Listening During Turbulent Times
By Bradley Wilson - March 13, 2020
On March 11, the World Health Organization declared novel coronavirus COVID-19 a pandemic, and organizations everywhere are scrambling to adjust corporate policies on sick leave, travel, and flexible work arrangements to minimize the health risk to both employees and consumers while slowing the spread of the virus.
While the scale of the potential business impact is unprecedented, there are some core business and leadership principles that apply in terms of building and maintaining trust with employees during turbulent times, which can help organizations weather unanticipated situations like the current global health crisis.
Corporate culture is a product of the things people see, hear, and experience on an ongoing basis. Turbulent times increase stress on and within organizations, and how leaders respond to these incredible situations can reinforce how people understand and feel about a company’s culture.
What are the priorities? When companies demonstrate commitment to their people, it’s reciprocated with loyalty. If employees and consumers perceive that a business is prioritizing its interests over theirs, they are likely to remember it—and it will influence their future behavior.
Demonstrating Care For People
Caring for people is a critical factor in building and maintaining a culture of trust, especially in the face of ambiguity. This goes beyond issuing corporate policies; it requires support of those policies across the organization.
In the case of the current health crisis, many companies are adjusting policies around travel, work from home, and sick leave—but if employees question their ability to use the new policies without fear of negative consequences, their effectiveness will be limited. Manager behaviors need to align with corporate communications, and what will likely be a season of ongoing adjustments in response to changing conditions.
Leading With Consistency
Consistency in this case does not mean predictability, but instead aligns with the concepts of distributive and procedural justice. The application of policies needs to be consistent across employee populations to avoid the perception of favoritism or bias. Consistency in this case also means ensuring that actions align with communications, and follow-through happens on commitments made to employees and consumers.
Trust is important on multiple levels, and during turbulent times, leadership competency is critical to maintaining trust. To maintain trust, leaders need to demonstrate the ability to make decisions with available data to the best of their ability and adjust accordingly in a rapidly changing landscape.
Many companies are doing a good job of sending frequent and informative communications to their employees and consumers as situations change and new information becomes available, but real communication includes open dialogue between multiple parties.
Ensure that employees have the opportunity to ask questions, provide feedback, and share their ideas and concerns. Fostering dialogue and being transparent will help leaders make more informed decisions with greater speed and confidence, while also giving employees a sense of involvement in shaping the company’s response.
With any communication program time matters, and real-time feedback will be critical to give leaders the information they need to meet their organization’s needs now and through the remainder of the health crisis. One Perceptyx client updated their ongoing daily pulse to include two new questions specific to the organization's response to the current health crisis. The questions were integrated the same day and they began collecting, integrating, and communicating around the data almost immediately.
Seeing The Way Forward
These are unprecedented times, and while we at Perceptyx draw on our experience in partnering with organizations that have thrived in the face of other external threats and challenges, it is impossible at this point to know how the current health crisis will unfold over time, or its long term impact on businesses. What we do know is that there are core leadership actions and principles that will foster and maintain employee trust that will allow us to continue driving the business forward.
Perceptyx has created a 16-question pulse survey specific to corporate responses to the pandemic, which we're offering to all current clients. The pulse will include the ability to measure employee perceptions of the response over time and compare to external benchmarks as they become available, and will allow access to real-time insights related to shifts in employee sentiment across their organization. The measures include indicators of confidence in leadership, perceived care of individuals, consistency in how policies are applied, effectiveness of communication efforts, and more.
We encourage all organizations to consider and apply the leadership principles outlined above to guide your response to this situation. With transparent and consistent leadership, we should all be able to weather the current crisis successfully, and see the way forward together.