Managing Better in 2021: Enabling Responsive Managers

Posted on Monday, April 12th, 2021 at 3:13 PM    



Holly Foster:
Okay. Hi there everybody. We'll give everyone a few seconds to dial in and then we'll get started with the webinar. Okay. The numbers increasing, Let's say we'll get to 80 and then get started. Okay. Hi there. And welcome to today's webinar. Managing Better in 2021, Enabling Responsive Managers. My name is Holly Foster. I'm a Senior Customer Success Strategist here at Culture Amp. And I'll be your emcee for today's event. I'm joining you today from the lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. I'd like to acknowledge the traditional custodians and pay our respects to elders past, present and emerging. I'd also like to extend respect to all first nations people from everywhere you're joining from today.

House Keeping

Holly Foster:
So we're really excited for our speakers to be sharing some great data and insights today, as well as some real life stories. But before we get into the session, here's a few housekeeping things just to be mindful of. This session will be recorded and the video and slides will be shared afterwards, ask questions using the Q and A function. You can also upvote your favorites. So please be sure to do that. And we'll be stopping at a number of points throughout to answer questions too. So be sure to add them throughout the session, based on the topic at hand, and don't feel like you need to wait until the end. When using the chat function, make sure to update your settings to panelists and attendees so that you can share your learnings and best practice with others, as well as asking questions. Also, we're all about feedback at Culture Amp. So we'll be sharing a link in the chat and in the follow-up email afterwards after the session. And we'd love to hear your thoughts on the session. Now to help get the conversation started, please share your name, company, and one thing that you're really hoping to get from this webinar in the chat now.

Holly Foster:
Next slide, please.

Who is Culture Amp

Holly Foster:
Thank you. So whilst everybody is intro-ing in the chat and before I hand over to today's speakers, we know that many of you on the line, may be customers with us already, and we're so excited to have you join us. And for those who are unfamiliar with Culture Amp, welcome, we're the world's leading employee experience platform, working with culture first organizations to measure and improve their company's employee experience. As you can see on the slide Culture Amp is really built on two core ideas. Firstly, we help you drive the performance and development of your organization, but helping you collect, understand, and most importantly, act on employee feedback in areas like engagement, wellbeing, and DNI. And secondly, for organizations to thrive, we know that it's really important that the employees within it are thriving. So we have culture and performance to drive the development and performance of your people. And most importantly, regardless of if you're focusing on individuals or the entire organization, our platform has really optimized for action. So our intention is to help organizations and the individuals within them to become better versions of themselves and to put that people and culture first when creating a successful business.

Holly Foster:
So onto today's event, next slide, please, we're really excited to be partnering with RedThread Research to bring you today's session. We're also very pleased to have one of our fantastic customers, BDO New Zealand share that point of view. So I'm going to be handing now to Stacia and Phil to introduce themselves, and I'll be back with you throughout the session and at the end for Q and A throughout.

Stacia Garr:
Thanks so much, Holly. Hi everybody. Thank you so much for joining today. I'm Stacia Garr I am Co-founder and Principal Analyst with RedThread Research. And I want to start by first saying thank you for attending. We know that you all are very busy and have many things on your plate, but you took some time out today to learn something new and to develop the folks in your organization. And that's just a commendable and wonderful thing. So thanks so much for being with us. I'm joined by Phil Boyd-Clark. Phil, would you like to introduce yourself?

Phil Boyd-Clark:
Thanks, Stacia. Hi and welcome today. I am genuinely excited to be here and I was really pleased when Holly and Stacia asked me to join, just to talk about some of the journey and some of the things that we've had over the last year in particular. So I'm excited about hopefully sharing some of those.

RedThread Research

Stacia Garr:
So Phil and I wanted to give you both give you all a moment to learn a little bit about where we're from, just to share a bit of our perspective. So, as I said, I'm the Co-founder of RedThread Research. We're a human capital research membership, and we focus on a variety of topics, including employee experience relevant for today, but also performance learning and career people, analytics, DEIB an HR technology. And so what I'm going to be bringing to today's conversation is much of the quantitative insights that we have from a study that we did on how managers have been managing through the pandemic and how the most effective managers have done. And then Phil's going to add a lot of the color and the excitement of what he's seen from his experience over the last few but really over the last year. So Phil, do you want to introduce BDO New Zealand?

BDO New Zealand 

Phil Boyd-Clark:
Sure. So a BDO is an accounting firm for those of you don't know, and we've got a global presence, I'll talk more about New Zealand. So my role is the head of people and capability for BDO in New Zealand, we've got about 800 employees across 15 offices from the top of the country to foreign country and everywhere in between. And we like to think that people are genuinely the heart of our business and that we genuinely just went after to them. So either more around employees or more about people and the experiences within their life as opposed to their job itself. So that's part of what I'm trying to bring to the role. And to BDO New Zealand is actually looking at people for more than more than the numbers that they they deliberate each day and more than a relationship they have with their client. So I'm generally excited about talking about some of the learnings we had in the pandemic and beyond and possibly also address some of the learnings we had in a different crisis that we managed about 10 years ago.


Stacia Garr:
Okay, great. Thank you, Phil. So for those of you on the line today, this is our agenda. We're going to begin with some of the key findings from the research that my firm did on, around managing better. That was actually the title of the research that we did. And we're going to share some of the behavior shifts that we saw during the pandemic and the challenges that we saw that managers were faced. And interestingly how those differed by the most effective managers and those managers that were judged by their direct reports as being less effective. We're then going to dive into how managers have been enabled, how these responsive managers have been enabled. And we're going to look at four lenses. And the way that this part is going to work is I'll give a little bit of a touch of the research, and then Phil will bring that to life with his experience.

