfortable with your summary. 

Remote communication has its own set of issues and conditions, including how people behave, multitask, and receive information; and how technology can suddenly go haywire at the worst possible time. These three final tips will help: 

6. Have a Backup Plan for the Tech

Always have a Plan B when it comes to remote meetings and discussions. If the tech you’re depending on happens to fail for whatever reason, you can pick up the thread without a mad scramble. Many of us know the frustration of a 15 minute video call that turns into an ordeal of pixelated video or frozen presentations. Having a backup plan prevents the goal — communication — from being hijacked by tech problems. 

7. Use Names in Remote Meetings

During an in-person meeting, there’s no doubt as to who is speaking or whom they’re speaking to. Online meetings aren’t as clear. Use names when addressing people, and encourage everyone to refer to themselves by name as well. And when you are discussing the points someone made, reiterate who said them to keep everyone on track. 

8. Take Your Time  

Video meetings allow us to see each other but not always discern the nonverbal subtleties that are part of communication. Tiny delays are nevertheless long enough to prevent how we perceive each other’s expressions. Eye contact is altogether different: if we really want to look at someone’s face, we need to stare at the camera, not their face. But people don’t just speak with words. Take the time to consider what’s being said rather than jump in with a response. If you’re not sure of the intent, ask. Virtual is not the same as in the same room. 

Communication is a fundamental part of who we are. At the workplace, it’s critical to be able to listen well, whatever context we’re in. Blanchard encourages all professionals to master the art of listening, but I’d take it one step further: it should be considered a skill, like any other, and we should all endeavor to practice it, especially in these times. A little understanding can go a long way in terms of collaboration, trust, and productivity.

Photo: Ali Yahya

#WorkTrends: Going Gig: Freelancing in HR

Meghan invited both Chris Russell, the founder of HR Lancers, and Jim Stroud, VP of Marketing at Proactive Talent, to talk about the new trend in HR: hiring freelancers and consultants to fill in the gaps. 

COVID-19’s uncertainties are leaving no field untouched, including HR. As Jim said, “if employees hear the whiff of a rumor, or a layoff or have any kind of indication that their job might be in jeopardy or a furlough,” they might venture to freelance as a quick way to gain income and stay afloat. Further, freelancing is on the rise among millennials who are leaving the city. They can make their living at home — now more than ever before, noted Meghan. 

But not everyone’s cut out for the gig, Jim said. It takes self-discipline and the ability to self-structure, particularly now. Schedules may be more flexible, but kids and mounting responsibilities can add up. But the demand is there: Companies are hiring experts to help bridge the gaps, and sourcing out project-based, niched assignments like crafting job descriptions or writing a handbook. For smaller companies, this may be an effective solution. 

And if we see universal healthcare, said Chris, we’ll also see an explosion in freelancers. Meghan concurred: If benefits weren’t tied to employment, a lot more people would go independent. And that’s something companies need to think about, Jim added. Companies could be much more competitive at attracting top freelancers if they offered to cover healthcare expenses for the duration of a gig. And Meghan predicts we’ll see HR shifting along with the rest of the gig economy‚ and it’s going to be interesting to see how that changes our practices. 

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe, so you don’t miss an episode.

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why are more organizations hiring freelancers for HR? #WorkTrends
Q2: How is freelancing changing the nature of HR? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders better attract top HR freelancers? #WorkTrends

Find Chris Russell on Linkedin and Twitter

Find Jim Stroud on Linkedin and Twitter

Photo: Meagan Carsience

Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and the Bottom Line

The events of the last few months have brought increased attention to the value that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) bring to the workplace and to society at large. Increasingly, organizations are engaging in discussions around flexible working, social justice, privilege, equity, and about what this all means for the future of work. 

For those who work in the DEI space, these conversations are not new. The strong connections between workforce diversity, inclusion, and engagement have been documented for years. When organizations build diverse cultures where everyone can succeed and thrive, business results also flourish. 

A recent report from The Conference Board outlines how building a stronger connection between inclusion and engagement initiatives can help human capital leaders improve the employee experience while increasing trust and feelings of belonging. As organizations rely more heavily on team-based models, these links become crucial to driving performance and sparking innovation. 

Yet many organizations still struggle to put DEI into practice. Effective DEI strategies and initiatives often require changes in norms, talent processes, and leadership styles, all of which may encounter resistance. Change is difficult. Hence, this period of turmoil constitutes both an ideal and a challenging time for human capital leaders to take action and strengthen DEI within their organizations.  

It’s the ideal time because DEI is top of mind among leaders. There is strong executive support to create positive change that drives resilience; in many cases business leaders are reaching out to their HR teams for the first time to ask for DEI solutions. It is also a challenging time because these important conversations are happening as leaders juggle multiple considerations around the COVID-19 health and economic crisis, and their business needs — and they often are doing so with fewer resources. 

What can human capital leaders do to advance DEI, build resilience, and drive positive organizational change? Building on insights from executives across industries and regions who participated in Conference Board research, we recommend the following four steps:

1. Create a common vision around what DEI means for your organization, and why it’s especially important now.

Enhance communication and encourage consistent messaging across the organization. Help leaders and colleagues understand how DEI can improve the work environment and increase resilience during times of change.

Practical tips from DEI leaders:

  • Create organization-wide definitions of DEI that align with the organization’s culture and values.
  • Identify measurable behaviors and clear expectations that help hold people accountable for those behaviors.

2. Encourage collaboration and broader participation in your DEI initiatives.

As recent events increase DEI’s visibility, they also amplify opportunities to engage employees and leaders more broadly across the organization. Now is the time to boost interest among those who typically do not participate in DEI, to create shared accountability, and to help ensure that the burden of driving change doesn’t fall solely on underrepresented groups.

Practical tips from DEI leaders:

  • Provide resources on how people can participate and take action both at work and within their broader communities.
  • Communicate and set clear expectations, which can go a long way toward people feeling supported during times of change. Encourage dialogue over conflict and make it OK to make mistakes; this will help build trust.

3. Invest in inclusive leadership skills development.

Inclusive cultures do not just happen by chance. They require intentionality and willingness to change how we work and interact with our colleagues, as well as identifying the inclusive leadership behaviors to help drive your people strategy. At times, this will require leaders to learn new skills and to “unlearn” how they manage their teams in order for them to fully integrate different perspectives. The good news: these new skills can improve both leadership effectiveness and business results.

Practical tips from DEI leaders: 

  • There are multiple models of inclusive leadership to help identify key behaviors. You don’t have to start from scratch, leverage existing models of inclusive leadership in the field.
  • Work with both formal and informal DEI champions across the organization to outline key inclusive behaviors that are meaningful to you. Some organizations may want to highlight how diversity and inclusion improve decision-making, whereas others may focus on the connection between DEI and innovation. The key is to make inclusion relevant to your business and work.

4. Enhance accountability. 

To drive effective change, holding people accountable for their role in creating a more inclusive culture is key. Accountability helps establish clear expectations about how everyone can participate, including specific behaviors (e.g., team or leadership behaviors) and, for people managers, metrics (e.g., diversity representation, engagement). Without clear accountabilities to help us keep the goals in mind, we’re all bound to go back to our “old ways” of working.

Practical tips from DEI leaders: 

  • Ask for input on your strategy from, and conduct regular follow-ups with, leaders about DEI accountabilities and progress. Having a voice helps increase ownership and buy-in.
  • Engage your human capital analytics team to identify patterns, trends, and examine the impact of your DEI efforts. Assess what is and isn’t working, such as by comparing promotion and attrition rates for employees who participate in a program or activity and those who do not.

This is the time for human capital and business leaders to drive positive organizational change, increase DEI, and create more effective ways of working across differences. Follow these guidelines to capitalize on this moment to improve workplace culture and business results.

Photo: Ben Stern

#WorkTrends: Incorporating New Hires into Work Cultures

The big question: Can managers effectively integrate new hires into a company work culture when everyone is working from home? The answer is a resounding yes. But how?

To explore this question further, Meghan invited John Baldino to share strategies that can help businesses successfully hire and onboard top talent remotely. John is the president and founder of Humareso, an HR firm that’s helping organizations not only manage their talent, but better onboard new hires into the culture.

John stresses communication as a key component of any culture, but especially important for remote workplaces. Seasoned employees may have the advantage of familiarity, “but that’s not really fair to the new person coming in,” John said. Managers need to take an intentional approach to communication that isn’t just about the nuts and bolts of tasks at hand, as Meghan noted. It’s got to have plenty of room to be human and have real conversations. 

Where are the blind spots? Look at the camera, John said. Too many of us don’t know where to look, and that can make for very awkward meetings. And that’s as true for managers as for anyone. So we all have to make sure we’re comfortable with the tech. And don’t try to make eye contact, because it doesn’t translate on video. You’ll look like you’re not looking at the person you’re talking to. Just making sure the tech is up to date is important as well, and that’s every company’s responsibility. We all have to get more comfortable with the technology and being remote, Meghan said. It’s a steep learning curve, and we’re still on it. 

So much has changed in the process of hiring. Consider the old normal orientation schedules — which played an effective role in portraying a company’s culture. Now we need to deliver that via chat across managers and departments, said John. But you can’t glean the essence of a culture (let alone participate in it) in just a few days of Zoom calls, Meghan said. Build in the time to let it all sink in. And make sure your managers have the resources they need to support new hires, and can provide flexibility to accommodate the new work/life construct.  

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe, so you don’t miss an episode.

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why do organizations struggle with onboarding? #WorkTrends
Q2: What strategies help bring new hires into the work culture? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders better shape an onboarding strategy? #WorkTrends

Find John Baldino on Linkedin and Twitter

Photo: Paul Bryan

#WorkTrends: The Bigot in Your Mental Boardroom

WorkTrends has been focusing on diversity and inclusion not as buzzwords, but as actions. Meghan invited Elena Joy Thurston to the podcast to share her story. Elena is the founder and speaker of the PRIDE and Joy Foundation and has developed compelling best practices for improving workplace inclusivity. The conversation hit on a fascinating reality: we all have a mental boardroom and usually, there’s a hidden bigot at the table. 

So what exactly is a mental boardroom? “The boardroom is really about realizing what stories we all work from in our heads — our suppositions or assumptions,” said Elena. Acknowledging that, noted Meghan, helps us understand that everyone has their own biases, and we may not even realize where they come from. It may be hard to do, but self-awareness and reflection are the first steps: it takes critical distance to be able to see the roots of our own judgment. 

“I do the work by watching my own reactions,” said Elena. We need to be comfortable enough to work through our own emotions, and find the bias at the source. The more that can happen at the workplace, the more people can start to understand each other. 

Meghan concurred that bringing this unconscious bias to the surface will spark real growth in the work culture. Just a gesture as simple as making space for gender pronouns on an RSVP can help the LGBTQ community feel valued, for instance. Added Elena, when someone can bring their whole self to work and not feel judged, it’s so much easier to get our work done. 

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe, so you don’t miss an episode.

