Continuous Dialogue: Enhance The Experience Through Transitions
By Bradley Wilson - September 10, 2020
The continuous listening approach outlined in the previous chapter can pay big dividends during periods of organizational change. A temporary drop in engagement is natural in times of change, but using continuous dialogue during transitional periods can help employees deal with uncertainty, enhance the employee experience, and retain key talent. Surveys can play a strategic role in fostering productive dialogue through change. They communicate messages to employees through the questions they ask while also gathering feedback from employees. Communication of survey results and the discussion of next steps offers leaders an opportunity to close the loop while enabling employees to play an active role in the change management process.
Continuous Dialogue Helps Employees Deal With Uncertainty
Much of the stress and anxiety employees associate with organizational change is rooted in ambiguity, as employees question the implications of change to the business and themselves. Much of their anxiety stems from a feeling that changes are beyond their control. When you consider that, for many employees, their work is more than just a job—it’s a career, their livelihood, or even a central part of their identity—it’s only natural that uncertainty about the future would elicit a threat response.
Involving employees in the change process—giving them an outlet to share feedback through surveys and communicating back with timely responses—builds confidence that leaders respect employees, care about their opinions and are listening to their input. This type of continuous dialogue can go a long way toward measuring the impact of the change, and can also influence the way people perceive the change—ultimately increasing the positive outcomes.
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Why does it work? Giving employees a voice can increase their perceived self-determination in the change process. Making employees active participants in change helps them move through the stages of understanding it, adopting it, and then moving forward. A continuous dialogue can alter employee perception from “this is something being done to me that is beyond my control” to “this is something I didn’t initiate but at least I have some say in the outcome; this gives me more confidence.” This inclusion aligns with the Vroom-Yetton model of leader decision-making, which holds that follower buy-in is an important variable in the success of a decision. Including employees in the dialogue about change facilitates buy-in; employee acceptance of decisions increases their commitment and the effectiveness of actions taken to implement change.
Measure Perceptions During Change To Enhance The Employee Experience
Some leaders make the mistake of thinking they should only survey when the business is in a stable state—before or after periods of change—believing that data collected during periods of change will quickly become invalid. Nothing could be further from the truth. Change is evolutionary and has its own feedback loop; in a state of flux, you need more information, more often, to monitor—and if need be, alter—the direction of that evolution.
Leaders should recognize that their experience and perceptions of change are based on their own role in the organization, and do not reflect employee perceptions or experience. If feedback isn’t being gathered during periods of significant change, leaders are leading blind.
Periods of flux present an opportunity to use pulse or strategic surveys as part of an important feedback loop. Surveying through change offers leaders the ability to look across the organization and see which groups are coping well and which are not, as well as where employee perceptions stand now versus six months or a year ago. It can also uncover specific insights into the messages leaders can deliver and the actions they can take to help employees move through the change process more smoothly. A continuous feedback loop can not only be used to improve the employee experience through the transition—it can also help the organization see the way forward in terms of making adjustments to improve their plan for implementing change.
Pay close attention to survey design to make sure the right questions are being asked in the right way. The survey needs to incorporate key insights leaders wish to gain and the key messages they wish to communicate. Ask questions specific to the change to understand employees’ experience and perceptions. Also ask questions consistent with prior surveys, such as willingness to recommend the company as a great place to work, or employees’ intent to stay. Questions like these can map the fluctuation in engagement.
The typical pattern for organizations undergoing change is a “J” curve in survey results—confidence in leadership and intent-to-stay scores go down as change is initiated, then bottom out and begin climb again as the change becomes the new normal. Particularly with big changes such as a restructuring, a corporate merger, a change in the business model, or moving operations to a distant locale, leaders should expect to see these metrics get worse before they get better.
It is important for HR to prepare the rest of the leadership team so they understand the typical patterns in employee engagement through change initiatives. Anticipating lower engagement prepares leaders so they do not panic and react with new changes or course corrections misaligned to the goals they’re trying to achieve. Instead, leaders need to hold the course and allow employees to understand and adapt to the new normal, and respond appropriately to specific trouble spots identified through survey responses. Depending on the scope of change, it may be 12 to 18 months before changes become fully normalized.
Take Timely Action Based On Survey Responses To Smooth The Transition
In addition to including employees as participants in change and increasing employee buy-in, continuous dialogue gives leaders direction for responding to issues or trouble spots associated with the change.
Measuring employee perceptions through change provides insights that allow leaders to respond rather than react. Instead of a knee-jerk reaction to lower engagement scores, survey data can give leaders the insights they need to fine-tune the change process or messaging about the change.
Employee responses may reveal that messaging has been too high-level; maybe people understand what the change means to the organization but are unsure of what it means to their job—or the data may show that some departments or locations don’t clearly understand the changes or the reasons for them. Leaders can address these issues with more timely, targeted, and specific messaging.
Surveying through change also helps identify where things are working, uncovering opportunities to share internal best practices across the organization. Data may reveal that the experience for employees in certain work units or jobs is more positive; the procedures or management behaviors and actions responsible can be identified and adopted by management throughout the company. Identifying and sharing these internal best practices relative to the change are more powerful than generic best practices for managing change, because they’ve already been proven effective within the specific culture and company.
Engaging employees in a continuous dialogue through organizational change provides a number of benefits, including influencing employee perception and providing leaders with direction for enhancing the experience. Other advantages include easing employee concerns about job security—which can be a drag on productivity—and limiting voluntary attrition of employees who might otherwise consider leaving now on their own terms as preferable to potentially being laid off later. This is particularly important to retaining top talent who have more options—and who may also have a higher expectation of involvement and recognition during the change process.
The dialogue around change is time-sensitive, so it needs to be conducted in an effective and efficient way. Surveys, as opposed to focus groups, invite employee involvement while balancing the need for feedback with leaders’ need for timely data. Surveys tailored to the organization and the specific changes carry a messaging benefit as well: they can help to shape a continuous dialogue, smoothing the transition to enhance the employee experience.
Ready to engage in a continuous dialogue in your company?
A continuous dialogue with your employees is crucial during transitions, but it’s beneficial when things are stable, too. If you’re ready to engage in a continuous dialogue in your company, get in touch with Perceptyx today. Our people analytics platform captures the employee perceptions that form one side of that dialogue through periods of change—and throughout the entire employee experience.