08 September 2020

Empowering Employees to Act

Stacia Garr
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst

Dani Johnson
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst


  • Overview of research on responsive organizations
  • The importance of distributed decision-making and empowering employees
  • Need for companies to be thoughtful toward employees
  • Does diversity impact employees’ ability to take action

In this call, we discuss the importance of distributive authority – allowing employees to act in making decisions at all levels of an organization. We talk about good examples (which can be hard to find) and touch on principle-vs-rules-based approaches to decision-making. We discuss empowering employees to act, even when it’s not tied to financials. And of course, we share insights on what is happening during the massive changes we’ve seen this year due to COVID-19.

There were many great insights during this Q&A. Thank you to everyone who attended and participated live. We hope you join us for the next Q&A call.

Video Contents & Questions Asked

You can jump to the following locations in the video using the timestamps on the video and in the chapters menu (next to the full screen icon).

0:00 Introduction
1:28 Overview of responsive organizations research
7:45 How are companies changing culture that is dictated by job levels and titles that become the barrier to empowering employees?
21:02 With COVID-19, have organizations slowed down enough that there is the time to be thoughtful about this and overt to the employees?
25:51 How can my organization find the right balance between allowing broad decision-making and ensuring safety, good decisions, etc?
29:08 Does diversity really affect employees ability to act and react to their environment?
33:54 How do we empower employees to create development plans, document them and act on them if they are not linked to any financials?
41:44 How are companies empowering employees during COVID-19?
44:21 Clients are much more interested in burning topics, getting help with BLM reputation, money management, etc. but broader diversity topics do not get much traction at the moment. Do you relate to this?
46:58 Wrap Up

Q&A Call Transcript

Introduction (00:00)

So our session today is on empowering employees to act. This is a pretty broad subject. Some of the questions that we got will narrow it down a little bit. We want to base some of what we share with you on some of the recent research we did for a responsive organization. So that’s kind of where we’re going. As always, you know, as we go through, please feel free to comment and talk. We want this to be an open space. Obviously we are recording and we will be publishing this. So if you don’t want your face or your ideas out in the public, message us privately, and we’ll keep it to ourselves. But we, we love the feedback and we love the interaction.

So for housekeeping, just, just five, really quick things. First of all, make it a safe place, no swearing, no stomping up and down. None of that kind of stuff. We want this to be a safe place to share ideas. The second one obviously is to share your ideas. Third one, in a group this small probably isn’t as valid, but, you know, raise your hand to speak. We keep a really close eye on what the panelists are doing. So go ahead and raise your hand, unmute yourself, and then feel free to discuss topics in the chat as well, if you’re more comfortable using chat than you are speaking out loud. Any questions on any of that?

Overview of responsive organizations research (1:28)

Okay, great. So when we think about getting employees to act or empowering employees to act it takes us back to some research that we completed in may this year, the responsible organization. And one of the sort of lenses that organizations should look through in order to make sure that their organization can respond to external and internal pressures is distributing authority. So making sure that everybody in your organization has the right amount of authority to move the organization forward. And when we sort of deep-dived the distributed authority portion, or three big buckets that came out.

The first one is how decision-making rights are distributed in your organization: who has the ability to make decisions and how you make sure they have that decision-making ability. The second and third ones were a little bit of a surprise to us, but equally interesting. Diverse and engaged teams. It turns out that when you have a diverse and engaged team, your authority is distributed a little bit more broadly. And collaboration is the other one. When you enable your organization to collaborate, distributed authority is a little bit more prevalent.

So I can talk about this one. So, as part of the responsible organization research. In addition to the four lenses, we basically saw that there were kind of three, three levers or three areas where you can help drive responsive organizations. One of them was the organizational culture itself. Another one was managers, and then the third one was data and analytics. And so we recently, some of you may have seen an article you recently published called “the now of work and lessons from an octopus.” And the idea was how do we take what’s happening with data and analytics and use that to help us understand how to make a more responsible organization.

And so when we think about what that specifically was with regard to distributed authority and the connection of people analytics, we saw, there were three particular items. The first being ensuring broad access to analytics products. So when we think about the role of analytics within responsible organization, a big part of it is giving insights and distributing those insights so that people do have the information they need to make decisions. And from a people analytics perspective that starts with designing for the distribution of information, and then obviously all the relevant security controls and everything else that has to go along with that. But if you start from a bias of, we’re going to share information versus we’re going to keep it from closely held, that makes fundamental differences in terms of your decisions about the types of information you collect, how you analyze it, how you distribute it, what you expect people to do with it, etc.