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why do work cultures struggle with inclusiveness? #WorkTrends
Q2: Why are some workplaces hard for LGTBQ employees? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders boost inclusiveness in their organizations? #WorkTrends

Find Elana Joy Thurston on Linkedin and Twitter

Photo: Berkeley Communications

The Contact Center Evolution Will be Remote

The pandemic has thrown nearly every industry into a state of rapid-fire transformation, and that includes contact centers. Chances are, nearly everyone reading this has reached a contact center and talked to an agent; during the pandemic, agents have become a direct and human — and welcome — point of contact. And if you’re an employee at a contact center, you’re likely experiencing a whole different way of working right now, on the virtual front lines, in some cases, and I have to say this directly: thank you for being there.  

Nearly overnight, as we launched into lockdown and work-from-home orders, the on-site call center had to be replaced by remote locations with agents and managers working from their homes. Given the high-touch, fast-moving, highly managed nature of call center work, would such a shift be successful? Given the traditional model of a call center workspace, would it work for agents to operate from home? 

According to a new report by Calabrio in collaboration with Ravel Research, the answer to both questions is yes. The just-released study surveyed contact center managers from a broad range of industries, in both the U.S and U.K., to find out what major changes the pandemic has caused for contact centers. Among the factors investigated: how the pandemic has created changing customer expectations, how it changes the dynamic of employee management, how viable remote working is for contact centers, and how business intelligence plays a role in customer-centricity, innovation and operations. 

Such are the issues we all need to focus on as we collectively make the leap from the way we used to work to the way we work now — and beyond. And the study found that overall, the shift to remote working has been good — it’s had a positive impact on engagement, performance and results among agents, as managers note. What’s so compelling to me is that this new, transformed landscape wasn’t hard to navigate at all. In fact, it’s made the job easier and the experience better for call center agents and managers in no less than five key areas:

 1. Remote Improves Performance and Satisfaction

It’s worth noting that pre-pandemic, some contact centers already had a remote component: 36% of contact centers had at least half of their employees working remotely. But with the onset of the pandemic, that number soared, with 89% of contact centers having at least 50% of their employees working remotely. While the shift was triggered by necessity, there has been a groundswell of approval on the part of agents. Necessity triggered the shift, but once agents settle into their remote roles, what’s clear is that many see it as an advantage. Call center managers believe 72% of agents are happy working remotely. 

As far as the positive impact on productivity, again, the numbers are in remote’s favor: 73% of managers surveyed express satisfaction with the productivity of employees now working remotely, and 85% are satisfied with employee productivity on account of flexible hours. Moreover, this is not just a passing fad: the adjustment is expected to stick. Citing remote’s benefits for employee satisfaction, service flexibility, and overall employee performance, 72% of managers say a remote environment is likely to continue in the long-term. It’s a clear sign that to many in this workforce, the changes were not only welcome, they may have been overdue. That’s a relief considering that across the country, reopening plans aren’t exactly going as, well, planned. We may have to shutter those back-to-the-workplace goals in favor of maintaining remote arrangements for everyone’s safety. The good news is that in terms of contact centers, that should not have a negative impact on how well agents are doing, or how they feel about their jobs.

2. An Emphasis on New Skills 

For countless employees, shifting to remote (as well as to flexible schedules) has also shifted the emphasis to new skills; the same is true for contact center agents. Managers in the study report that 49% of their employees are better at self-management, 42% have improved their problem-solving abilities, and 42% are better at both technology set-up and security awareness. 

Being a contact center agent has always required excellent soft skills — ask an agent what he or she thinks and I’d bet the answer is that these are hard-won, carefully developed, and endlessly practiced; they’re not really “soft” at all. But now add these three critical skills to the toolbox of abilities — soft or not — that call center agents need, such as clear communication, empathy, patience, attention to detail, and the ability to maintain a positive attitude, and you have the new paradigm for recruiting. It’s not just about being able to ‘give good phone,’ as they used to say, but now also about being able to stay on track no matter where an agent is working from. And again, this reflects the overall trend in remote working: we’re all learning how to balance, integrate, and think on our feet in a new context. The difference is that we don’t always have a customer on the other line, with urgency, possibly stress, and an increased need for our empathy, responsiveness and great service. 

 3. Evolved Training and Coaching

The Calabrio/Ravel survey also reveals that while training and coaching have been able to continue without too much interruption, there will be a greater need to develop new methods and leverage the shift to a virtual workspace. As their top three training resources, managers name video calls and web conferencing (53%); live online training classes (44%); and recorded online training classes (35%). More than half of managers anticipate that moving forward, they will inevitably be able to do less in-person, one-on-one training. 

From a talent development perspective, this is an immense possibility — to harness the remote environment to bring new modes of training and coaching to contact center hires. Virtual Reality could provide new hires with an experiential and impactful way to learn. Digital resources, such as mock scenarios that reflect larger social and behavioral changes, and other “walk in their shoes” approaches may help to mitigate concerns such as unconscious bias or help raise the threshold in terms of patience. By carefully crafting these to begin with, employees have a holistic but modern tool at their disposal. Another option: on-demand and self-service modules, speaking to people’s need for greater flexibility.  

4. Quality Evaluations and Predictive Analytics

Working in a vacuum is a common lament for remote employees. But there are certainly ways to counteract that sense of isolation — and an opportunity to increase feedback and coaching with digital tools. To improve brand impact and with a sense of increased customer urgency (a byproduct of life during a pandemic), managers have ramped up evaluations. According to the study: 1 in 3 contact centers have increased the number of quality evaluations of customer interactions. And while it’s true that evaluations can be a thorn in a manager’s side if done entirely manually, in this case managers are getting smart, leveraging digital tools to ease the heavier load. 44% of managers are using predictive analytics and/or automated quality monitoring. These tools are boosting their effectiveness when it comes to agent coaching, speeding up the process and promoting responsiveness in real time. Being able to spot key trends for the full 100% of interactions means that manual evaluations can be far more targeted. And managers are freed from the traditional reliance of “walking the floor” in favor of a smoother and more fluid agent development process.  

Is this the wave of the future? Managers’ responses on this may be an indication: only 30% think quality evaluations will be the same as they were before and 27% believe they will be doing more evaluations. Yet clearly, some are more forward-thinking than others: 20% believe they will be seeing more automated quality monitoring, and 19% say they will be using more analytics. What this speaks to, from my perspective, is that these tools are on the horizon for some, and already in use for others. And instead of seeing tools like automation or predictive analytics as a norm, managers may see it as a stopgap, envisioning a point when things get “back to normal,” and they can go back to how they conducted evaluations before. That may indicate a gap in perception: these are the same managers who believe remote contact centers will continue into the future; and sentiment around predictive analytics and automation will likely grow. We’ll see how this plays out.

5. New Technologies Offer New Opportunities

The new technologies coming to contact centers are having a profound impact on employee as well as manager experience, and offering new opportunities for support as well as growth. The old adage: If you build it, they will come, applies to a call center — and as we’ve seen as we pivot to remote, instead of agents and managers coming to a physical workspace, now remote innovations are coming to them. The survey asked its respondents: How have your contact center’s investments changed in the following areas, because of the pandemic? Not surprisingly, the biggest investments are in remote working solutions (65%); video conferencing tools (62%); and then, expanded channels for customer communication (52%). All are helping to modernize the manager and agent experience. And it may or may not be a kind of workplace irony to have a human call agent aided by a chatbot or virtual assistance, but these are not as high on the list. 

What is markedly on the rise is business intelligence (BI). A full 90% of respondents say they are maintaining or increasing their investment in BI solutions. And contact managers expect a higher demand for contact analytics to come from every department. We’re going to see call centers increasingly rely on data and more accurate reporting to better assess performance and set strategy — yet another sign that digital tools are leading the evolution. For a remote workforce, BI knits together people, interactions and operations in real time, allowing for a far greater sense of the big picture, elevated flexibility when it comes to key questions asked, and an increased sense of connection between individual effort and overall results.

None of these developments are going to take the place of human connection, however. The rationale behind grabbing the brass ring of better and better technologies is as a means to improve the interactions between agents and customers — by enabling agents to better do their job, from training to maintaining their performance. That includes the interactive dashboards being used by some call centers to provide agents with real-time data on how they’re doing. Designed to answer the questions an individual agent might ask, these provide a graphic as well as numeric scoreboard they can continue to monitor to track their own improvements. 

Self-accountability and a sense of personal stake in excellence may turn out to be our best asset of all. For agents and managers in call centers, these traits are clearly driving the evolution as much as any external forces — and pointing to an overall growth in workplace culture we may not have expected, but as the Calabrio/Ravel survey shows, it’s happening right now.

To find out more, download the study.

This post is sponsored by Calabrio.

Photo: Kevin Butz

Encouraging Civility Among Remote Employees: 7 Strategies

These continue to be uncertain times, creating unfamiliar territory. In such conditions, it’s even more important for the company, leaders and managers, and individual employees, to focus on civility with each other and with customers. In essence, civility is being courteous, treating others with respect — being thoughtful of others, and being aware of how your actions (and those of other people) might affect someone. We are all fraying at the edges. Courtesy and respect go a long way. 

Fewer Social Cues

Working remotely, we have fewer social cues to provide feedback about whether we’re being respectful and courteous. It’s harder to determine if someone’s having a bad day, or bad hour, unless they tell us, but we can’t stop by their area to check in. Yet those multiple, tiny in-person interactions help us get a sense of people and their moods, and give us a way to maintain a sense of connection. 

Moreover, unless their homelife is onscreen, we can only know what’s going on for them — what their mental load is like — if they tell us. So leaders and managers need to encourage discussions about what civility means during this pandemic, and ask what’s going on in people’s lives. Make a point of not only asking, but also responding to what they say appropriately, saying something like, “I’m so sorry to hear about what’s happening. I appreciate your sharing that with me. What can I do to help?” 

7 Effective Strategies

It pays to take a few extra steps to make sure communications with colleagues and customers are respectful and civil, particularly in this environment. Healthy relationships are the gel that holds us together, instead of breaking us apart. It’s the stuff that makes the difference in our daily outlook and the level of motivation. These seven  strategies will help:

Small Talk is Big. Encourage employees, especially those running meetings, to make sure there are check-ins and some personal conversation prior to leaping right into talking/writing about work. Managers and leaders should ask about employees’ self-care and share about their own. Let employees recognize each other as people. It’s the same thing when talking to customers. That said, not everyone may want to partake, and individuals should respect that.

Take a Breath. Help employees develop greater tolerance and patience. For instance, if an employee bristles at something a coworker has said, done, or written, the employee can be encouraged to take a diaphragmatic breath — on an inhale, let their belly expand with air, hold briefly, and then slowly exhale. This is an easy skill for most employees to learn, and will actually will fake out the person’s brain to make him or her feel relaxed. 

Be as Clear as You Can. Keep in mind that during the pandemic, it’s harder for most people to maintain the same level of focus as they could before. Try to be as clear as you can be so there’s less opportunity for miscommunication and misunderstanding.

