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504 – Beyond Data: Improving Engagement with Action | Panel Discussion

May 28, 2020 | 00:00

00:00 00:00

Episode Description

Over the last few episodes, we’ve heard a lot of tips, initiatives, and perspectives for what employees need during uncertainty. However, why guess when you can use data to make informed decisions.

In this installment of Insights, Emplify CoFounder and Chief People Officer is back and joined by Sam Yoder, Employee Engagement Coach at Emplify, and Dr. Josh Hammonds, Professor and Data Science Consultant. Join the experts in peeling back the curtain on employee feedback from the past few weeks and providing data-driven recommendations for leading teams.

If there’s anything you’re learning or looking to understand more please reach out to us at podcast@emplify.com.

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Episode Transcription

Nicole [00:00:03] Welcome back to Insights and Emplify Original. I'm Nicole Maclean, bringing you insights to empower executives. H.R. professionals, managers and leaders of all kinds with the best in class information to help your employees unlock their true potential. Now, over the last few episodes, we've heard a lot of tips, initiatives and perspectives for what employees need during this time. But guessing is expensive and with limited resources we can't afford to guess. So in this installment of Insights, Amplify co-founder and Chief People Officer Adam Weber is back and joined by Sam Yoder, Amplify engagement coach, and Dr. Josh Hammons, a professor and data science consultant. They are peeling back the curtain on employee feedback from the past few weeks and providing data driven recommendations for leading teams.

Adam [00:00:56] As a leader, there's nothing more critical than your people showing up to work and doing and bringing their very best and not having that, it shuts down all the growth potential inside of your business. And maybe today all of us heard maybe there's a growth potential. Well, what can I do right now? You're positioning yourself for failure in the future as well. If you're not focused on this, it gets guessing. And not knowing the truth about your business is really expensive problem when you're just kind of taking anecdotal feedback. First, prioritizing engagement and data can be expensive. And then the other thing and the reason I think it's really critical right now, what we're what I'm hearing a lot is that a lot of people froze their staffing, their hiring, or they had to even do around the layoffs. And so in that, yeah, they know demand is on the cusp of surging for the business or to survive. They're having to really spike up their productivity. They've got a whole bunch of people working at home with kids hanging off their legs or they're working from tampers or whatever it may be. So when you have a reduced staff with high demands, like what better way to bridge that gap than with making sure you're getting the absolute most from your people?

Josh [00:02:01] I read an article published in the Harvard Business Review by Nathan Fur entitled Don't Let Uncertainty Paralyze You. There's a theory in social psychology communication called uncertainty reduction theory. And as human beings, uncertainty does paralyze us. We tend to extrapolate. Oh, my goodness, there's only one of two options here. And we forget about all that gray in the middle or that spectrum in the middle. And the thesis of the article I would encourage anybody to go read it, is that you've got to look at these potentialities and these possibilities when life hands you right now, a chaotic circumstance where you now need to think and don't allow that bipolar uncertainty of life. Are we going to survive or not survive? Is this so much more in between there? And what is it look like to create conversations, engagement practices that could be potentially growing more as as we will and most certainly come out of this stuff that we're experiencing?

Nicole [00:02:57] You teach and consult a lot of different topics. So why do you think it's so important to have data when making decisions about that all but about anything?

Josh [00:03:07] I don't think there's a time in the history, or at least in popular press, that we have not heard about data as much as we have now at this point. Right. And so I love the mom for a fax over fear. And so whether it's Dr. Foushee presenting a model or someone using data to show what could happen, data is simply turning the lights on to what decision making should look like. And so data driven decision making is necessary. And so if we don't do that, we're just sort of using our gut instinct or using what we think might work, but we're not really sure. And so creating data allows us to gather information, to create models, to say, wow, if we add this here and we bumped the needle in this variable here and do this. This could be our outcome. And as more data pours in, we can pivot. But at the same time, if you don't have data and I mean objective data that's gathered not through emotion, not through feeling, not unbias, but you're looking at data and you're looking at large amounts of data across large sample sizes. That is what's going to inform, I think, logical decision making in a time that could be potentially very emotional right now. And we've got to make sure that we're making business decisions, people decisions using that kind of data. And so I'm very much waving that flag. We've got to look at the data before making big decisions.

Nicole [00:04:29] And then, Sam, how is that played out in your world?