The second component of this, as it related to people, analytics was about sharing valuable insights. And so the point being, you know, Priyanka and I have at this point looked at, I think, just this year, this last six weeks, 30 different technologies, and we’ve got another 20 to go. And when we look at what’s being delivered to managers, oftentimes it’s interesting information, but it’s not valuable information. And so the distinction being that we want to make sure that what we’re providing, isn’t just something that’s kinda like, Oh, Hey, well, that’s nice. And then I go off and do the rest of my work, but instead I can make decisions that are important and that drive value in the organization based on the information we receive. So that’s the second component from a people analytics perspective.

And then the third component is analyzing and enabling collaboration. So, you know, I know Brian and Max and others who’ve been on here before, you know, we’ve talked to some extent about organizational network analysis and understanding, you know, how does information flow through organizations. And that gets it, Dani’s point a few moments ago about distributing authority. So if we’re understanding how information is being shared, if we understand how people work together and collaborate, that enables us to maybe design organizations more effectively for distributing authority. So these were kind of the three areas we saw within people analytics that can help with distributing authority more broadly.

Yeah, I think it’s really interesting. You’re saying that I mean we’ve heard information has power forever and ever and ever. But it really is when you need a distributed authority, unless people have the right information in order to make decisions that distributed authority doesn’t do anything. And that goes much, much further than just the manager level. In most organizations, we’re seeing information sort of float down the organization till it’s the manager level and then that’s where it resides. We rely on those managers to get that information all the way down to the individuals. But what we’re finding is those organizations that are using technologies and putting systems and processes into place to actually share that information further down. We’re actually getting much more responsivity in their organization cause they’re empowered to do something about it.

So we’ve gone over just two quick models. Are there any, well, it’s the same different aspects of the same model? Are there any comments or questions about these before we jump into the questions?

I’ll just add an addendum. So we, this research getting mentioned, the core research was published in May. It was based on a giant lit. review. We then did a survey of about 300, both HR leaders, as well as managers and employees. And then did a whole, like probably the most sophisticated statistical analysis we’ve done of any research. And that’s kind of how we got to the four lenses and then the sub components of it. So it’s not just some pretty circles on a page, even though that’s what we’re showing. There is a very substantial amount of work that went behind this that’s published in that research for May.

We also ended up doing four round tables with about 30 leaders in each to sort of round out what it meant. It was a really interesting topic, but a very deep and complicated topic. And the stories from those leaders really provided a lot of color and a lot of help to those looking for information on how to do this better.

And those, and we did really nice summaries and mindmaps and everything of those conversations that are available on the website. So if there’s more that you want to see beyond the conversation today, particularly with regard to the other three lenses, that information is available.

Changing the culture of job levels & titles (7:45)

Okay. So let’s jump into the first question. How are companies changing culture that is dictated by job levels and titles that become the barrier to empowering employees?

Stacia and I were talking about this question at the beginning, it took us two or three times the question to sort of understand what it was actually asking, but this is the, this is the big challenge right now. We have really traditional ways of thinking about working organizations and the way that those traditional structures don’t necessarily lend themselves to empowering employees. So what are we seeing that companies are doing to change the culture, to make empowering employees possible?

So I can jump in with, with a start. One of the biggest things that we saw in the research that we just kind of touched on a moment ago is this this topic of decision-making rights. It’s kind of getting that clarified and, and understanding both what is the state today, the explicit state and the implicit state. So there may be a situation where people say, this is what you’re allowed to do. And then there’s what you’re really allowed to do. And then documenting what the changes are or how you need it to be moving forward.

So one of the most interesting things we saw coming out of the round table was a suggestion of publishing a decision-making log, which we had actually never heard of. Maybe you guys have, but the idea that being that we in particularly senior leaders make decisions in the organization, they document what the decision was, the thinking behind the decision-making process. And then they share that broadly, basically one, certainly to communicate, you know, this decision or why. But also more importantly, as part of kind of a learning effort to help the organization learn how they should be making decisions, what are the type of criteria that really matter, and then to be able to model that same type of decision-making.

So, you know, that clarity, I think is one component, the second component being basic, you know, these are the types of decisions that people have authority to make in different roles or titles, etc. And then the third component was that we heard, particularly with regard to COVID was this focus on when it’s appropriate to look to expertise versus title. So, you know, particularly, you know, when you’re close to a customer or you’re close to a particular problem being very clear on, you know, when you, when that person has a higher level of expertise, this is when they should be making a decision versus, you know, other situations. So just being very clear on some of those decision-making rights was one of the biggest things we saw both in the research as well as around too.