When in Doubt, Ask. It’s easy to assume we know what someone means, and when we’re multi-tasking or distracted, we may be more likely to infer incorrectly. Don’t make assumptions about what someone meant. Help promote a culture in which it’s appreciated when a colleague asks for clarification. Asking instead of assuming will save time, energy, and heartache.

When Using Video Communication. Those “leading” a meeting should use agendas, distributed in advance, to make sure what needs to get discussed is actually discussed. Take extra time to consider who and who doesn’t need to attend a given meeting. Maybe a meeting needs to be more inclusive? Maybe it needs a smaller working group? Given the isolation of working at home, the criteria for inclusion may need to change. Additionally, reconsider how meetings are structured and run: How much of the meeting should be simply to connect with each other? The person running the meeting should set expectations for participation at the beginning. Try to set up the meeting for full participation so each person knows why they’re there and how they can contribute. That said, decide how much time should be spent with small talk. There should be at least some, unless you are all in frequent contact with each other during the day. 

When Using Text-based Communication. People can make mistakes and read unintended emotions into words. At least with video calls, participants get non-verbal cues to help understand what other people’s words mean. Not so with text-based communication. Also, words can be vague. Even when a person thinks they are being clear with his or her writing, it may not necessarily be so.

Photo: Diego Jimenez

#WorkTrends: Leading Organizations to Resilience and Diversity

No question: businesses and employees are going through a lot. The pivot to remote. Changing laws and regulations (sometimes overnight). Safety — and not just physical, but emotional as well. How should we best deal with the pressures of working amid brand-new and vexing circumstances? Get resilient, so instead of crashing from the stress, we bounce back.

Meghan brought Melissa Lamson, CEO of Lamson Consulting, to #WorkTrends for a timely meeting of the minds. Melissa offered best practices on how leaders can foster resilience among their workforce — and explained why diversity is so critical right now.

As Meghan noted, leaders are quickly learning “how to really lean in on the people side, to practice emotional intelligence and empathy and interpersonal skills” — and helping their businesses grow in understanding. And some of their strength is coming from admitting they don’t know it all. They’re willing to be vulnerable, and employees appreciate that.  

And as Melissa added, that kind of openness also helps leaders ask the right questions: “What is the best way to do this? How do we reopen the workplaces? How do we come back together in face-to-face collaboration? What does that look like? What kinds of guidelines and rules do we need to do this safely and effectively?”  

It’s really all about listening, said Melissa. Doing so makes it possible to tend to our company culture over the long-term, Meghan pointed out. Then, keep practicing what we preach  — open communication, honesty, transparency — to lead our organizations into a state of resilience. That’s going to be a key part of success going forward. 

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe, so you don’t miss an episode.

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why do organizations struggle with resilience? #WorkTrends
Q2: How does diversity play into an organization’s resilience? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders help increase resilience and diversity in their organizations?  #WorkTrends

Find Melissa Lamson on Linkedin and Twitter

Photo: Franceso Gallorotti

Motivating Your Remote Workforce: Best Practices

Before any of us had even heard of the coronavirus, the remote workforce was already expanding. In fact, according to Global Workplace Analytics, it’s been growing about 10 percent every year for the past decade. But with our current situation, more and more of us are being pushed into remote work faster than ever. In fact, a recent Gartner survey found that 74 percent of CFOs anticipate taking previously on-site employees fully remote in the aftermath of COVID-19.

Remote work has long been a point of contention. For those who haven’t had the option, it sounds almost too good to be true. Meanwhile, those who do work remotely are quick to point out that there’s a big difference between a day in a home office and a day off. Turns out there are valid points on both sides. Remote workers do enjoy perks like increased flexibility and time saved by not commuting. However, research has found that remote employees work an average of 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts. That adds up to three additional weeks of work per year! While remote work can increase productivity, it often leads to consistently long hours, which can have an adverse effect on mental health. That’s just one reason why managing a remote workforce can be a challenge. You need to inspire and motivate your team to do more than just their best work; you need to motivate remote employees to take care of themselves too.

Burnout is real. Even before this crisis, 29 percent of remote employees said they struggle with work-life balance, and 31 percent said they have needed to take a day off for their mental health. To really manage, motivate, and protect your most important asset — your people — consider these four suggestions.

Communicate Frequently and With Purpose

Working remotely, employees often feel disconnected. If they don’t receive information from leadership, they turn to other sources, formal and informal, and that can cause confusion and even panic. It’s important to ensure that the entire organization — onsite, on the road, or at home — understands the priorities of the business and exactly where they fit in. Creating a clear roadmap helps employees understand the ultimate goal of their work, making them more productive and reassured that their efforts contribute toward a positive outcome. Gartner Research highlights this as one of the most important parts of a remote work strategy.

That said, good communication goes both ways. Successful companies have leaders who embrace a culture of collaboration and continuous learning; one where listening means giving consideration and adjusting to the thoughts of subordinates, peers, supervisors, and across departments. When employees across an organization agree that there is something to be learned from everyone in the room (even if it’s a virtual room), you can surface more diverse perspectives, foster more effective communications, and achieve greater goals.

Establish a Routine

For my team at Skillsoft, one of the ways we’ve managed to stay connected is by making standup meetings and check-ins part of our daily rhythm. This gives teams more opportunities to communicate and has been key to providing a sense of normalcy even in these not-so-normal times.

Furthermore, Harvard Business Review emphasizes how important it is for weekly routines to include more than just tactical work. Make sure you also prioritize rituals that focus on social connections, whether it’s a virtual welcome lunch for new hires or a Friday afternoon snack break. This will help you maintain the cadence and culture of your organization.

Of course, it’s key for managers to be available to their teams for emergencies. But, they should also address the need for rest, lunch breaks, and “shutting down” for the day. Clearly communicating this across your team will help level-set and establish a routine that’s more holistic, including work time and downtime. These natural breaks will keep days from fading into one another, a complaint we’ve heard a lot of in recent weeks.

Be There for Each Other

It’s so easy to feel alone right now. Being entirely remote can add stress, regardless of a person’s role or level in the organization. Leaders can often feel that the fate of the company rests solely on their shoulders, but they need community just as much as everyone else. We all need mentors. We all need people who can give us a “reality check” and help us rationalize.

This kind of culture can’t be fostered overnight, but it’s crucial for businesses to begin to build a supportive, collaborative environment as remote work becomes more common. In fact, Forrester Research highlights culture as one of the most important elements of a successful work from home strategy. Employees that feel they can bring their whole selves to work, who feel that they are on a team that supports and represents them, are more likely to feel motivated and get more enjoyment out of difficult tasks, according to research from Stanford psychological scientists Priyanka B. Carr and Gregory M. Walton.

Pay attention to — and course correct — any challenges that arise. For example, according to research from A. Joshi and R.S. Gajendran, virtual communication can sometimes discourage team members from speaking up. But, when you establish your work environment as a place for open collaboration, this hesitation tends to fade. Strong virtual teams are built on a foundation of trust. Start from a place of shared humanity and send your team a message of solidarity: we’re all in this together. When employees feel a sense of comradery and belonging, the impact can be incredible.

Stay Positive

We’re living — and working — through a time of uncertainty. But it’s important to stay optimistic and supportive in all your interactions. Think about some of the silver linings. Personally, I’m thankful for the extra time spent with my family. Working from home has given us opportunities we otherwise wouldn’t have had: catching up over lunch, doing morning workouts, and spending evenings cooking together.

Working from home also offers workers and managers alike an incredible chance to broaden our horizons and push ourselves toward new goals. Companies that tap into the power of learning will see increased engagement going forward. Motivate employees to embrace this time; make learning core to your company’s culture. When employees are given the resources to engage with information they truly care about, they will develop competencies and confidence that can be applied throughout their experience – both on the job and in their lives.

Businesses that adhere to these four simple tenets of leadership will quickly realize that it really comes down to one basic principle: be human. During this time, the best thing we can do is demonstrate empathy, compassion, and concern for each other. Embracing genuine understanding and positivity is the best course in times of uncertainty. You’ll reap the benefits and so will your team.

This post is sponsored by Skillsoft.

Photo: Bernard Hermant

Connecting During Crisis: Engaging Your Frontline Workforce

Over the last few months, there’s been a lot of talk about the current situation of forced remote work and its impact on employee collaboration, productivity and engagement. This is a legitimate concern and one that I myself, as a CEO, am tackling. But the discussion has largely been focused on desk-based employees, who typically sit in front of a computer and can perform their jobs from anywhere in the world as long as they have a laptop and WiFi connection.

Frontline workers, however, are in a completely different boat. They don’t sit in front of a computer all day; they often work long shifts (sometimes 12 hours or more); they’re the first and last points of interaction with customers. Most importantly, frontline workers aren’t accustomed to interacting and communicating with their managers and HQ leaders via face-to-face meetings.

With COVID-19 leading to country-wide lockdowns and social distancing rules, the entire world is dependent on frontline workers for essential services, such as stocking groceries, shipping online orders, providing healthcare and transportation. That means longer work shifts, more uncertainties about their roles and more stress for frontline workers. As this happens, staying informed and getting regular feedback will be essential to navigate through these uncertain times.

Subpar Onboarding Experience Can Prompt Early Turnover

According to a recent article on the Muse, companies like Kroger, Unilever, GSK, Wells Fargo, UnitedHealth Group, Instacart, Deutsche Bank and Asana are still continuing with their hiring plans amidst the current crisis. This is due in large part to the fact that these businesses provide ‘essential’ services and goods. But what happens once these frontline workers are hired? What will their onboarding look like? How prepared are HR teams to digitally adapt their onboarding processes?

When we asked HR professionals to cite their biggest challenge with onboarding remote and distributed employees, the top two responses were ‘making them feel like part of the team’ (17 percent) and ‘providing clarity and context about role expectations and career growth’ (17 percent). Following close behind, 15 percent cited ‘integrating into company culture’ as the biggest challenge, while 13 percent struggle to establish communication norms. If you look at these responses, it’s clear that onboarding plays a major role in employee satisfaction, career development, fulfilment, engagement and retention. But for most employees, being able to physically interact with managers, colleagues and leaders can go a long way in making them feel like part of the team and forge relationships with coworkers. So, if virtual onboarding sessions are too drawn out, dull, uninspired, new hires could end being early leavers.

Turnover is not a new problem for organizations. Early turnover, however, is even more troublesome, with 20 percent of employees leaving with their first 45 days of employment. Our study’s findings indicate that HR teams, who are faced with onboarding thousands of employees virtually, could see an increase in early turnover. And the culprit could very well be HR’s inability to virtually onboard new employees in a way that’s just as informative, interactive and engaging as it would be if it were conducted in-person.

More Direct Feedback Supports Better Job Stability

As our study found, it can be tough to communicate and engage with remote and distributed workforces. For example, a mere 8 percent of the surveyed HR professionals said they keep a regular cadence of one-to-one meetings with remote workers, while only 12 percent commit to a communication charter. On top of this, 15 percent of HR professionals said they struggle to provide regular feedback on performance and career development.