Sam [00:04:31] I spend most of my time talking to mid-level managers, and I count that as anyone who's not really making decisions at the top level. I'm especially right now. And so there is a gap between our our executives who are probably making those decisions and then that has to trickle all the way down. And if it doesn't get to these people, then it definitely doesn't get to these people. And so exactly what Josh was just saying, that crisis mode causes you to lose track of some of the big picture of things, too. And so the data helps reorient my customers into what's most important right now in crisis mode and what they might be missing from what their employees are saying or what their employees are needing, but also helping them think longer term. So I think data access that really good bridge to almost check your emotions and say, I think that this is the most important thing and the world is probably telling me that. But that may not be true for your organization and to the data validates whether you're right or checks your emotional reaction. And that's kind of what I'm seeing mostly in my meetings.

Nicole [00:05:32] The next question that I've heard a lot is with so much uncertainty and panic. Should we be measuring now? Is it going to be an accurate depiction? Sam, if you like, kick this off on this one. What would you say to someone that's trying to answer that question?

Sam [00:05:45] I think measuring is important right now just as much as any time. What it gives you is is important data for the moment. And so I'm talking to customers who they might have measured. Back in March and early March, and that date is so good, I'm still using that data to figure out, hey, this is where your employees were at in March. How do we use that data to figure out what you're jumping off point is now? Because this is how they were feeling then. And so these feelings are probably just amplified now or slightly different. But this will give you a good jumping off point. But life is changing so quickly and we're all experiencing that. And so measuring now, while it may feel like a lift, it's actually going to help you make better decisions. And so you obviously have to pick the best time for your business. But I think that now is almost a more important time to measure it, to get accurate data quickly. And then so you can turn it around.

Adam [00:06:38] I'd echo that, Sam. I mean, information to a leader like hearing the genuine place that your people are in in this moment is critical. True engagement data. The purpose is not to make you feel good. It's not to help you win an award. The point of it is, is to tell you the truth about your business and the truth about your people and where they are and how you can then respond. And in an ever changing environment, when your response likely will dictate how that employee will feel about this business for the rest of their tenure, how you as a leader handled this very moment in your life is how your employees will think about you as a leader for the rest of their tenure in your business. Having data informs how to be and how to communicate back to those people, how to make critical decisions in a way that feels reflective of where they are. And I do think it also builds an empathy muscle, too, like they're not detached. It's not like a robotic thing. It's it's data can lead to genuine understanding when oftentimes you're blind to it.

Nicole [00:07:37] Josh anything to add with that?

Josh [00:07:38] I think what data can do is can bring about ideas that you did not think about, especially in this moment. And so, you know, I've got lots of information that could share about the models that we've been running so far with the blog. But then also some of the new models that's happening. But one of the biggest ones is so Google support and how a leader can support the goals and block away any kind of barriers that would prevent the goal from happening is a moderate predictor of engagement. It always has been. For the last 20 years, we've looked at that throughout the research, the literature. But the number that I just ran recently shows that that jump now to the to the front of the stage, that how I see my leader giving me support to carry on a day to day activity, whether that be Zoom's support, whether that be don't ferlo me, but give me the financial incentive that I need to whether that be give me some flexibility on this. That is now a huge predictor of engagement. And if you didn't run the numbers on that, you wouldn't know. Wow. I guess I really need to help. How can I support you? I didn't even think about that. The other one is autonomy. And autonomy is one that, again, for the most part, generally speaking, it's a moderate influencer of engagement. In other words, I'm not a micromanaging boss. I let them do their job as they see fit. But now, if you look at the organizations that have taken the inside survey that we have now, the data is showing that autonomy now is one of the stronger predictors. In other words, if you look at both goals, supporting autonomy is a really cool narrative there that says I need all the support that you can give me. That's possible as I work from home. At the same time, give me a ton of me so that I can carry this about in the way that best suits my situation. I'm at home right now teaching for online classes with a kindergartner and a first grader who are also taking homeschooling approach with their laptops. My wife is also a professor. So the four of us are on our laptops. I have a six year old, seven year old all trying to do this. I can't get the grades in. I can't do the thing that I need to do in the time that I used to be able to do that. So I have to hit pause and then come back at o'clock at night and everyone's a bitch to finish this up. Now, I have that flexibility with my dean to do that. And so autonomy now, if you're working from home, becomes a paramount driver goal support becomes a paramount driver. Whereas before I was like, it's a matter that now a business leader can know that and go, whoa. I have no idea. And those are significantly driving the amount of engagement, how much productivity that they're having and how they're feeling about the day. So I think this moment in time, we've got to see the data. What are the people say? What are the scores of like so that leaders can then come in and say, here's how I provide this.

Nicole [00:10:22] You think that these are becoming more of a predictor because that we're in a global pandemic and a time of crisis or because more folks have gone remote and that these drivers are potentially a greater predictor of engagement? For anyone that works for remote and now because so many have moved that way, we're able to see that.