Yeah. And interestingly, those organizations that do this best aren’t necessarily the ones that offer the most freedom for decision-making rights, which we found really interesting. It’s more a matter of communicating what decision rights they have. So for example, you know, how do you determine who gets what days off? Do I actually need to ask? Or can I just tell you that I’m going to take Friday off? Or can I provide an extra discount for a long time customer? Is that something that I need approval for? Is that something that I’m empowered to do? So making sure that those communications are really clear and that everybody understands what decision-making authority that they have.

And then the other big problem that organizations run into is consistency. Because a lot of times decision-making rights are really dependent on the immediate supervisor and that can’t be in an organization where you’re trying to get everybody to move in the same direction and be really responsive. So making sure that you have systems and processes into place to make sure that that consistency is there was the other big piece. Any questions or comments on this? What are you all seeing?

I agree with what you’re saying in terms of being clear about what your decision rights are and making sure that it’s consistent. And then I think over time, the blurring of the boundaries and the character of the people and the situation that they’re at. So it’s worth it to come back frequently to review it, whether it’s with your direct manager or organizationally. I’ve seen it where I got to blurry over time. And then it’s like, what Stacia said, what you say and then what really happens, becomes very different.

Yeah. I think a really good example of this is actually Ritz Carlton. And this is the example that’s used all the time, but everybody in that organization knows that they have up to $2,000 to solve a customer’s problems or guests problem, right? So everybody knows what the boundary is. I can sell this guess problem up to $2,000. It’s been communicated broadly and they’ve been consistent in the way that they handle that. So that it’s always going to be consistent. It’s always going to be that. You’re right in a lot of organizations that does get a lot, a lot blurrier and, and not every organization and not every situation is as cut and dried as is Ritz Carlton. But that should be the goal communicate what you can do and then make it consistent across everything. I like that Jacquie, any other thoughts, comments on this one?

I tend to read about it more than I actually see it. And I wonder, you know, it’s great to cite them actually, because one needs to pull out the shining examples where you find them. Certainly not many of the companies I work with would do it, not for lack of pressing them to become more transparent. But I wonder whether there’s a direction in your research, did it emerge at all that larger companies are less likely to do it then smaller companies perhaps? Because I mean, anecdotally small companies I know are doing it, but they’re not the ones I work with. So presumably that’s why they don’t need me because they do it. Maybe that’s the lesson, but I’d be interested in the demographics and stuff that you looked at because is this a handful of large companies and mainly mid, SMBs, midsize companies, or who is doing this good stuff?

I think if it gets even a little bit more complicated between large and small, because you also have situations where there’s a business unit within a large organization that is doing it well. And then there’s sort of a pocket within that organization. That’s doing it. I mean, there are the sort of usual suspects, you know Ritz Carlton, Nordstrom, Gore, those that you hear about all the time that have set this as part of the way that they do things. I think it also becomes an issue of sort of mission and vision and also the way that they handle failure. So when you put something like this in place you have to expect a certain amount of failure. And the communication that you have about that failure is going to determine whether or not it continues to happen or whether it shuts things down completely. And so I think it’s a really complicated thing. And I think you’re right Max. We hear about the really good cases, but we don’t see it broadly. But what we do know from the research is that those organizations that are doing it tend to be much more responsive to the market.

I think the other thing, I mean, we’ve focused a bit here on kind of decision-making rights because that’s where I started us. But, but the other places we think about changing culture that I feel like we’re seeing a lot of is using a lot of the feedback mechanisms, no employee poll surveys or, or the like that we’ve seen particularly explode since COVID. The thing I find fascinating is there, it seems like there used to be an assumption that because people were sitting in the same building and actually knew what was going on in their heads and what they thought as soon as they go to work from home, it’s like, “Oh wait, maybe we don’t know, we need to ask them questions.” And it’s like, well, you probably didn’t know before, but whatever. So, but, but we’ve kind of seen that.

And I think where we’ve started, if we’re talking about this question here about how do we make that shift? One part of it is asking, obviously. The second part is sharing what you’re learning in terms of what people think, feel, things should be done to do the work better. But then the third part is enabling action and enabling that broadly. Do you think the area that we tend to see the biggest trip up is this idea that we just got, you know, whether it’s engagement survey, experience survey, or whatever it is, we just got our results and we, HR going to go and take charge and we’re going to drive the change. And it’s like, you know, HR as a percentage of the organization is so small. And if you’re trying to change company culture, you have to be doing exactly what we’re talking about, empowering employees to act. So what is the enabling action plan that you’re putting in place, but allows people to understand the data and the insights and then to go and do something and to have some structure of the decision-making. You know, these are the types of things that you can do or where you need to get some feedback or check in from our senior leaders. But, you know, giving some reign people to do something that that will drive positive change and gives them a sense of doing something to make my workplace a better place.