These findings are troubling for a few reasons. First, frontline workers are currently being pushed to the limits. As the pressure mounts, it will be more important than ever to provide a safe space for frontline workers to vent their frustrations, voice their concerns and ask important questions related to their roles and responsibilities. But if their managers and HR teams don’t make themselves available for these one-to-one conversations, you can bet it will manifest itself in lower productivity, less cross-team collaboration and potentially worse performance. So managers need to carve out time in their schedules and virtually meet one-to-one with their teams on the frontline. Even if it’s a 10-minute check-in twice a week, this could help frontline workers feel less stressed and get clarification about their role and tasks. The more clarity they get, the better they’ll perform their jobs, which will lead to better customer satisfaction, loyalty and future sales. While these are positive outcomes for the businesses that employ frontline workers, it will also help frontline workers prove their value and maintain job stability during unstable times.

Digital-First Culture Engages Frontline Workers

According to Stephen Redwood, principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP, “At digital-first organizations, people, processes and structures are all focused on optimizing digital so companies can be more productive.” I agree wholeheartedly. And this is especially true for frontline workers, who rely on mobile devices, communications apps, productivity apps and collaboration apps to stay connected, get relevant updates about the business and their roles, schedule meetings with their managers, among other things.

What does a digital-first culture look like? For one, it’s one that isn’t reliant on face-to-face meetings. For example, companies with a large number of frontline workers should hold virtual all-hands meetings twice a week at least. Reserve one of the two weekly all-hands meetings solely for Q&A with the staff. Let your frontline workers ask any questions they want — be it about how the coronavirus outbreak may impact job stability (i.e. layoffs, furloughs), plans for hiring, or anything else. Don’t make the virtual all-hands meetings excessively long — keep them to 30 minutes maximum so that you can keep your frontline workers engaged, without interrupting their work too much.

Another way to help frontline workers integrate with the company culture (especially in the midst of a crisis) is to have managers share a weekly message of motivation. By posting this type of message into designated Slack channels, teams can start their days with a positive attitude and still feel a sense of connection to their fellow colleagues, teams, managers and leadership.

To make a digital-first culture work, it has to come from the top down. Leadership needs to believe in the value of digital tools for driving employee collaboration and engagement. Beyond that, getting buy-in from the C-suite will require proving how digital tools will help maintain business continuity, increase customer satisfaction (and repeat purchases) and drive revenue growth.

Photo Evgeni Tcherkasski

Corporate Communications During A Crisis

It seems like the world is constantly changing day to day as we learn more about the global pandemic we’re facing with COVID-19. None of us know for sure what’s going to happen a week from now, or even a few days from now. But if you have employees depending on you, it’s important to stay in constant communication with them, even when you don’t have all the answers. Your employees want to know you’re in this with them, and at a time when you can’t exactly meet with them, communicating by video is likely the safest bet. But what’s the best way to do that, and how can you ensure your video is addressing the right points and not getting interrupted by technical difficulties, such as poor streaming quality? 

These four tips include the best strategies for employing corporate communications via video during a crisis: 

Communicate Early and Often 

You might not have all the answers right now, but that doesn’t mean you should delay communicating with your employees. In fact, if you waited until you knew everything there is to know about COVID-19 or other crises you might face, your corporate communications would be nonexistent. Your employees don’t expect you to have all the answers; they just want to be clued in on what you know. And considering that Gartner found that more people are listening to brands and corporations than politicians these days, it’s important that you get out your message as soon as possible. Your employees are waiting to hear from you. 

So as soon as you’re aware of the next steps your company is taking, communicate your plans to your team. Try to provide any updates by video every couple of days. And if you’re still working on solutions, let your employees know so they have some idea of what might happen. You might even want to let them provide their input on your decisions through a live video meeting that allows the whole company to watch and offer feedback at the same time. Just be sure you have the technology in place to handle this, to ensure your video streams smoothly without crashing any networks.  

Focus on the Facts

No matter how often you communicate with employees, be sure to stick to the facts that will affect them. This means you shouldn’t try to speculate on what may or may not happen. You don’t want to give unfounded or inaccurate information, and you definitely don’t want to cause panic among your employees, so avoid any doom and gloom talk. 

Instead, offer accurate information that directly affects your employees, such as what you’re doing to protect them, or which day your offices will be closing if that’s the plan. You should also steer them toward the websites of reputable resources, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) or the CDC. You want your employees to not only be properly informed, but also know where to go if they want to research further. 

Be Authentic and Engaging 

According to Recruiter, 33% of employees said a lack of open, honest communication has the most negative impact on employee morale. Experts tend to agree that the most trusted type of communication is face to face. This way, your audience can see your nonverbal cues and study your facial expressions to determine if you’re being genuine while you deliver your message. And that is very important for corporate communications during a crisis. Of course, in-person meetings are out while COVID-19 is a major concern, which is why video is your best option if you want face-to-face communication with your employees. 

The good news is that video is extremely engaging, and superior engagement is important when you’re communicating with an audience during a crisis. Consider the fact that the average video viewer remembers 95% of the message he or she just watched, but only 10% of the message he or she just read. Plus, employees are 75% more likely to watch a video than read an email, blog post, or other documents. So you have a better chance of getting your message across with a video when you want to reach your employees. As long as you and your team are authentic and empathetic during the video, engagement shouldn’t be an issue. 

Analyze Your Video Engagement 

You already know your engagement will be higher when you communicate via video. But exactly how much engagement did you get with your latest video, and how did it compare to the video you created before that? Is there a way to improve your video communications before you release another one? You’ll get answers to these questions when you start using analytics for all your corporate videos. 

Basically, you need to know how many people watched your video, how many people stopped watching halfway through, what the streaming quality was like, and more. Knowing these metrics can pinpoint how to improve the next video you release to employees. And considering that you need to be communicating often during a crisis, it’s helpful to get the metrics right away and quickly apply the insights to your next video. 

The easiest way to analyze your videos is by using an analytics service. This service should offer a range of statistics on your videos, like aggregated event metrics that can tell you details that include viewer participation, viewing time, quality of experience, network impact, streaming performance, and more. Analytics can also give you ranking lists, text and map-based filtering, and network visualizations that tell you how live streaming video has impacted your network. 

When you have the right corporate communications strategy in place during a crisis, you have the power to reassure your employees during tough times. This can keep company-wide panic to a minimum and ensure your employees can put their trust in your business. Video communications will help you inform and engage your employees, but your videos have to be of good quality to be effective. And video analytics will tell you if they are — or if you need to change a few details in order to better reach and reassure your team. 

Photo: Petri R

Continuous Listening: Moving Beyond Standard Practices

The second in a two-piece series on Continuous Listening. 

In Part One of my series on Continuous Listening, I looked at the flaws of taking a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to an employee’s development. Continuous Listening and asking the right questions can play a key role in recognizing milestones along each employee’s individual journey, and evaluating their engagement. 

The second part of this series looks at how to move beyond standard practices in order to craft engaging, long-term, and productive employee journeys and ultimately business success for all — and use the Continuous Listening strategy to tackle the challenges now facing our industry. And it’s important to note the value of feedback, as it contributes to the roadmap aimed at improving the organization.  

Applying Continuous Listening strategies before exploring suggestions for decision-makers can greatly improve outcome, and help explore various ways to address a number of HR challenges:

  • HR’s employee insight is segmented. Information is siloed based on the different HR tools used in various milestones, each tool having its own task and interface. Sharing between existing application tools is usually complex and information tends to stay within the boundaries of departments. 
  • Insight is collected from a limited number of sources. This limits HR’s ability to see the big picture and creates a disjointed employee experience. For example, some collection tools are only focused on one feedback channel instead of a combination of direct, indirect and inferred channels. As a result, HR can miss the broader view. 
  • Not enough data types are gathered. HR teams can gather transactional data on existing processes thanks to tools such as applicant tracking systems, HRIS tools, and learning management systems. Who was hired? Into what department? When was the start date? With some advanced analytics, this information can be transformed into predictive models indicating who should be hired in the future. Though sophisticated, these systems miss the heart of the employee experience as they fail to tap into the thoughts and feelings that bind employees to their jobs. Transactional data will never provide insight about personal views and cannot answer questions like: “How engaged is the employee?” or “How loyal do they feel to the brand?” “Are they committed to the mission or just the paycheck?” “What are their long-term aspirations?” Thus, it makes sense to use tools that also focus on evaluative HR processes such as 360 feedback, performance reviews, training evaluations, and engagement surveys. 
  • Most data analyses do not address an employee’s evolution. Data is collected at specific intervals and analyzed with particular timestamps, but understanding how an employee’s data has evolved over time may offer a clearer perspective of the processes that this employee has gone through with the organization. This highlights effective HR interventions to reach higher employee engagement, retention, and success. 

Moving Forward 

Continuous Listening encourages multi-directional communication among employees, managers, administrators and executives. It is designed to work in conjunction with other listening tools deployed at milestones such as performance reviews, annual engagement surveys, training programs, and mentoring programs. With it, HR can compile a more comprehensive picture of the attitudes, feelings, and intentions of the workforce. 

Organizations that are serious about optimizing the engagement of their workforce should look beyond a one-size-fits-all approach, and instead pursue a measurement strategy that incorporates:

  • Gathering evaluative feedback during milestones.
  • Collecting data between events aligned on topics relevant to employees and business goals.
  • Integrating the milestones and Continuous Listening data with fluid, real-time feedback processes to gain a comprehensive and evolving picture of workforce issues. 

Solving a Turnover Problem

Continuous Listening can help solve problems feedback can’t handle alone. Take the example of a large software engineering firm in Silicon Valley: it was experiencing a 50% higher turnover rate among employees who had been there for three or four years. The traditional milestone approach using HRIS data flagged the increase in turnover, but failed to provide any meaningful insight as to its occurrence. An evaluative feedback survey, delivered annually, showed that no one in the cohort had been promoted to a managerial position in the past 18 months. The business unit had adjusted the promotion criteria, delaying qualification by another one or two years to ensure stronger competencies among those being promoted. 

A combination of HRIS data, annual survey results, and Continuous Listening surveys revealed that employees were outraged at the policy changes, and had started looking for jobs elsewhere. Additional results from Continuous Listening surveys illustrated the fact that the 50% who remained were given development experiences and discretionary time to work on special projects — i.e., meaningful incentives to stay despite the prospects of delayed promotion.

These approaches provided substantially different data that, when viewed independently, provided weak explanations for the turnover. But through a holistic strategy, the bigger picture became clear. Using Continuous Listening provided insights earlier, giving leaders the opportunity to intervene sooner.

Feedback Approach Information Uncovered Available Leadership Actions 
Transactional 

Annual Turnover Report from HRIS turnover data 

Turnover is 50% higher. Investigate by launching a survey or conducting interviews.Backfill positions with experienced hires.
Transactional & Evaluative 

Annual Turnover Report

Annual Turnover Survey

Turnover is 50% higher.No one in the 3 – 4 year cohort has been promoted due to a policy change. Create an internal marketing campaign to encourage employees to stay.Change the policy.

