Tag Archive for leadership

Using Employee Feedback to Drive Breakthroughs

guy at concert .. armsLast week I teamed up with the folks at ClearPicture to present a webinar on “Using Employee Feedback for Business Improvement.”  As we were speaking to an HR audience we focused on what many in human resources are familiar with – gathering employee feedback as part of an employee engagement survey.

We who work in the HR sphere can scarcely turn around without hearing, reading and talking about employee engagement yet even though we discuss this topic ad nauseum we still struggle to come up with a common definition ourselves; for purposes of the webinar we opted to use a definition from author Kevin Kruse “Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.”

While we used the employee engagement survey as an example our webinar was not about engagement. Rather we talked about how HR professionals should approach any feedback process with a goal of gaining insight that can lead to business breakthroughs. Desired results are organization specific of course and will depend upon one’s industry, customers and organizational strategies.  Organizational goals often include revenue growth or cost-savings but could just as easily be superior project performance, better decisions or even, for government entities or non-profits, how to solve problems that concern citizens/constituents.

Our goal as presenters was to ensure that HR professionals view an employee feedback process in a holistic and enterprise-wide way – whether they have 200, 2,000 or 20,000 employees.

Five Step Process

Clarifying the purpose – At this stage it’s important to set the context and clarify the purpose for gathering feedback.  Answer the when, why and for what reason questions at the outset; include the compelling needs for gathering the data and explain how those needs are tied to organizational goals.

Gathering feedback – Determining the manner in which feedback will be gathered is critical in order to meet the needs of the audience. Several things come into play at this stage including determining the mix/types of questions (i.e., open-ended vs. closed-ended) as well as encouraging employee participation by thinking ‘like a marketer’ – crafting the right message and going to where the employee audience gathers which may include mobile, social or via some sort of gamified technology.

Analyzing the data – For the most part HR practitioners are not trained statisticians but they must put on their statistician hat (or work with someone who can assist them) at this stage in order to accurately review quantitiave vs. qualitative data and also to ensure they don’t fall into traps around causation or correlation or making invalid comparisons between seemingly related pieces of information.

Correlating the data – Remember how we talked about this feedback process having an enterprise-wide focus?  This is the stage where it truly becomes one. HR professionals should look beyond their traditional sources of HR data (HRIS, ATS, LMS, etc.) and link not just HR data and the feedback data but also see how data gathered from other parts of the business fits into the whole.  Questions to ask may be: What are the sales numbers for the company and how does that match up to the organizational hierarchy? What about customer or service trends?  How is shipping of product handled?  Do we have a call center where number of calls per day, customer satisfaction and time-spent-on-calls is tracked?  HR practitioners know that in those functional areas the leaders are tracking it all and now is the perfect opportunity to dive into the human/people elements related to these business operations.

Taking action – The biggest complaint from employees is that whenever feedback is asked for nothing is ever done so this final step is where communication should go into hyper drive.  While taking action includes setting goals, monitoring progress and holding people accountable it also includes ensuring that employees get answers to:

  • “what do we (leaders) know now that we didn’t know before” and, most importantly
  • “Who will be responsible?  When will it happen?  How will we monitor it?  WHO will do WHAT by WHEN?”

Three Key Items

Throughout any feedback process (such as an employee engagement survey) it’s important to:

  1. Have a purpose that is aligned with organizational strategy
  2. Communicate and clarify
  3. Take action by following through and following up

You can check out the presentation slides here. As an HR professional you can guide and influence organizational leaders in meaningful ways that can lead to successful business outcomes, improvements and breakthroughs.

How to Lose an Employee in 3 Easy Steps

Steps2One of the key indicators we often review both in the overall labor market and within our organization is employee tenure and retention.

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median employee tenure was 4.6 years in 2012 which has trended up since 2000 when it was 3.5 years.  The BLS points out that one of the factors in this is the overall aging of the workforce; over half of workers age 55 to 64 and those age 65 and over had 10 years or more of tenure in 2012, compared with less than 1 in 10 workers age 25 to 34.” 

 A few other interesting items from the report:

  • Mothers with young children have lower tenure than those with older children
  • Employee tenure varies by race and ethnicity; a higher proportion of white workers had at least 10 years of tenure with current employer than did Black, Asian and Hispanic workers
  • Workers with more education (age 25 and older) have higher tenure than those with less education

Now that doesn’t all sound so bad, does it?