I mean, I have one shining example that that really gets me thinking, “Please don’t do that.” And that’s ONA, organizational network and analysis. There’s this whole thing about active analysis where you using surveys and passive analysis where you are putting millstones around their neck, or looking at their emails and phone calls who’s talking to who, etc. And it really bugs me when I see companies saying we are only going to do passive. I said, can’t you pretend to do some active, just so that employees get the impression that you’re interested in what they’re saying. I mean, you can tear them up afterwards, but just try and do that. And I think that I’m seeing that as a sort of a growing trend, more and more passive coming in less and less active. And I kind of wonder, again, I think there’s this dichotomy, you know, when Dani was explaining it very well earlier. Dani, to your point, I wonder if this isn’t sort of Pareto principle or worse, you know, like 80/20, you know, 10/90, 5/95 or something. Because I’m, I’m seeing less. Again, it’s large organizations doing that. But I mean, your, your point that organizations that do do it, do really well when they do it, I think is the, is the key message. And I just, I wish more people would hear that particularly on the ONA front, for example.

Yeah. You know, it’s interesting. So I think I’m seeing something slightly different on the ONA front in that you guys, I think there’s more general interest broadly in passive, but there’s still really great reticence, particularly in the bigger organizations that we were talking about to do it. Because of, you know, fear of what happens if it ends up on the front page of the journal. And so I think that I am seeing a bit more interest on active and doing some combination with passive, but relatively like, and maybe it’s just who I’m talking about and I’m looking at others are too. But the kind of acknowledgement of the importance of trust, particularly when it comes to, you know, spying or some of the other things.

I think the thing that bothers me though, we’re talking about what bothers us about ONA is all that information being held within HR. Not that everybody needs to see, you know, the big, pretty graphs and all the rest of that. But, you know, I think I know of only two vendors who are giving an individualized report back out to people that says, here are the people who you said are kind of your trusted network. You yourself tend to be a boundary spanner, and maybe you want to build in these directions or anything that would help people actually do something with the data we’re collecting on them and help them with their career and to be more effective would be great. What bothers me is when it’s all just kept behind and it’s like, okay, well, we’re going to use this decision for succession or for you know, post M&A decisions, et cetera, et cetera. That’s that I think is you know, you’re not distributing authority. You’re not enabling people when you collect the data and then hold everything to yourself. Off my soap box. A hundred percent,

Are companies being thoughtful enough during COVID-19? (21:02)

If I could add another angle, it’s sort of a question with an observation to start in terms of companies changing their culture. I’ve had experience in my past with large companies going fast one way or another. And to me, that’s where the lines get blurry, especially you bring another acquisition and their culture is different. And so in my past, it was always moving too quickly to really have those robust conversations and be thoughtful about what the differences in the cultures were, which ones you want to promote actively or passively one way or another. But now this is my question: with COVID-19 have organizations slowed down enough that there is the time to be thoughtful about this and overt to the employees? Or are we just moving quickly because of crisis and we’re not able to be thoughtful about it? To me, it seems like you have to think both short-term and long-term so that you can focus your resources and be consistent over time and throughout the organization and give that feedback and readjust and all that kind of thing. And I’m curious about what the impact of this year is on those resources and availability.

Well, let me take a stab of that. I don’t know, Stacia and I are going to agree on this, so I want to speak first. (Get your point in before I can) I see what you’re seeing Jacquie, but I’m also seeing sort of a more optimistic view of it. So I think first of all, I don’t think organizations are slowing down. I think they’ve had to speed up tremendously. I use the example of somebody that was trying to put an LSP into place. And they said, yeah, we’re going to roll this out over the next year and a half. And it turns out COVID happened and then everybody was up and going in three weeks. So, we’re seeing things move much more quickly. Stacia and I have had this conversation a lot, change doesn’t take as long as we think it’s going to take. People are much more adaptive than we give them credit for.

So that’s happening. At the same time, because things are happening faster, I think organizations are getting better at adapting and accepting good enough versus accepting perfect. So if you think about a waterfall design versus an agile design. Going through the steps and making sure that everything is exactly right, I think is becoming more and more a thing of the past because things are moving too quickly to do it that way. So now I’m going to throw it to Stacia and see what she has to say.