Provide incentives to stay.

Continuous Listening 

(Transactional & Evaluative)

Annual Turnover Report

Annual Turnover Survey

Continuous Listening Surveys

Turnover is 50% higher.No one in the 3 – 4 year cohort has been promoted due to a policy change.

After learning of the policy change, outraged employees started looking for other opportunities.

Explain why changes are necessary.Let employees know leaders hear their frustration.

Fund new development events. 

Provide discretionary time to those who stay to work on special projects.

Feedback Matters

Without Continuous Listening efforts and the adoption of innovative technologies, information gaps can grow, increasing risk and uncertainty for decision-makers and the company. Further, effective listening allows leaders to stay informed about workforce perspectives, and it encourages employees to communicate their needs, satisfaction, frustrations, and other points of view in a healthy way. 

The journey begins when HR professionals develop and implement a comprehensive listening strategy across the employee lifecycle. By listening to employees, HR will develop a continuously evolving stream of data to support critical business management decisions. Through understanding which questions to ask and which tools to employ, HR professionals may properly listen and respond to needs. Moving beyond the one-size-fits-all approach enables organizations to craft engaging, long-term, and productive employee journeys — ultimately predicting positive or negative changes before they are likely to occur, thus driving their business toward success.

 

Photo: Bek Greenwood

Soft Skills: In Demand in the Corporate Space

With advancements due to automation and globalization, the outlook of employers has changed significantly. To know if a candidate is a right fit for their organization, they gauge their capability not from a degree, but from the attributes that they display — i.e., soft skills. 

According to a survey by Talent Q, 9 in 10 employers look for effective soft skills in the applicants. These abilities are critical in any environment that requires interaction and collaboration. They define the various attributes of personality that help us complete a job successfully, including how intently we listen to others, how empathetic we are towards colleagues, and how we approach a problem.  Among the most important soft skills potential employees should possess:

  • Communication skills — such as the ability to communicate effectively within teams and with clients
  • Interpersonal skills to resolve conflicts without hurting anyone’s feelings
  • Confidence — to be able to effectively present ideas
  • Teamwork and leadership skills— such as the ability to participate and lead within a team
  • Critical thinking and decision-making skills — to make strategic decisions despite uncooperative clients, tough deadlines, or issues within the team 

As well as:

  • Networking skills
  • Cultural Sensitivity
  • Flexibility

Soft Skills in the Age of Automation

In the past, employers hired candidates based on degrees, certifications, and domain-related skills. The competition was tough. With the introduction of automation in almost every industry, the competition has become even tougher: for some of these tasks, we are competing with robots. A McKinsey Global Institute report says that around 375 million jobs will be lost to robots by the year 2030, and two million jobs that require human skills will be created. 

Though automation is only here to make our lives and work easier, businesses are still in dire need of professionals with unique human skills. After all, bots can make transactions, but they can’t make deals. Despite the emerging importance of automation, job positions that require soft skills can only be filled by humans. We still need skilled professionals who use their emotional intelligence to make strategic, profitable decisions. 

Essential for 21st-Century Employers 

A study by Wonderlic found that  93% of employers consider soft skills ‘essential’ or ‘very important’ in their potential employees. Moreover, according to a report by  Burning Glass, more than a quarter of all skills mentioned in the US job postings (for even the most technical job roles) were baseline or soft skills. Further, according to Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends Report, 90% of organizations are undergoing a structural and cultural transformation in order to be more dynamic, connected and team-centric. And employees or candidates who can’t keep up with the changing requirements may not be eligible for growth-oriented, high-paying jobs. 

Can Soft Skills Be Taught?

In a recent trial aimed to find out if soft skills can be taught, soft skills training was offered at 5 factories in Bangalore over a period of 12 months. Researchers found a 250% increase in productivity within 8 months of the trial’s conclusion Employees or job candidates who want to develop their soft skills can work with various soft skills trainers who offer structured training or frequently conduct soft skills training workshops. At the corporate level, some employers are hiring a certified corporate trainer. It’s imperative in either case to ensure that the training addresses the given objectives. And as the demand for soft skills continues to increase, soft skills training is on the rise as a career choice as well: those with a passion and aptitude for training and coaching are finding that opting for a role as a soft skills trainer offers both high pay and a great deal of flexibility.

Today’s organizations need human professionals with uniquely human skills, or they can’t flourish. Employers should be proactive and analyze their organizational and employee needs, conducting soft skills training to fill in the gaps. It’s the best way to keep up in this changing corporate scenario. 

Photo: PCM

Continuous Listening: How to Strengthen Employee Communication

This is the first in a two-piece guest series on Continuous Listening. 

Human Resources departments own many responsibilities that directly contribute to the overall success of a company. According to Sari Levine Wilde, managing vice president of Gartner, “The businesses that are successful today and in the future, will be those that win when it comes to talent…This means helping employees build critical skills and developing employees into leaders.”  One of the burning questions today is how we can achieve that mission. 

Howard Moskowitz, a psychologist in the field of psycho-physics and a renowned market researcher, was hired by PepsiCo to determine the optimal quantity of artificial sweetener for a Diet Pepsi product. He faced a similar challenge, as mentioned by author Malcolm Gladwell in his TED Talk. With the aim of maximizing sales, Moskowitz conducted empirical tests, which provided unexpected results. He examined the data and concluded that there was no such thing as a perfect Diet Pepsi! Due to the multitude of variations between human tastes, Moskowitz found that the best option to maximize the number of sales was by offering a collection of lower calorie flavors along the scale of taste. 

Returning to the HR dilemma, a one-size-fits-all approach to HR is guaranteed to overlook the needs of many employees. More specifically, each employee journey is unique and thus HR must find ways to observe, tune in, and adapt to address individual employees in a more personalized manner.

Disjointed Employee View and Continuous Listening

In order to understand employees and their level of engagement when it comes to business goals, HR must continually gather information by asking questions and listening to employee responses. These standard HR processes currently serve as milestone events for gathering data, but with so many aspects of the employee lifecycle to monitor, it can be difficult to build a comprehensive view of the culture, engagement, retention, and success of employees. The process of data collection is usually transactional, though sometimes there are opportunities to gather evaluative information as well. In this respect, many challenges that HR professionals are faced with when attempting to gather this comprehensive data can be addressed by a strategy known as Continuous Listening. 

Continuous Listening is a methodology grounded in the philosophy that feedback matters all the time — not just once a year during a performance review, or once a year during an engagement survey. Feedback matters even after employees leave an organization and unofficially serve as alumni ambassadors for your brand. It matters because every employee has a unique journey that begins with a handshake and a contract that says, “We will do this for each other.” 

HR organizations that begin gathering evaluative feedback from employees during such milestones will gain valuable insights that leaders can use to better manage the workforce. An added benefit is that once in place, this feedback process can gain further traction as employees witness leaders responding to their feedback. This reinforces more open lines of communication, which is a recipe for future success. For every milestone along the  employee journey milestones, here are some sample evaluative questions that HR should be asking in order to enrich the information that is later provided to company leaders: 

Employee Journey Milestones Sample Evaluative Question 
Recruiting Would your employees recommend your organization to their professional network? 
Onboarding Do your onboarding processes achieve the cultural immersion and integration you need? 
Development Is your development process providing the right knowledge and skills to drive successful employee outcomes in meeting the needs of tomorrow?
Performance Management Is the performance management process identifying, recognizing, and rewarding talent? 
Engagement How much do you really know about your employees’ experiences? Are your efforts encouraging or destroying employee goodwill, motivation, and engagement? How often do you measure employee engagement? Once every two years? Annually? Bi-annually?
Promotion & Career Growth Are you identifying employees with strong potential and directing them toward leadership positions? Is your leadership pipeline full enough to meet resource planning goals?
Compensation & Benefits Is your compensation and benefits plan competitive? Is the plan sufficient to keep high-value employees engaged?
Retention Do you know what motivates your employees’ decisions to stay and grow with your organization, and what motivates them to seek opportunities elsewhere? Are you systematically collecting the data needed to analyze and improve the employee experience from hire to retire? 

Feedback matters because whatever the expression, it contributes to the roadmap aimed at improving the overall organization. By implementing a Continuous Listening strategy, we can begin to explore how to best address specific HR challenges. For that, stay tuned for the second piece in this series. 

 

Photo: Adi Goldstein

#WorkTrends: Why Companies Need to Value a Great Candidate Experience

Ever since the Talent Board started researching candidate experience, at least some employers have been paying more attention to improving the applicant’s journey. Applying to a company can unearth all sorts of issues — including what #WorkTrends guest Kevin W. Grossman calls the “black hole of candidate experience.” 

This was a tete-a-tete between two colleagues that insisted on keeping the conversation looking forward not back. To get out of the morasse of a bad candidate experience, companies are going to need to truly step up and place a higher premium on better CX — and we’re claiming that moniker to stand for all the candidates out there trying to connect with the employer of their dreams. 

Kevin, who’s a longtime TalentCulture Community friend and President and a Board Member of the Talent Board, dug into the Talent Board’s latest research report, including its good news: more candidates are happier about their experience overall and would be willing to increase their relationship with that brand, whether as an employee or a consumer (you can’t think of one without the other). But there was less-than-good news as well, including a vexing rise in the “resentment rate” — with candidates so disgruntled they don’t want anything to do with a brand anymore, whether it means applying to work there or using its products, or both. A big takeaway: in work, as in life, we really do put our money where our mindset is, and vice-versa.

Chief among common hiring infractions these days are the automated, generic, “sorry you’re not right for the position” messages, which are the wrong way to leverage technology, or not providing any responses at all — which Meghan noted was inexcusable for recruiters today. But the two focused on the positives, including brands getting it right, such as recent CandE award winners Walgreens and Kronos, and innovative ways employers are keeping the connection going with candidates. Frequent and well-considered communication, chatbots, feedback — it’s all good, they noted. And when it works, the value for companies goes well beyond a single happy hire.    

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe, so you don’t miss an episode..

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why are some employers failing at candidate experience?  #WorkTrends
Q2: What strategies can help organizations create a better candidate experience? #WorkTrends
Q3: How can leaders help their organizations value candidate experience? #WorkTrends

Find Kevin Grossman on Linkedin and Twitter

 

Photo: Obi Onyeador

Love Starts with Leadership

Around here we celebrate Valentine’s Day sentiments all the time. We tell each other how much we appreciate, cherish, are wowed by, awed by, impressed by, and value each other. It’s not in our culture deck (we don’t have one since we’re always flexing and morphing to grow and change with the world of work). It’s not in the rulebook and it’s not even in any of the job descriptions. It’s just in the ethos of TalentCulture. 