Josh [00:10:44] It's a great question. And I and from a data perspective, it would be impossible to separate that and know the difference. The cheap answer is that they are melded together and. Knows which one is influencing. But the fact of the matter is, is that we are working from home and are experiencing a pandemic. And because of that, these two drivers, which were great passers on a basketball team or now some of the leading scorers on this basketball team. And in doing so are driving engagement more than we ever thought, more that we've ever seen before.

Nicole [00:11:15] That's a fair point. Sam,.

[00:11:16] One last thing I would add to that. Yeah. Is we have to remember that not everyone is remote, too. So I have quite a few customers that are considered essential workforces. But let's just talk goalscorer and autonomy for for a second. If you're an essential worker, your priorities have fundamentally changed, whether that's because you had to change your business line and and you did a really quick switch on. Now your disinfecting cars instead of washing them, which is what one of our customers is doing. Right. That goal just changed. And that autonomy for that store manager becomes much more important because the executive leadership team doesn't have the time to micromanage all that. So they have to just give that autonomy to those people and say we're all figuring this out. If you feel like it's a good decision and you've earned that autonomy previously, that's really important. I talk to people about that a lot then then go for it and do it.

Nicole [00:12:07] Sam and Adam. Curious if you guys can chat a little bit about these new drivers that have come to be pretty powerful predictors of engagement. The thing about autonomy, gold support rests roll, clarity and purpose.

Sam [00:12:21] So I would say goal support is all about priorities and is my organization supporting me to reach my goals. So first off, goals have changed. So my first question for any leader that I'm talking to is, have you clearly communicated what your goals are so that everybody has a common goal of the company and then that has been then trickled down? And so everybody has that language and those and when goals are changing, it's effectively being communicated down the chain of command so that that individual contributor can get the information as quick as possible. A lot of middle managers that I'm talking to are getting the same questions over and over again from their individual contributors, and they don't have any answers because they are waiting on others to make those decisions. And so just know as leaders that the longer we have to wait, sometimes you have to wait before you can make decisions. But the longer you wait, even the longer your individual contributors have to make. So that's just a minute. Think about the lag there. So knowing what the goals are, the ultimate goals, so that every decision as you're trying to improve autonomy, you can say think about these goals and if your decision aligns with these goals, go for it. And if you can continue to kind of connect those dots that I've seen really helpful, if you can almost say, hey, does your decision is the best thing for the customer? It is. Is it the best thing for the business? And are you willing to be held accountable for this decision? And if you can ask yourself those three questions and you answer yes to them, then you can feel free to make that decision. So that's kind of one. And then the other big one that I've been communicating a lot and we do this and amplify, but I've seen this in the central workforce's and all that. But what are your main priorities for the week? What are your main priorities for that day? What are some wins that you can be shooting for? So if you're in a manufacturing environment, you might have people on your shift who can't show up. So what's a reasonable goal for your line to actually hit? What's a reasonable goal for your factory to hit and make sure that people know what you're gonna be okay with? As the leader to hit? So if it's less than what it normally is, that might be the way that it is. But can we make it okay or at least let people know that, you know, the constraints that they're under and make those small wins more easily reachable? Or call them out or something like that? There's a lot of negativity. So the big picture there is make a goal that's achievable. And then making it a one level smaller is can we help people find positives in their day to day. So calling out something good, calling out some coworker that helped you making, hey, we had this amount of production. Right. So finding those small wins is is another tactical kind of goal, support, autonomy. Those do actually go together pretty closely. So I kind of talked about them in conjunction. But those are a few kind of tactical pieces I've been sharing in there.

Adam [00:15:17] I love that with goal support. I think the reality is in this environment, goals have changed. Whether or not the leaders have names that they've changed, they have changed. And the way to get your team aligned to that is to pick ways for them to win, period, and be willing to redefine what a win looks like. And then just celebrate like hell when it happens. Pick small wins. Pivot. Do you acknowledge this reality? I've been really fascinated by the interplay. We have another driver like safety of CITES safety and goal support because we have a lot of people who are entered into brand new environments in their personal life. You've got kids or bad Internet or whatever the new scenario is, and you're trying to, like, navigate a day. You have new goals. And a lot of people had managers prior to this where the manager didn't have great soft skills and there wasn't a great foundation of a relationship. Well, now, more than ever, we need this like really transparent, authentic, open line of communication where we're redefining new goals and we're communicating back and forth between employee and manager. I think there's some tension right in that in those how those two are interplaying right now. And so I just I I've been I've been thinking a lot about how, as a manager, are you doing your part both in very real clarity and goals for it and really clearly identifying what the priorities are, what a win looks like. And are you giving that employee permission to share what blockers they have to help achieve that or to achieve that priority?