So, I agree with most of that. I think that we were in this massive period when COVID first happened, crazy acceleration, like Dani said, like, Oh, we got to get this stuff in, we gotta make decisions faster. And I feel like we kind of really ramped up. And then I think we hit the realization that this is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. And then I feel like we, in some ways kind of backed off. It was interesting. I was actually talking to a vendor yesterday. He was showing me big data set that the analysis that they had done on hours worked and actually you can see it in the hours work. So you actually see the ramp up to a significant increase in hours in the like six to eight weeks post-COVID, so March to end of April kind of roughly time period, mid May. And then it backed down lot closer to where were .and now actually it seems like it’s kind of going back up and I think maybe that’s because we’re starting to look towards the end of the year, final quarter activities, etc.

But that’s kind of a long way of saying that, you know, I think because Jacquie we’re in this it’s-a-marathon-not-a-sprint period, I think people are now starting to say, okay, well, if we’re going to have this more flexible work from home arrangement, when it, you know, whenever we go back into the office, we’re going to have to rethink what the culture looks and feels like and what the employee experience looks and feels like. Because we’re going to have to design something that people really want to be here and want to do the work. So I think we may be in that moment now, and I’m just starting to hear about some of those conversations. So I don’t have enough kind of data to really say absolutely that’s where we are, but that’s not my gut given all the conversations I’ve had.

One of the one of the really interesting comments we got in our round tables is fairly, forward-thinking guy running an HR department said, “We’re using this as an opportunity to change things that don’t work. We’re weeding out things that don’t work.” And so I do agree with Stacia, like we are slowing down enough to sort of say, okay, now how do we institutionalize this rather than react to everything that’s going on right now? They think we’re doing it much more agilely and we’re allowing ourselves to not be perfect as we do it and adjust as we go rather than the way that we’ve done it for the last hundred years. Any thoughts on that?

I like the opportunity to do it better and fix the things that are broken. And I’m super curious, and I’ll ask you again in three to six months, you know, they had this moment, but did it last? And then how fast did we go back to just how it was or what kind of changes will remain and be institutionalized? It’s a super curious time. Yeah. I mean, please do ask us in six months cause I would like to know as well. I think that’ll be an interesting discussion.

Broad decision-making vs good, safe decisions (25:51)

All right. I’m just looking at time. I think we’re going to move on to the next question. We have many, many questions and we’re still on number one. So let me move to the next one. How can my organization find the right balance between allowing broad decision-making and ensuring safety, good decisions, etc? So this is one of things we heard quite a bit during the round tables and something that we’ve continued to hear is, you know, if I allow this amount of freedom or if we, if we put things in place where things don’t have to be perfect, how do we ensure that good decisions are going to be made and safety and those types of things aren’t going to suffer? You want to take a stab at that first Stacia?

Well, I think that we, we touched on it a little bit on the past question and that’s why we grouped these two together. But I think a lot of this comes down to you know, being clear on the expectations. You know, it’s, it’s a principles approach, not a rules based approach in terms of the decisions we’re making. With the exception being safety. That’s a rules based approach. And Dani and I have actually talked about this in the context of, and even learning systems that we offer. You know, using certain types of learning systems for compliance related content and things that we need to have clearly denoted as having mastery of. Versus other types of learning systems that we use where you’re trying to encourage exploration and learning and it’s okay to fail and all the rest of that. And so I think that that kind of dual track approach is important to think about, I think we have a tendency to rely on doing things one way, but they don’t think that’s the case. So safety, yes, you know, compliance focused. And then, you know, other things being more of a principles based approach and being clear in your communications on that.

I also think this is really changing the conversation we’re having in general and organizations. Like we’ve been so sort of, you know, how’s this person performing on a scale from one to five and if you screw up, you know, what does that mean for your career? We’ve been thinking in those terms for so long, because we’ve been focused on efficiency for so long, but I think this is really interesting. We’re now saying, listen, the world is moving too fast for the people at the top to make all the decisions we have to broadly distribute decision-making authority. So how do we do that? And how do we look at failure as data instead of looking at it as a failure of one individual? How do we take the information from all of those smaller failures and do something with them?

I think in one of these calls, I mentioned the CEO who challenged his direct reports to have intelligent failures. Which I think is really interesting. He didn’t, he didn’t measure them on successes. He measured them on how many intelligent failures, which means they thought through the decision, made the decision and then it still failed. How organizations are starting to think about failure and think about it as data rather than as a career blunder is a really interesting thing for me. And I think it kind of goes back to, Jacquie, the question you were asking. Is this going to hold or are we going to back down and start focusing on efficiency and making sure everybody’s in the right place again? Again, any thoughts from anybody else on this?