I’m showing you a glimpse of how we work to make a point: all that love? It’s up to me. Daily, I’m aware of a deep sense of responsibility: I founded this company, and it’s up to me to make sure we’re all feeling good about it and great about each other. It has to be that way: the people come first. And if we’re going to love each other it has to start with the leader. So, my lovelies, here’s the closest thing to a box of chocolates I can give you all: 4 tips on how to bring more love into the workspace, whatever shape that space takes:

Be emoji-ional

Consider your favorite brands, and then, if you would, reflect on a conversation you may have had via chat, or a text, or on a social media platform. I love that brand. I heart that brand. Or you may have dropped literal heart emojis on someone’s text recently to express your absolute affirmation for their observation or idea. 

Social media has made it stunningly easier to express our feelings in a lighter, more informal way — which is far more appropriate for the workplace than any written declarations, let’s face it. The more we blend social into our workspaces, the easier it is to spread that love around. 

Get inspired.

Going back through the amazing posts we’ve published on TalentCulture.com, I realized we’ve always been interested in love. So, dear readers, here’s some reading material. Love and its impact on the office has plenty of angles, including a new post by guest contributor Rebecca Shaw on a recent UK office romance study. The research uncovered a disquieting gap between how women and men perceive work entanglements — and puts the onus on HR to help equitably and safely untie the knots. 

A post on why engagement comes from the heart bears a re-visit, bringing up the value of emotional currency. Kevin Grossman, a longtime member of the TalentCulture family, wrote about the dance between love and money — and managed to bring prog-rock band Rush, AC/DC, Apple and Southwest Airlines under one “culture rocks” umbrella.  We tend to feel very emotional about our work — from colleagues to culture — and it helps to remember that this isn’t new, we’re just getting better, and smarter at dealing with it. 

Take a love inventory.

We do a lot of work with amazing HR tech innovators — and lately we’re covering a lot of ground on the subject of engagement and experience for both candidates and employees. A strategy that comes up again and again is actually asking your employees how they feel. Now that we have access to highly effective tools that can scale to needs and growth — such as surveys, check-ins, feedback and recognition platforms — there’s no excuse for ignoring your workforce’s emotional state of mind. Inaugurate a new campaign to find out how your people are doing, and that should include anyone on the workforce, from freelancers and independent workers to payroll employees to executives. We tend to overlook our own needs as much as anyone else’s, and leadership behavior models the behaviors that the workforce is going to adopt. 

Conduct surveys of employee/workforce sentiment  — short and sweet and frequent is better than long, arduous, and one-time. Include yourself and other leaders and high-level managers as well as the whole workforce. Use the data to reveal the realities of your work culture and workspaces, share it with the workforce, and then start taking action to remedy the weak spots. Transparency and action taken on feedback are definitely part of modern leadership’s love language. 

Practice emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence isn’t a new concept: it’s become a twenty-first century chestnut at this point. It has to do with how skillfully we manage our relationships and ourselves, and it’s been proven to correlate with our ability to perform. But I’m frequently struck but how far away from EQ we’ve gotten. Like many concepts that make a splash and send ripples through the HR field, EQ’s novelty has receded. A great piece in Inc. by Wanda Thibodeax introduces its close “cousins,” cognitive intelligence, success intelligences, and cultural intelligence (CQ). 

But EQ is just as important as ever. When we talk about using tact to deliver un-great news to job applicants, that’s EQ: and it’s akin to letting a suitor down easy because, well, they’re human. When I wrote about the power of some leaders to reach their people, one of the key factors is emotional intelligence — though these days, I’d gather other traits, such as kindness, honesty, respect, letting go and partnering as all part of being emotionally intelligent. Evolution is consolidation in this case, and we’ve come far since that piece first appeared, though with over 700,000 views by now, it’s clearly still hitting a sweet spot. To be perfectly honest, that makes me happy.

The bottom line — to feel love you have to bring the love yourself. It that means you spend a bit more time practicing some much-needed self-care, then do it. Get that box of chocolates, do the yoga class, plan the marathon training, go on vacation, take time to do something good for the planet, or volunteer. Whatever works. It’s your job to make everyone else feel good about themselves and the value they bring to your organization — and that means you need to feel good about yourself and your value as well. Go get yourself a Valentine-y card, then get everyone cards too, and watch the love start to catch on. 

Photo: Miguel A. Amutio

#WorkTrends: Acing the Metrics: Reading the Data on Engagement

Sometimes a #WorkTrends episode answers a trending question so clearly it’s as if we never have to ask the question again. That’s what happened when Meghan M. Biro sat down with Leila Zayed of Best Companies Group to talk about measuring engagement. The January 31, 2020, #WorkTrends podcast quickly went from whether or not we should measure engagement to the best strategies and benchmarks for understanding your workforce like never before. 

Leila works with companies of all shapes, sizes and industries to survey their employees on engagement, and pointed out that you can’t tell if your employees are engaged if you don’t know what engagement is — and once you know what it is, you can’t find out if you’ve got it if you don’t know how to take measurements. Engagement, Meghan and Leila agreed, has to do with not only being satisfied with your employer, but really looking forward to going to work — with having a sense of meaning, purpose, and pride. “They feel you’ve created an environment where they can do their best, they’re willing to give extra efforts to see you succeed, and they plan on staying a while,” Leila added. Another sign of engagement they both agreed on: employees will recommend your brand to a loved one.

Meghan noted that Leila’s approach — measuring two sets of demographics — made far more sense than an all-in-one-bucket approach. Personal demographics include our individual identities and perspectives; workplace demographics are out of employees’ control, like department, brand and locations. The question came up about whether small companies can survey engagement effectively: “Talk to us about how this approach can work for organizations of any size,” Meghan said. 

Actually, Leila offered, it can, even with a company of 15 employees. 

Whatever the size, she said, the key is going outside your own company to compare yourself to other companies in the industry — or you won’t really know how you’re doing. And the more companies doing these engagement surveys, the more data we’re getting, and the more specific the benchmarks get. 

Listen to the full conversation and see our questions for the upcoming #WorkTrends Twitter Chat. And don’t forget to subscribe, so you don’t miss an episode. 

Twitter Chat Questions

Q1: Why aren’t we better at measuring engagement? #WorkTrends
Q2: What measurements work for assessing engagement? #WorkTrends
Q3: What strategies can help organizations better measure engagement? #WorkTrends

Find Leila Zayed on Linkedin and Twitter

Photo: Jakob Owens

#WorkTrends: The Empathy Gap

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts, joined host Meghan M. Biro for the January 17, 2020 #WorkTrends podcast. The topic:  Disasters of the workplace kind.

Dr. Tsipursky is a consultant, cognitive neuroscientist and expert on behavioral economics. Noting that we’re still suffering from an epidemic of disengagement, he pointed to one glaring omission in workplace culture: empathy. Empathy is critical to a successful workforce, Meghan agreed — while noting that disengagement is absolutely a disaster in the workplace.

Gleb’s take on the lack of empathy is that it stems from something deep-seated in all of us: cognitive bias.

“The empathy gap is one of the biggest cognitive biases out there and one of the worst causes of employee disengagement,” he said, noting that research shows that 80% to 90% of our decisions are determined by our emotions. “But if you look at HR material, if you look at internal communication, it’s very rational, very logical.”

Meghan concurred. “Why are HR leaders not able to deal with employee emotions in an effective way? Where’s this disconnect?” she asked.

Gleb said that two disconnects are at work:
First, the false perception that work doesn’t involve emotions and the workplace isn’t a place for feelings. And second, there’s general discomfort among many of us in dealing with emotions.

“There’s no ’emotional unit,'” He explained. “Even though emotions are incredibly important, HR professionals aren’t comfortable with things they can’t quantify.”

Gleb recounted some examples he’s encountered as a consultant where focusing on emotions makes a key difference in performance as well as engagement. “Even engineers have emotions,” he joked. But it’s a good point. There’s a lot we can all do to improve how we deal with the “feeling” side of work life. Ultimately, that’s how we’ll all get more work done.  

Listen to the full conversation. And don’t forget to subscribe to the #WorkTrends podcast, so you don’t miss an episode!

Key takeaway: [05:16] Even though emotions are incredibly important, HR professionals aren’t comfortable with things they can’t quantify.

Find Gleb Tsipursky on Linkedin and Twitter

 

#WorkTrends: Why Employee Engagement is a Joke

Mark Babbitt, President of WorqIQ, joined #WorkTrends host Meghan M. Biro on January 10, 2020 to discuss key issues surrounding employee engagement.

Meghan introduced the topic by noting that only half of all employees feel like they have a career. Mark expanded on this fact, suggesting that we’ve turned employee engagement from a good idea into a joke because engagement levels remain the same as they were in the 1980s. “With eight million blog posts and hundreds of experts on this subject, why have we not fixed anything?” he asked.

Mark is a colleague of Meghan’s and a longtime friend of TalentCulture. He’s also the president of WorqIQ, a community and change management consultancy, and CEO and founder of YouTern, a career site for college students and young professionals.

Mark’s upcoming book is Good Comes First: How Companies Can Create an Uncompromising Company Culture in a Confrontational World. And he’s one of Inc.’s Top 100 Leadership Speakers. Which means he’s been tracking the story of employee engagement for a long time.

“The data proves that employee engagement is a myth,” he said. “We have spent 30-plus years discussing this. Organizations and governments have spent billions of dollars on ’employee engagement’ and we have had zero impact. Every poll out there tells us that we haven’t moved the needle one bit. That employees are either disengaged or actively disengaged.” The two set-out to uncover what might actually undo the impasse. What they found is changing the game entirely.

Random Acts of Leadership

The problem is that we can’t manipulate engagement, Mark said, “Engagement is a human process.” Meghan suggested a shift to thinking about experience — so long as it’s really about people. True, Mark noted. Experience has to be a factor from the employee’s perspective. Without being able to determine and report their own experience and weigh-in on the impact of leadership, organizational values, benefits and more, an employee has no voice. This means employee/employer relationship isn’t really a mutually beneficial relationship, it’s really only unilateral management. 

What would shift the balance? “Random Acts of Leadership,” as Mark puts it. In other words, leaders actually need to walk up to employees and ask real questions, like “What are you working on today? How can I help? What resources can I push in your direction? What are your obstacles to success?” Conversations like this move the needle far more than any tools, he said. Also it helps when leaders sit down for a cup of coffee with people in intimate settings. It’s important to be real and be human.

Workplace Intelligence

Beyond simply improving employee experience, it’s important to achieve workplace intelligence, according to Mark. But Meghan cautioned, “Let’s just make sure it’s not just another buzzword.” Mark agreed, and explained that it’s a tangible stack of 5 workplace factors:

  • The most dominant leadership style that people deal with every day
  • The organization’s culture and climate
  • Purpose-driven performance
  • Employee engagement/experience, but entirely redefined
  • A sense of community

All of these define a workplace that attracts people, Mark said. “When I go to work today I feel like this is where I belong.”

Next, Meghan asked Mark to share his predictions on the future of work — a signature question on #WorkTrends — he got serious. He said he things the future depends on a new breed of leader: More compassionate, less command-and-control.

“Leaders will realize that employees recognize the need to take time for ourselves, our children, our elderly parents. It’s going to be so retro that it will almost seem revolutionary.”

Listen to the full conversation. And don’t forget to subscribe to the #WorkTrends podcast series so you don’t miss an episode!

