Insights Discussion: Leading in A Virtual Environment: How Data & Empathy Can Help You Manage Difficult Conversations [RECAP]

By Perceptyx - October 09, 2020

Given the challenges that employees and teams alike have met in 2020, we have seen both positive and negative phenomena emerge as organizations seek to respond and prioritize for their employees. In this session, Dr. Brittany Head, Senior Consultant at Perceptyx, hosted Dr. Dan Harrison, Global Head of Innovation & Products at Perceptyx, as well as client leaders Adam Koussari-Amin, Director, Talent Planning at Cengage, and Sarah Jorgenson, Senior HR Manager of Employee Experience & Assessments at Caterpillar to discuss what organizations are doing to support employees in having difficult conversations and beyond.

First, Brittany posed a question to ask panelists what ‘hard’ conversations mean in the context of 2020, and panelists discussed balancing care for employee safety with the need to get work done on the front lines, pushing major layoffs, having performance conversations, and more. However, in today’s world where much of these conversations (and work in general) is a virtual window into the homes and lives of those we work with, a benefit resulting from these hard conversations is in lifting the veil between personal and professional lives, and identifying the empathy emerging from leaders as difficult conversations are had. Not only is that veil lifted, but it suggests that employees can no longer realistically compartmentalize, but must be whole people both at work and at home, which is fostered by supportive and empathetic leadership. 

Additionally, as leaders are expected to lead with more attention and compassion they require upskilling in certain areas to do so. Dan reminded the group of how certain megatrends such as skills as a currency can come into play and new skill sets of empathy and listening should be trained and supported to help achieve these outcomes.

In addition to conversations, listening skills, technology and data sources can aid in identifying ways to make these conversations better. Adam mentioned how regular pulsing helped leadership understand that current needs (e.g., social interaction via Zoom happy hours) may be obsolete in a few weeks, while Sarah reminded us that “It’s not survey fatigue, it’s action fatigue” that employees feel when listening strategies don’t follow up surveys with intentional solutions and action plans for organizations based on results. Additionally, they mentioned how important it is to ground employees through not abandoning regular listening activities such as the annual engagement survey, and asking questions that are still important and valued by the company (i.e., strategy and goals, communication). 

In fact, from a survey perspective, authentic communication of the good, the bad, and the ugly can be more meaningful than any gift card or other formal recognition, just so employees know they are valued and cared about. For the first time, as virtual work has increasingly become the norm, leaders have the opportunity to impact small groups meaningfully to show they care, and other stakeholders critical to the company mission and strategy, such as HR business partners and higher leaders can follow suit, especially in times of change. 

When looking at surveying during change, leaders are in fact craving data so that employees have regular feedback. One way to enable this is through new technology advancements in data collection and dash-boarding that offer immediate feedback for leaders to action on. In doing this, some of those ‘hard conversations’ become less difficult as best practices in frequent feedback leave little to the surprise of the employee. When instantaneous feedback is provided through dashboards and is coupled with personalizing the results into meaningful recommendations, leaders can meet the team where they are and have honest, empathetic conversations about their experiences. Another layer to this is that most of these conversations are virtual, which provides a new sense of intimacy such as meeting your CEO’s dog, and allows for humanization of coworkers in a way never seen before to all employees. From a diversity and inclusion perspective, this also allows employees who may not have had as much time with senior leaders to be on the same playing field (and in the same sized zoom window) as other employees at various levels. 

Rewards tools, recognition processes, and performance enablement tools that Perceptyx offers can help add to the timely use and alignment of organizational goals with decreasing the severity of some difficult conversations, allowing for a holistically better approach to people management, and benefits everyone across the organization. 

Leading the Way Forward

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