Does diversity really affect the ability to act? (29:08)

Let’s move onto the next question. I’m going to toss this one to Stacia because she is our resident expert in diversity and inclusion. One of the things that came out of our responsive organization, stuff that we did not necessarily expect was diversity and the role that it plays. So the question we got was does diversity really affect employees ability to act and react to their environment?

Yes. I mean, we all know, or maybe we don’t all know cause we got this question. There’s, there’s tons of studies that show the impact of diversity and diversity of thought and perspectives on our ability to see around corners, to look at things in different ways, and to be able to react more more thoughtfully and in a more agile fashion. You know, one, the things that ran through the responsive organization research was the importance of taking outside information and bringing it in and using that to kind of change our perspectives. And so when you build in, you have diverse people and diverse perspectives in your organization, you’re enhancing your ability to do that just from the get go, and then continuing to encourage those people to seek out those diverse experiences and diverse information I think is really important.

The other aspect of this, and Dani touched on this a few moments ago, is the idea that because the way information flows through an organization, the way that power networks work and organizations a lot of decisions and information gets held in specific networks within and therefore we’re not having nearly as much participation in providing new ideas, making decisions as we, as we might think we are. You know, just because we have diverse people in the group doesn’t mean that they’re getting the information and making decisions.

And so if you’re able to create a more inclusive environment where those people can bring their perspectives, you’re going to get that broader decision-making and authority. So, you know, if the answer is a resounding yes. I will say though, it’s not easy. And I think that’s the thing about all this distributed authority work is it’s not the most direct line that you can see from here to there. It might, you know, kind of go around and around like this, but the thing is, is when you get here, the result is better, but it takes a a willingness to kind of engage in the less linear path to get there. I think that’s the crux of everything we wrote about in this research is, you know, the greatest efficiency is not necessarily the best way forward. And so we needed to kind of get out of that mindset and be more open, you know, open the aperture to possibilities and ideas that may not be what we, to those in the leadership in the high power positions, think is exactly the right way to get there. Any thoughts on this or examples that you’ve seen?

One of the things that we heard in the roundtables was the idea of introverts versus extroverts and how most workplaces are built for the extrovert. And so we actually had a pretty deep discussion, a 15 or 20 minute discussion, on how you, how you engage those introverts in an organization or in a system that doesn’t necessarily recognize them. A book by Susan Cain “Quiet” is fantastic, especially if you’re like me and are an introvert. But some of the other things that we heard were, you know, send really detailed agendas and make it really how they’re going to be expected to participate in those. Be aware of those that aren’t actively participating in, ask them their opinion, or text them in the background and see if they have questions. Or establish that there aren’t any really bad ideas, there are just ideas and we’re all here to learn from each other. And those things sort of go back to, you know, it’s effort. It’s effort, and it’s not a direct path, but the ideas and the path that you have moving forward is probably going to be much better.

I’ll just add reinforcement, that I agree diversity is very important. Diversity of thought, experience, backgrounds. But I would call out what you just said about the effort that it takes to make it safe for people to put their thoughts forward. Space to fail and also the time that it takes to do all that. And the power networks, I think, is very important to call out the power networks. Trump and many of the others. Because if you’re asking for their opinions or experiences, but they’re only saying what they think the power network wants to hear, you’ll never get that diversity. So there’s other things that are at play. This is definitely not something that stands alone. Any other thoughts on this particular question?

Empowering employees when it’s not linked to financials (33:54)

Okay, let’s move on to the next one. How do we empower employees to create development plans, document them and act on them if they are not linked to any financials? I thought this was a really interesting question. In organizations that are responsive or even organizations that are healthy and that are working well employees understand that those development plans are very useful to themselves. So it’s not just for the organization. It’s not just check the box activity, but they are designed and supported by managers and upper leaders to make sure that that employee is developing in the direction that they wanted to go. And so in organizations where this is not happening, where you’re really struggling to get those development plans in place, it’s usually due to lack of communication about their importance and the benefits associated with him, lack of support from the managers, the direct managers and lack of enablement of those individuals to make sure that those things happen. So in a lot of organizations, if the manager doesn’t value them, then they’re just not going to get done.

(34:57): Whereas in organizations where this is working well, the manager is as involved as the individual, but the individual also knows that they can call on the manager at any time to have that discussion about what’s next in my career and help them move forward. Stacia, did you want to add anything before I open it up?