Yet…other reports point out that as the job market has picked up, workers are abandoning the concept of extending their tenure with a job and moving at somewhat alarming rates; for employers at least.  This report that PayScale released last year showed that among Fortune 500 companies, the median tenure rate appeared to vary considerably from the data reported by the BLS; Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, with highest turnover rate, had a median employee tenure of 9 months and less than 10 companies on the list had a median tenure of 10 years or more.

Apples and oranges to some degree; the data collection methods were quite different.

But…there’s no denying that we like to gather these data points when we work in HR or run a business.  We invest a lot of time and money into hiring members for the team and find it quite disconcerting when they make an exit before we’ve even had the opportunity to derive much value from their employment.

People leave jobs and organizations for a variety of reasons. While I disagree with PayScale’s classification of tenure as an indicator of ‘loyalty” there are elements inherent in the concept that lead to employee’s seeking opportunities elsewhere.  And in many of these cases the ‘losing of an employee” is often because the employer/manager/organization screwed up by:

  • Disregarding an obvious style mismatch.   Call it fit.  Call it motivation.  Call it personality.  Whatever the moniker, hiring managers know it when they are interviewing correctly; a candidate’s work style, demeanor or motivational factors are not in sync with the job or organization yet the hiring manager proceeds with extending the offer.  A good pedigree on paper or a recommendation/referral from a respected peer does not mean that the candidate in question is the wisest hire and the mismatch may be so great that the employee’s tenure will be short-lived.
  • Hovering and micromanaging.  Management styles vary as do employee styles but, by and large, a highly skilled employee expects to be hired for her abilities and knowledge and allowed to do her job.  Hire the best and get out of the way, right?  Yet some managers still attempt to command and control which messages to an employee that she is a mere peon who is not trusted to do her job.  And she will leave.
  • Refusing to provide career development opportunities.  Providing growth opportunities for employees is of benefit to both the organization and the individual employee; it allows for optimization of performance and prepares the employee to take on broader responsibilities.  And, naturally, highly skilled and talented employees expect to be able to continue their professional development.  Denying employees the opportunity to join professional organizations, learn new skills or gain continuing education credits (to name just a few) often leads to an employee leaving Organization A for Organization B where learning and development is not only supported but expected.

I think we can all agree there are more than 3 steps.  Have you trod on any others? 

Death to the Executive Washroom

outhouseHave you taken a trip to a school lately – grammar school, high school, university?  If so you’ve probably noticed the continuing tradition of labeling parking spots for a select few employees (Principal, Assistant Principal, 2nd Assistant Principal, etc).

This is true at a number of corporate organizations as well; the C-Suite folks get reserved parking spots right by the door while Joe and Sally lunch-bucket must park several blocks away between a 10’ x 10’ dumpster and an alley where shady transactions occur between un-showered people of indeterminate genders. Meanwhile, Bill the CFO doesn’t have to get a splash of rainwater on his shiny oxfords as he meanders into the building from his parking spot 10 feet from the door.

There’s collective indignation when we read about the lavish executive perks that have long been a mainstay of gilded boardrooms – chauffeured cars, private jets, a suite at the local ballpark.  For decades corporate boards have reminded us that many of these things are necessary to attract and retain senior executives although nowadays it does appear as if some compensation committees are taking a tighter look at pay/perk packages being offered.  And so we applaud and say “well at least they understand the moral outrage from those of us here in the 99%.”

In reality though many of us come face-to-face with social stratification perks that exist in our own organizations everyday.  Our egalitarian, flattened hierarchy, “we’re all in this together” companies continue to subtly differentiate between classes of employees and thus send signals that are quite often in conflict with their stated feel-good values about teamwork, openness and a belief that “every employee is as valuable as the next.”  Executives rule from the top floor with its mahogany lined halls and plush carpeting, VPs get offices, and everyone else finds themselves relegated to a cubicle.  Managers and directors have slightly larger cubicles with higher walls although, naturally, directors have a few more feet of cubicle space as befits their loftier title.

The mailroom and purchasing department staffers, down on the lowest floor near the loading docks, have access to one dimly lit unisex bathroom. The gals in HR have bowls of potpourri on their bathroom counters and a private quiet room with a couch.  The senior executives have separate facilities safely behind the glass doors that seal off mahogany row from the rest of the company; surely you can’t expect the SVP of Marketing to stand at a urinal next to Phil from IT.