Transcript Excerpt:

[04:34} They didn’t have leaders that cared. They didn’t build mutually beneficial relationships with employees. They just started manipulating. They got this little software program that said, “Oh it’s Becky’s five year anniversary. Go say congratulations.”

Mark Babbitt on Linkedin and Twitter

Photo: Kobu Agency

The Key to Engaging New Hires: Psychological Safety

For those of us who are students of engagement and team-building, we know how key trust, communication and leadership are. But when Google ran two-year study into what makes teams successful, it unlocked a surprising key to high performance and fertile collaboration. Dubbed Project Aristotle, the presented five key factors of great teams: psychological safety, dependability, structure and clarity, meaning, and impact. Of all of them, the most fundamental turned out to be psychological safety.

Much has been made of each of the five factors — and certainly it’s no surprise that they all go into team success: they connect to all the values we associate with a high-functioning workplace, whether we use different terms or not. But psychological safety carries even more weight. Even among the cream-of-the-crop kind of hires that make it into Google, it mattered more than anything else. 

The professor who invented the term psychological safety is Amy Edmondson of the Harvard Business School — and even she was surprised by the results. “If you had asked me would psychological safety have been the big predictor of team performance at Google, I would’ve said, I don’t think so,” she noted in a recent podcast with HBR. “All those folks are going to be pretty able to take care of themselves, right? They’ve been told their whole life that they’re really smart,” she noted. 

But in the workplace, we need to feel safe about taking risks. We need to know that if we raise questions or concerns, speak up, offer our own ideas, or make mistakes, we won’t be punished or shamed for it: we’re safe. And you won’t be able to spark any kind of innovation or out-of-the-box thinking if your people don’t feel safe. That goes double for new hires — who are going to pick up on the workplace culture around them and follow the lead of their new colleagues. 

There’s no technology that results in psychological safety in this case, though there are plenty of apps and digital tools that can help support it. But this one comes down to how you shape and maintain your workplace culture. It’s not simply a matter of step by step on this one either: there’s a hearts and minds aspect to maintain as an emotional thru-line. But there are some key bases to cover as you create psychological safety in your own workplace:

Start With Day One

New hires usually walk in raring to go, and may be brimming with ideas and filled with questions. It’s incumbent on your managers to make sure those ideas and those questions are neither rebuffed nor ignored. Keep lines of communication open, whether remote or on-site, and establish a policy of frequent check-ins and welcoming input from Day One. First impressions count.

Get Leadership Aligned

The fact that Google’s own high-input, high-energy teams stressed the need for psychological safety points to leadership’s influence: in a place filled with ambitious employees, team and project leaders play a pivotal role in harnessing that ambition or inhibiting it. Leaders need to work to make sure teams are thriving individual by individual, or engagement – and performance — are going to suffer. But they also need to transmit balance and composure: during inevitable times of stress, it’s how leaders react that sets the tone for everyone — and new hires in particular are a sponge. Stay calm, stay positive, and stay clear — if at all possible. Your teams will pick up on that.  

Make Conversation

Managers bear much of the responsibility for the level of conversation among their teams — and discussion is vital to solid team-building. Here’s too, there are lines that should not be crossed: a new hire’s attempt to articulate a concern needs to be carefully listened to and respectfully responded to A meeting in which no one talks but the facilitator is deadly — meetings should be seized as an opportunity for energized discussion and exchange of ideas. Nothing does more for a team than being able to collaborate to solve problems or provide support for each other. Build time and space into the day to day for simply getting the chance to talk. 

Follow Through and Follow Up

Relationships are forged on a continuous cycle of exchanges and communications. As in the recruiting sphere, not responding to someone’s question, text, email or ping can have risks that go far beyond just a day of being out of touch. Newer hires, particularly younger millennials and Gen Z, are used to the immediacy of texts and social media; a delayed response from a supervisor, for instance, may be interpreted as ghosting, which may in turn be loaded with emotional implications. Psychological safety is defined as “a climate in which people are comfortable being (and expressing) themselves.” No one is going to stay comfortable if ideas are shared with no response. Managers and leaders need to make follow-through and follow-up a priority. Tools like Slack and other digital chat channels can help.

Encourage Controlled Risk-Taking

It’s not always possible to let your newest hires go out on a limb, but if you can provide that experience in a controlled setting, do so. Adrenaline and innovation can go hand in hand — and not just in the tech sector. The “Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast” approach (credit to Tom Peters for that chestnut) is something everyone in your organization should understand. The more opportunity for controlled risks that result in encouragement, not rejection, the better. The courage to take risks should be part of your workplace culture and viewed as part of a continuing commitment to develop your talent.

Google’s research upended the oft-shared assumption that it’s hard skills and a charismatic leader that push the envelope when it comes to performance. It’s also a reminder that there’s a business case to be made for psychological safety. Toxic workplace cultures have driven 20% of U.S. employees out of their jobs in the past five years. Further, when employees feel psychologically safe at work, there’s a 154% increase in the incidence of great work, and a full 33% decrease in the incidence of moderate to severe burnout. But the key to fully integrating psychological safety into your workplace culture is to make it normal — no one should be surprised that they trust leadership and each other, feel valued, and can safely express themselves. That should be the given.

Photo: Jopwell 

 

 

#WorkTrends: Limitless: A New Framework for Employee Engagement

When Laura Gassner Otting was working as an executive recruiter, she had a revelation: success does not always equal happiness. Over time, she’s come to see that the people who are happiest in their jobs have achieved what she calls “consonance.”

“It’s people who have carved their own path, who have figured out, ‘This is the one that I really want to do,’” she says.

But getting to a place of consonance requires rethinking how we approach employee engagement. So we sat down with Gassner Otting to discuss the relationship between employee engagement and career satisfaction. Her new book, “Limitless: How to Ignore Everybody, Carve your Own Path, and Live Your Best Life” is a great place to start.

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.

The Stats Behind Engagement

It’s a no-brainer to say that employe engagement is important. If your employees aren’t engaged … well, you might not have a company after a while.

The reality is that engagement is a serious crisis in the workplace. “There was a Gallup study that was done a few years ago that said that only one-third of U.S. workers are engaged in their work,” Gassner Otting says. Statistics further bear out that engaged workers are 22 percent more effective for the companies they work for — hence, the need to devote organizational resources to engagement.

However, Gassner Otting reminds us that there is no magic formula to engagement — not even for the same employee. Our identities do not remain static over time. As we get older, we change, and we prioritize different things. We get married, have kids, and sometimes throw a bit too much of our savings account into a grab bag of mid-life crisis hobbies.

Managers must ensure they are getting to know each employee on an individual level. Creating these relationships is essential to knowing what a person cares about individually, engaging them to do their best work, and helping employees find consonance.

The Four C’s

Consonance is almost a feeling of zen with one’s work — what Gassner Otting calls “being in this frictionless sense of belonging.”

Achieving consonance is not as difficult as it might sound. Gassner Otting has created a framework that breaks down consonance into four categories. “They all very conveniently start with C,” she jokes.

  • Calling
      Calling is your sense of purpose — what drives you. “It can be a family that you want to raise,” says Gassner Otting. “It can be a societal ill that you want to solve.” People all have different callings, she explains, but we do have one thing in common: “We all have that thing.”
  • Connection
    • “Connection is really the answer to the question of ‘Why do I matter? Why does my work matter?’ ” she says. Find your place in your company’s organizational chart, and understand why you matter.
  • Contribution
    • “While connection is all about the work, contribution is really about you, individually,” Gassner Otting explains. Figure out how you want your work to contribute to your community and the values you want to manifest with it.
  • Control
      Control is the act of self-assertion — finding out how much control you need over the other three C’s to achieve your personal idea of success and happiness. “For each one of us, that’s going to be very different,” she says.

Engage Yourself!

None of us can depend on our managers to keep us engaged. It’s also our responsibility to check in with ourselves and assess our satisfaction with our work life.

That’s why Gassner Otting has created a quiz exclusively for #WorkTrends listeners. It only takes ten or fifteen minutes, and the quiz will help you think about what work means to you — and if your career is fulfilling you on a level that goes beyond the direct deposits into your bank account.

Best of all? At the end of the quiz, you’ll receive feedback on how you can bring consonance to your own life.

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

This episode of WorkTrends is supported by the CHRO Exchange, an exclusive networking event for HR executives and thought-leaders. Share insights, benchmark strategies, and learn from the Heads of HR at Walmart, Verizon, the Atlanta Braves, and more, all at the 11th CHRO Exchange taking place in Austin, Texas. May 19 through the 21. Reserve your spot and learn more here.

#WorkTrends: What Will Change at Work in 2019?

Happy New Year! I hope that your holidays provided you the recharge you needed to get 2019 off to a great start.

It’s the “new” in “new year” that we’re talking about this week on #WorkTrends. We’re all wondering how 2019 is going to be different from 2018, and I’m not talking about the new coffee machine your boss has surprised you with.

marylene delbourg delphisThis week we speak with Marylene Delbourg-Delphis, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and the author of “Everybody Wants to Love Their Job,” about how work is going to change in 2019. Her answer? It’s not going to — unless you do something about it.

It wasn’t the answer I was expecting, but our conversation was a powerful reminder that the future of work isn’t defined by our fancy tools; it’s defined by the people who use them.

Listen to the full conversation or read the recap below. Subscribe so you never miss an episode.

So What’s the Future of Work?

The way Delbourg-Delphis sees it, the future of work comes down to one word: automation. And while that word itself can scare people, she doesn’t see things in such apocalyptic terms. “Many jobs can be mapped onto new jobs. So the future is not doomsday,” she says.

Of course, there’s another change coming as well. Baby boomers are aging out of the workplace, and millennials have taken their place as the largest cohort, with Generation Z not too far behind. Soon the workplace will be filled with young, techno-savvy whippersnappers who can’t imagine life without smartphones and hashtags. The office will never look the same.

Or will it?

Change Isn’t a Given

Assuming that work itself will magically transform because of technology and generational change is a mistake, Delbourg-Delphis says. She admits that sounds counter-intuitive. “It’s logical to believe that [work] will change,” she says. “Digital transformation is already here for us as consumers.” But she says there’s something standing in the way of true change at work: the way things have always been done. “We should not underestimate the status quo,” Delbourg-Delphis says.

The status quo, she notes, has little to do with workplace demographics, because the issue is structural. Despite the fact that the U.S. has transitioned to a service economy, organizations still operate on a hierarchical model that dates back to an industrial economy. This model can isolate leaders from their employees, and it can lead to stale thinking that discourages innovation and disruption.

To Delbourg-Delphis, change has only one source. “Companies don’t innovate,” she says. “People do.”

The Key to Change

What companies must do, Delbourg-Delphis says, is think about their employees’ engagement — and make sure they love their jobs. It sounds like common sense, but the stakes are quite high. Delbourg-Delphis’ research shows that if employees are unhappy, productivity drops by 30 percent.

She says engagement has three categories. Maintaining these, she believes, is essential to creating an organization that is both positive and dynamic.