No. I mean,I just kind of laughing at the beginning because when we first got this question, I was thinking to myself, “Well, what are their incentives, right?” If people know what their purpose is, what their work is, what they’re trying to get out of this experience, I think that this question goes away to some extent. But if you’re unclear on helping people understand what the benefit is: What’s in it for me? And instead if you’re using development plans as a mass grave for just how can we get you to do this work that more effectively for us? And there’s no “what’s in it for me” for the employee then yeah, you’re going to have a problem. Which I feel like is stating the obvious, but it never fails to amaze me how often that seems to get forgotten the ultimate employee what’s in it for me.

Completely agree. One of the other lenses that we’re not necessarily hitting on today is transparency and growth, which kind of weaves right into here. How is your organization providing opportunities for individuals to develop? So if you’re giving them their employee development plan versus opening up and saying, here are all your options, how can I help you develop the way you need to? It’s a completely different mindset and it’s a culture shift, but one we’re seeing more and more. Any thoughts from anybody else?

I think it’s tough developing people in a very VUCA world. So you put plans into place, but nobody really believes that you’re going to be there to enact that plan. Then you have to start saying, “Are we doing this for you as an individual so that you can transcend this company and you can take what we give you to our competitor, etc? So I think we need a new approach for development planning, where we take into account the reality that somebody is probably going to leave in two years. One interesting phenomena and I don’t know if it speaks to this side, I have the privilege and it is a privilege of coaching some great leaders. I’m not a great leader. I’m a much better coach than I am. I’m a better coach of leaders than I am a leader. And I stay with my people from job to job. So when they change companies, I stick with them. And so in a sense that is a continuous development plan. So when we work on the development plan, we don’t make an assumption that they’re going to be staying in the company where I originally started working with them. I wonder if more companies would have the courage to start doing that with their employees, particularly with Gen Zs, by the way.

Yeah. I think it’s an interesting point, Max, and I think it goes into the whole coaching and mentoring aspect that we’re also seeing come up in the development space. Just like with skills. I did a quick sort of view of this space and there are over a hundred technologies that focus on coaching. One of the biggest is BetterUp. And that’s exactly what better up does. It basically says, Hey, coaching is for everybody. And we’re going to bring in these coaches from outside, not necessarily in the organization. And so I’m working with somebody to develop myself, not necessarily develop myself for the role that you need me in right now. So I think more and more organizations are starting to think about that.

I also talked to a really tiny company called Lighthouse started by this woman who’s like 30 years old and she’s kind of on fire right now. What she’s done is she’s basically gone to all the big business schools and recruited people to be coaches for those people that you’re talking about. So Gen z and early millennials basically said, “Hey, you’re moving from your first role to your second role. You need some coaching. Let’s have someone talk to you that just barely got through with that, to help you think through what the next step should be, or what options you have in this place that you are.”

So I think more organizations are starting to adopt that mindset, but it’s hard to get people to stop thinking about what’s in it for me as an organization. What are the immediate things that I can see from developing this person right now to a much broader sort of how do we develop a development culture here? And how do we make it a safe place for everybody to develop and remain friends with them, even if they decide to move on to another organization?

Yes. I was just going to say one thing, literally every client that we work with has rolled out some version of growth mindset in the last couple of months. And as part of that, what we’re starting to see is baking the development into their rewards and recognition. So traditionally, most companies reward some combination of performance and contribution. And adding growth and development to that equation, I think is something that’s sort of a logical next step. If they’re really serious about their growth mindset that you need to recognize and reward the development people are taking on and what they’re accomplishing in that regard. Because it doesn’t necessarily show up right away in their performance or business results. It’s an investment in their future. And that collective future of the organization.

I love that idea Brian. I don’t know that I’ve seen it quite as much as you have yet, but I love the idea of rewarding people for having that growth mindset or being motivated to continue to learn and grow and develop. We’ve talked about how HRN learning and development can’t understand everything that an employee needs. It has to be sort of a do it yourself job. And so rewarding that is really cool. The other thing that I really like about it is as far as performance goes, you’re completely in charge of how you develop. It doesn’t rely on how your function is doing or what your manager did. It’s purer in a sense than some of those other things that we usually measure people on. I love that idea. Other thoughts before we move on here?

So just to add, that’s a great point from Brian, is that at IBM now a growth mindset is a requirement to keep your job literally. So, in other words, you are at risk if you are not developing yourself skills-wise, knowledge-wise, etc. over any given period. So that’s quite quite tough building it in, but very much speaks to the point that Brian was making.

Companies empowering employees during COVID-19 (41:44)

Yeah, very interesting. All right. I think we’re over time already. Let’s do one more question and then we’ll wrap this up. And I think I want to do this one. How are companies empowering employees during COVID-19? I would love before Stacia and I answer this, because we’ve done a little bit of research on it, I’d love to understand from from the rest of you, what are you seeing? How our employees sort of approaching COVID-19 as an opportunity for change?