Sam [00:16:48] I would say that that's actually a really good point. And I would say that ties to autonomy really quickly because they need to be able to ask if they don't have all of the resources that they need, they need to have the autonomy to raise their hand. It's like safety to say, I don't know how to do this. I'm struggling. This is blocking me. And if there's not good psych, safety and then subsequently autonomy, then you're going to have an issue.

Josh [00:17:12] Absolutely. I would just interchange just because what you're saying conceptually and practically is being shown statistically and numerically through all the data.

Nicole [00:17:21] Adam, what is the first step for a manager that didn't have psychological safety or trust with their team? And how do they create it, especially if they're in a virtual environment where they can't sell that face to face human connection?

Sam [00:17:40] And do you know you want to define psychological safety quickly as well?

Adam [00:17:44] Yeah. I mean, for me, I would say it's, you know, the idea that you can bring an idea up with your manager without fear of retribution. You can you can talk openly without kind of a fear of an adverse reaction. I can share when they lay out a goal, and I know I can't hit it. I can say it out loud to them or when they offend me, I can talk about it when I talk about the way they treat me or all of those all of those things. I really think the beginning of it is, I will say, one of the most powerful things we've even seen inside of our own company is when and when leaders name their own weaknesses or open the dialog to talk about it. It gives permission for the employees to, like, share where they genuinely are themselves as well.

Josh [00:18:21] I would just add to that that they want one of the bigger drivers of psychological safety is feedback. And how we define feedback is threefold. This is a combination of the amount of feedback. So it isn't quantity, right? It isn't just once a year. It is a frequency. So it's a pop in frequency. But then it's also about what you said to me in the conversation we had. I actually took some things with me. You landed the plane and I now have some constructive feedback. Right. And that that doesn't need to be positive or negative, Leveille. And it's just it's a value add feedback situation. And so if those are happening, you're spending time frequently and adding value. You're going to see a bump in the since safety that while case manager really is has my best interests.

Nicole [00:19:04] Sam, can you share some of the best practices or feedback that you are sharing currently with your your customers?

Sam [00:19:11] So the main one is somebody should be touching base with each direct report at least once a day. I mean, that's kind of bare minimum baseline and our world is changing so fast. Hopefully your business is also changing so fast to keep up with the world changing that you need to be touching base with your employees, whether it's on priorities or tasks or vision or whatever. There needs to be that communication. And it has to start with, hey, are you doing okay? How's your schedule? How's your workload? You have enough. You have too much. All that has to start there with the emotional side of the person. So that's across the board. And so one thing that's been super helpful for people is I will tell them our data is not prescriptive on what you should be doing. It is a starting point as a jumping off point to figure out where to dig in deeper. So I also say that with feedback right now, if you say, hey, how can I be better as a leader or how do you think our team is doing? That's very broad. And with so much going on, you're going to get a broad spectrum of feedback back. And that's not going to be very actionable. So one way I've instructed my team or my clients to use our data is to say, hey, your psych safety score is low or your manager score is low here. Let's think of some questions you can ask your team specifically around manager so that you can become a better leader. And so it kind of gives them some direction on where to dig. So it's it's that data, along with verbal feedback and talking to people and figuring out kind of almost triaging so you can get more actionable feedback for yourself. So those are kind of two pieces I'm talking about pretty consistently.

Adam [00:20:51] The way you're talking about data. With that action that's tied to it is really the key to this working. Having a bunch of data from your employees doesn't do anything. What data does is if it focuses how you then interact instead of you going to them communicating this way when they want to know what it does is it levels the playing field. And it starts to create those honest dialogs back and forth about right subjects, which is really where transformation starts to happen in it, because that's what we even said at the very beginning, which is, is it when you're in crisis mode, which a lot of people are right now?

Sam [00:21:26] Most people are. You are looking at the things that you emotionally feel are the most important, but that may not line up with what your employees think. And so data helps you align with what your employees actually think is important.

Josh [00:21:38] It turns the light on so that you can see what needs to be unpacked.

Nicole [00:21:47] Thank you for joining us for this week's insights. Don't forget to subscribe so that you never miss an episode. And in the meantime, if you have questions or topics that you'd like to see us cover, please go to amplify dot com slash questions. That's e m p l i f why dot com.

Nicole [00:22:02] Slash your questions and let us know what's on your mind. Stay safe. Stay sane and we'll see you next week.