The first is personal engagement. Making sure employees are motivated is about more than just giving them prime desk space. “It’s very important for employees to have skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy and feedback,” she says. Failure to give employees any of these risks alienating them from the organization.

Second is interpersonal engagement, or team engagement. Employees often work in teams, and part of the way employees define their roles at an organization is by their interactions with peers. Clear lines of communication within a team, as well as with other teams, is paramount to creating the respect and trust employees need to feel toward one another.

Finally, there’s collective and societal engagement. You may know this by another term — culture — but Delbourg-Delphis defines culture differently than others do. Culture, she says, has nothing to do with a company’s so-called values. In fact, culture has little to do with management at all. “A culture,” she explains, “is what employees feel.” If employees aren’t free to express their emotions, a company’s culture can quickly turn toxic.

The Growing Role of HR

If people are key to driving innovation and change across an organization, then there’s perhaps no greater piece to ensuring transformation than HR, she says. “In the future I see a much, much bigger role for HR,” Delbourg-Delphis says. “HR should be in charge of the health of the human infrastructure just as the CTO is in charge of the technology infrastructure. They are the human infrastructure designers.”

This means that the key to driving innovation across an organization is for HR to ensure that employees are both happy and productive. So while your fancy new enterprise software may be great, HR should be ensuring that these tools are put to use in ways that enhance the three categories of employee engagement. Making sure these tools bring employees closer to the organization is key to driving success.

But HR also needs to remember that it has a responsibility to grow and challenge itself. Delbourg-Delphis says the most important skill an HR practitioner can have now is “an endless ability to learn.” She suggests delving into organizational psychology. “Academia has created a phenomenal body of research that we can leverage literally every day,” she says.

As we’ve discussed, the stakes are high. Keeping your employees happy is about more than just a pleasant workplace. It’s the key to driving change itself. It’s a fascinating, practical way to think about a word we often define far too loosely, and maybe it’s a New Year’s resolution for all of us in HR.

Resources Mentioned in This Episode

5 Employee Engagement Stats You Might Not Be Measuring

Employers know they need to be measuring and managing employee engagement. Engaged employees are more likely to stay with the organization and work hard to excel, so being able to drive engagement means better retention and outcomes. What you measure will depend on your goals and the tools you use, but casting a wide net can help uncover insights you might not have expected.

“Engagement levels will continually fluctuate with changes in the business cycle or industry, so it’s important to measure employee engagement over time to identify trends and patterns,” says Laurie Zaucha, vice president of human resources and organizational development for Paychex, Inc. Here are some of the stats you might not be measuring.

Negative Metrics

It can be uncomfortable to zoom in on what’s not going right at your organization, but understanding poor performance can shed some light on bottlenecks or barriers. Tracking statistics such as voluntary turnover rates, sick leaves and absences can be eye-opening.

“Employers should know why their employees are leaving their company, not only because it’s costly, but because its shows at some point the employee no longer is engaged with their work or the workplace,” says Katy Roby, marketing manager at Arcusys, which works on employee engagement. Correlating this information with other engagement data can identify underlying issues.

Bottom Line Results

Customer-satisfaction scores and overall business results can be combined with survey results to show a holistic view of the workforce, Zaucha says. Over time, you’ll be able to determine the engagement factors that drive business performance, so look for ways to connect the two. A strong tech platform can help you integrate this data with other survey results to get a full picture of what’s driving engagement at your company, Zaucha says.

Employee Experience

Big-picture questions about whether employees are “satisfied” are helpful for overall engagement, but digging into their day-to-day lives can help explain numbers that might seem like outliers at first glance.

“People want to do great work, and if we are making it difficult for them to do so, of course they are going to be less than engaged,” says Rick Lozano, a talent-development expert. He recommends asking whether employees feel they can do their work: “Dealing with red tape and feeling like your hands are tied at work is a major demotivator.”

Employee Intentions

Asking employees about their behaviors can give insights into how they feel. At Energage, a company that studies workplace culture and engagement, engagement is defined as individual passion working toward shared success. “Indicators of that individual passion include commitment, motivation and referrals,” says CEO Doug Claffey. “It’s important to find out from your people if they intend to stay, if they’re giving their best, and if they’d recommend working at your company.”

Trust

The most important attributes in business are those that support individual and team innovation, as well as ownership of the job, says Carole Stovall, president of SLS Global, a management-psychologist firm. “These are highlighted by transparent and predictable trust, communication, accountability and opportunities for growth and partnership throughout the organization,” she says. Without them, employees will not engage and will be open to going elsewhere, she says.

4 Ways to Encourage Active, Healthy Teams in Winter

The beginning of 2018 has brought with it record cold and extreme snowfall in many parts of the country, making some workers feel like they’ve entered a new ice age. Despite workers having to deal with snow-caked sidewalks and frigid mornings, work must go on.

Outside the tangible obstacles of winter, an employee’s ability to cope with the “winter blues” is another issue. In fact, it was recently reported that 28 percent of British workers skip lunch during the winter to avoid the outdoors, despite most workers claiming that forgoing outdoor time negatively impacts not only their mood, but also their health. This practice can lead to decreased productivity, kicking off a vicious cycle of downtime and disengagement.

To help employees break the inactivity cycle of winter and overcome the winter blues, leaders need to think of ways to encourage movement in their people, transforming an icy situation into a bright and rich opportunity.

While leaders may not be able to maximize the benefits of cold-weather workouts for their employees (you certainly can’t force people to go for an outdoor jog), there are a few simple ways you can encourage movement and increase physical activity right in the office.

Set Up Centralized Trash Cans and Printing

Think twice about where you set up commonly used items like trash cans and printers. The decision could be an opportunity to get people moving. Think about it: You wouldn’t station a coffee pot at every worker’s desk, so why have 20 trash cans in 20 different places?

In addition to making people walk a little to throw things away, centralizing trash cans helps cut down on maintenance costs by not having to supply and empty numerous bins. Likewise, having a single printing center streamlines maintenance while encouraging movement and workplace interactions — a benefit to the body and the soul. As a bonus, these changes declutter the workspace and aren’t that difficult to implement.

Keep the Water Flowing

Water is, of course, integral to any fitness plan, and proper hydration is important for maintaining a positive mood and promoting higher energy levels. Water coolers, like trash cans and printers, should be placed in a common location. But beyond centralization, office water stations have an added benefit in terms of encouraging movement. Good hydration increases the cadence of restroom breaks, which gets people out of their chairs even more.

Use Walking Meetings

While the sedentary statue of Rodin’s “The Thinker” is an iconic figure, movement actually helps the brain work better than hours of sitting. Thus, curbing the dreaded rambling meeting (something about sinking into chairs seems to anchor people in that mode) should be a top priority. Stand-up meetings are a good step in the right direction, but taking it a step further — literally — means that you can cover the necessary ground while remaining succinct and precise.

Walking meetings, in which teams stroll around the office to discuss business, provide a major emotional boost and drive enlivened and creative thinking. Plus, these meetings can be done even during a blizzard, leaving workers feeling energized when they return to their workspaces to implement the ideas discussed.

Lead by Example

Employees look to leadership to set the mood and culture of the organization, and that’s just as true for the culture of physical activity at your workplace. Beyond the strategies mentioned above for promoting an active workspace, you can tailor the culture of your organization around activity.

Set up company walking clubs or stair clubs and be a proud member, take part in any health screenings or flu shots, make exercise convenient by allocating workout time throughout the day, or challenge your colleagues to report their personal bests for daily steps taken by using pedometers. These practices can all be undertaken in the spirit of camaraderie, and they’re a great way to not only encourage physical activity, but also to foster team dynamics.

Winter isn’t a time for business stagnation, so why should it be a time for employee stagnation? By centralizing essential items, promoting good hydration and physical engagement, and leading actively, you can cultivate an active workspace that staves off the cold weather slump while increasing productivity and morale. Winter can be an exciting start to the new year, so step up and get your people going.

Share the Score to Truly Engage Your Employees

Today, I want to talk employee engagement, what it really looks like, and why a scorecard is such an important part of the engagement process. Employee engagement has received considerable attention in the past few years, particularly because research shows that engagement leads to increased performance, retention, and customer satisfaction. Unfortunately, only 51 percent of U.S. employees are engaged at work. There is a major need to make a change, but understanding what engagement is and how to achieve it isn’t always clear.

Let’s start by understanding what engagement is. Engagement is defined as “being present at a particular time and place.” In today’s highly connected, fast-paced world, our staff can easily become distracted or disengaged at work. This requires managers to take a proactive approach to helping staff be present at work. To do so, employees must be actively involved in understanding and working on the business—not just in it.

Unfortunately, most managers, executives, and owners seem determined to keep their employees on the outside looking in. They neglect to realize that there cannot be engagement without involvement from your employees. “Good leaders make people feel that they’re at the heart of things, not at the periphery,” organizational consultant Warren Bennis writes. “Everyone in the organization feels that he or she can make a difference to the success of the organization. When that happens, people feel centered, and that gives their work meaning.”

Involve employees by defining and communicating your company’s objectives so everyone knows they should be working towards. Align individual and departmental goals with the company’s objectives so everyone’s efforts are going in the right direction. Next, ensure each of the objectives has measurements or scores that can be reviewed regularly.

Company Scorecard

Once company objectives and measurements have been defined, managers must share those scores and give feedback. One of the best ways to do so is by creating a company scorecard that is easy to read and easy to understand. Here’s an example:

Department Scorecard

Once your company scorecard is set, you can then drill down into a department scorecard that is more relevant to your immediate staff. Here’s an example:

Individual Scorecard

You can use this format to create an individual scorecard for every employee to highlight key objectives related to the department and company goals. An individual scorecard is a great tool for individual accountability.

Update and review the scorecards each month. Ensure the scorecard is posted in an easy-to-access place, available both in soft and hard format.

Share the Scores

Technology is making it easier to create strategies, share results, and keep everyone aligned and working toward a shared vision. There are several technology companies such as Cascade, Envisio, and OnStrategy that provide software that aligns the elements of individual and company goals and the supporting action and achievement plans across a company. Whatever method you choose, it’s important to share scores with all employees.

When employees know the scores, they’re aware of overall company performance and can have focused conversations and communication about achievements, concerns and required improvements. Remember to share the results, no matter if they’re good, bad, or ugly. This is a critical step in creating a culture of accountability.

Individuals and departments must know how they personally and collectively affect the company scorecard. They must know how to make the adjustments needed to reach objectives. Some departments will have more impact to drive revenues, help customers, or manage expenses. Once everyone understands their purpose and contribution, managers can then engage their people to improve company scores, which is where I believe true engagement occurs.

Make sure your employees know your objectives, understand scores, and are working on a plan to improve. This is what engagement really is: employees being present, understanding how their efforts make a difference, and knowing their purpose in your company.

Thanks for reading. Don’t forget to check out my book, Culture Hacker, available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Also check out Season 2 of the Culture Hacker Podcast, available on SoundCloud and iTunes.