Well, this is Brian again. I mean, the number one thing is empowering employees to decide if and when they come back to the office under what conditions and what sort of precautions or measures need to be in place. I see that a lot because employees are all over the board. There’s some people that have no intention of returning to the office anytime soon. And some people that really miss being around other people. There’s people who have no interest in wearing masks ever under any circumstances. There’s other people that insist that, if they’re in the office, they want everybody to wear mask. And putting all that decision-making authority in the hands of employees. I think at least four different big clients that we have all taken that exact same approach.

I like that a lot. What are other people saying? Also that seems really important. I don’t know, feeling safe in your work environment seems to be a pretty big deal. So the fact that they’re empowered to actually make those decisions for themselves is awesome. What are other people seeing?

I know, sort of along with that, one of the things that we’re seeing is more organizations are being flexible with work hours. Particularly as students go back to school or not. I know we’re being very flexible with that, right Stacia? It’s a different world than it was in March of last year. And so figuring out how to make it work for your employees so that they can make it work for their families is becoming a bigger thing. Both the hard rock and those organizations that are not allowing flexibility and a benefit in those organizations where they are. Other thoughts on this one?

All right. We have lots of stories in the responsive organization research that kind of address this. So if you’re interested in some more examples, go ahead and go there.

Crisis management vs optimization (44:21)

Dani, there was one comment in the chat that I had just want to squeeze in here before we wrap. So, someone said to the point is it going to hold? And I think this got back at some of the development conversations we were having. This person said, when I speak to strategy consultants selling to C-suite, they tell me that topics which actually get traction with clients right now are burning topics, real crisis management, badly broken things. Optimization topics, the kind we are discussing here are a difficult sell, say the diversity topic we’ve just discussed. Clients are much more interested in getting help with BLM reputation, money management, but broader diversity topics do not get much traction at the moment. Do you relate to this?

So I’ll maybe jump in and then you can open it. I think yes, but I don’t know that that’s any different now than ever. You know, the burning platform is always the thing that is going to get the C-suites attention. I’ll go back to the diversity topic, which I think is potentially different. Particularly with regard to diversity, and also, I may have mentioned we’re doing some research on purpose, there is a greater sensitivity to the purpose-washing or diversity-washing that organizations may be engaging in, particularly right now with regard to Black Lives Matter, then there was in the past.

And so there is a huge amount of cynicism to people just posting on their Twitter account, we believe black lives matter and leaving it at that, if they don’t then turn their focus also inwardly and talk about what they’re doing within their own organizations with regards to diversity and inclusion. Now is that driven because CEOs understand that like BLM management means that it also means you need to focus internally? Maybe that might be it. But I do think that because of the increasing power of employee’s voices as stakeholders that we are seeing that greater focus on a number of things. So so I don’t know that that now is any fundamentally different in burning platforms being what gets attention. But I think the extent of how far the platform is burning into the organization, may be shifting.

Wrap up (46:58)

Any thoughts on that? It’s a big topic. We should have addressed this at the beginning of the end. Lots of say on this one. Yeah. Okay. Well, I think we’re going to leave it there. Always, if you have thoughts or comments that you didn’t necessarily want to share on this call, please feel free to give us a shout out. Contact us on LinkedIn. We’ve provided our email pretty much everywhere. We’d love to hear from you and your, your thoughts. It makes our research better. And I want to mention our next one is September 17th. And I had mentioned at the beginning that you kind of did the slice of responsive organizations for people analytics. We’re going to be doing the slice of responsible organizations from managers. And we’re kicking off that research. We’ve actually got a survey that’s going to publish this week on the topic, and then we’re going to do this next Q&A call also on that topic on September 17th. So if you all want to come along to that, that would be great.

And then the other thing we want to mention is, as I said last time, we have our membership kicking off. It will launch sometime in October. We’re just doing a lot of work on the website. We want to get it perfect, cause it’s brand new. So you all will see that at some point, but I’m not putting my money on it. Maybe by the one after that we’ll have the membership up and going.

Alright, thank you everybody for joining.


Stacia Garr

Stacia is a Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research and focuses on employee engagement/experience, leadership, DE&I, people analytics, and HR technology. A frequent speaker and writer, her work has been featured in Fortune, Forbes, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal as well as in numerous HR trade publications. She has been listed as a Top 100 influencer in HR Technology and in D&I. Stacia has an MBA from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree from the London School of Economics.

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