Expense accounts.  Golf outings during the day.  The ability to slip out and attend professional association lunch meetings or evening networking receptions that start at 5 PM.  An office with a window, a nameplate on the door and an ergonomic chair personally fitted to alleviate lower back pain.  The ability to park, for free, close to the office building as opposed to 4 blocks away accompanied by the necessity to pay a hefty monthly parking fee. The freedom to enjoy some work-life integration and flexible hours with no need to worry about getting scolded disciplined chastised for being 15 minutes late to work because your daughter’s school bus was late.

Many of these things are viewed as being part of the rite of professional passage.  If you strive to do well, get promoted and become a senior staffer or manager then you too can be treated a little better.  “It’s the American way” we say while reminding ourselves of Horatio Alger (even though many people in 2014 wouldn’t know Horatio Alger if he fell out of a tree in front of them).

‘With grit and determination come rewards’ could be the collective mantra of the workplace; this is not just true in ‘corporate’ entities but in government, non-profits and, well, any business.

And I concur; hard work will garner benefits and should be rewarded.

But sometimes organizations, without even thinking about it, continue to promote a culture of the haves vs. the have nots; the royals vs. the unwashed masses; the chosen vs. the worker bees.  It brings to mind what the pigs had to say in George Orwell’s Animal Farm:

“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others

3 Questions to Ask Regarding Your Internal Communication

wheres-waldoUnderstanding the dynamics of internal communication in the organization is of critical importance for leaders.  Employees expect and need to know what is going on so they can perform their jobs with awareness, purpose and clarity. No longer just the audience, employees are now participants in the communication process.

Small organizations often take a hit or miss approach to internal communication under the assumption that their size is an advantage.  The thinking often goes that everyone is already working together so news and information is naturally being shared.

In large organizations the internal communication program often becomes over-engineered to the point where flow charts are created to outline the process. I saw such a flow chart recently with decision triggers such as “Is it urgent or time-sensitive? Is it corporate policy or an announcement? Is it an HR matter? Is it fun?”  Based upon how one categorized the type, urgency and importance of the message one could then determine the mode/method of disseminating the news.  The flow chart also included necessary steps and procedures for submitting drafts for approvals (including which staff member – or their proxy – could approve) and estimated timelines. This particular organization shares information via email blasts, text messaging (to all employees), newsletters, interactive message boards, an electronic “Daily News” update and an internal TV network.  I‘m pretty confident they’re evaluating reach, opens, clicks and similar measurements to regularly evaluate the effectiveness of their internal communication.  This is certainly an example showing how access to resources, people and technology can serve to strengthen the process.

But what of the small or mid-sized organization that hasn’t reached such a level of sophistication?  The needs are still there but the understanding of why effective internal communication is important and how to do it are often missing.

One organization I’m familiar with has around 60 employees who are all in one physical location.   Their long-standing belief is “hey – we all see each other every day and everyone knows what’s going on!”  Couple this with a reluctance to hold scheduled meetings, lack of technology, and a rigid hierarchy still unshackling itself from a command-and-control style to one that is more inclusionary, and internal communication is a mess. For while there is an aversion to meetings there still occurs a unofficial daily meeting when 50% of the management team members gather every morning for coffee. Amongst the chatter about sports and kids’ activities and food they share business and operational news with each other.  Decisions are often made, next steps are planned, and items are closed; sometimes on major initiatives and quite often without the SME or initiative owner in the room.

The group members fail to look around the room when discussing a topic, stop the conversation, and pose the query ”Who’s missing?”  It’s rare for someone to point out “We’re talking about a sales program and the Sales Manager isn’t here.”  No one asks “Where’s Waldo?”

And that’s just at the top.  Imagine how that information never trickles down to the rest of the organization so that employees can become participants in the conversation?  How can staff members be part of the dialogue when they’re never even afforded the opportunity to listen in the first place?

So while a first step is asking “who needs to be part of this discussion or decision?” it leads to 3 Questions to ask regarding your internal communication:

  •  “Who must know?”
  •   “Who should know?”
  •  “Who would like to know?”

And don’t forget to go find Waldo.


this post first appeared at Silver Zebras, LLC