Stacia Garr:
We'll then pause after each one of those lenses to take your questions. And so I mentioned that because we'd love for your questions to come in on a continuous basis as we go through today's session so that we can address them to the extent that we can right there in the moment, when are fresh in your mind, and then we'll move on to the next lens. So that's going to be our flow we'll then end with a few minutes at the very end for question and answer, all right, with that, let's get started properly.

Overview of research

Stacia Garr:
So I'd like to share just a little bit about the research that we're doing, because it's actually one of the most robust pieces of research that we've ever done. So the study, as I mentioned is called Managing Better. And we built this based off of three different pieces of research.

Stacia Garr:
The first is a piece called the responsive organization study. And what was interesting about that was we actually ran that study in December, 2019. So we didn't know that it was a pre pandemic snapshot, but that's exactly what it ended up being. We then built on that study through the early parts of the pandemic with an understanding of people analytics in particular, and really kind of what was shifting around this topic of how people are managing. We then moved on to this responsive manager study, which ultimately ended up being Managing Better. And we did that where we collected the data in September and October of last year. And so you can see here a little bit of detail, and if I believe folks we'll get the slides afterwards. So you can, if you really want to get into the gory details. But we did a whole bunch of analysis, a large number of interviews over the course of this research.

Stacia Garr:
And so hopefully what we're sharing with you is based on the best sound practice, it's certainly based on the most sound practice that I know how to do. So that's just a little bit of background.

Key findings

Stacia Garr:
So what did we learn in this research? There are a number of things that were pretty interesting. So the first thing, and this is really the good news of the research is that there was a lot more openness to new information among managers during the pandemic. And that would make sense, you know, we were, we were really faced with this reality that none of us had known how to respond to and we needed to be more open to new ideas and approaches. And I think that came through in our data. One thing that's interesting, I think though about Phil's story is he'll share how previous crises have actually informed their ability to respond to the pandemic and how we can kind of learn on a continuous basis from some of these things.

Stacia Garr:
But, but that's one of the things we found in our research. Second point here is that despite that shift in general, we found that there was not nearly enough support provided for managers and employees. And I'll give some data points here in just a moment to illustrate that point. The third point is that the most effective managers have a much greater impact overall, and I'll share some of that information. And then finally the highly effective managers excelled at specific practices within these four lenses that I mentioned.

Positive shift in behavior during pandemic

Stacia Garr:
So if we dig into this in a little bit more detail. I mentioned the positive shifts in the behavior during the pandemic, there are really two that we saw. One around level of openness to receiving new information and level of autonomy. So if we compare kind of what we saw in that 20, 19 to 2020 data we saw in 2019 the numbers that you see here in red, but in 2020, we saw a meaningful shift in these were statistically significant improvements in terms of manager's level of openness to new information and their level of autonomy the employees work. So that was the good news. The not so great news was some of the challenges that managers were facing and really kind of how they, they were facing them. So let me build this for you all.

Top challenges for managers

Stacia Garr:
So what we looked at was we asked managers, what are some of the biggest problems or biggest challenges that you're facing when it comes to managing folks? And what was interesting was the first one increased stress level among employees. And then the bottom two, the reduced connection to employees due to physical isolation and lack of clarity around the future from leadership were actually factors that managers themselves couldn't control. That doesn't mean that they weren't a problem. They absolutely were a problem, but it was interesting that they were things that managers couldn't necessarily control, but the things that they could control a bit more where the, the second and third items, so less time ability to give coaching and guidance or difficulties guiding in employees on top priorities. So the reason I mentioned this is because we saw a difference between how managers perceive these problems based on their effectiveness.

Stacia Garr:
So the most effective managers focused on one side of things, whereas the least effective managers focused on something else. So what were those? Well, if we looked at the really effective managers, you can see it wasn't that they weren't bothered by increased stress levels among employees. But the second two items that I mentioned were the next, most important in terms of things they were facing, but for the least effective managers, they were also worried about the stress levels, but they had a much higher percentage focus on things like reduced connection to employees or lack of clarity around the future, which are things that the managers themselves couldn't control. Whereas the, really the best managers were focused on things like not being able to give coaching and guidance and guiding employees. So what this tells us is that these managers, those most effective managers knew that there were things that they needed to do and that they wanted more organizational support from, but they weren't necessarily getting it by and large across our dataset.

Stacia Garr:
But the managers who were performing the best did say that their organizations were actually also supporting them the best, which was interesting. And you would expect so why does this make a difference? Well, we found that the managers who were most highly effective so that they were their employees were four times more likely to recommend their company to others. They were three times more likely to be highly engaged and they were 10% more likely to intend to stay with their company. Now, the last point, I think is maybe up a little bit for debate. And actually before this, Phil and I had a little had a conversation about this because you know, a lot of folks have stayed within their company if they had a job during the pandemic, you know, I think somebody was calling it sheltering in place at work.

Impact of highly effective managers

Stacia Garr:
You know, you're just not going to go anywhere because you've got a decent job and you're going to just stay and do it. And so just this 10% intend to stay numbers, is that really meaningful? I think that the way that we interpreted it was that, you know, it's a positive sign, but people still have to work to keep these in place, particularly as, you know, organizations are coming out of the pandemic. And as we start to think about a potential, pretty significant talent, a reshake a shakeup with people moving on to new places. So I think that's an important point. I guess I'll, I'll maybe take just a moment there because I've been talking for a little bit. Phil, did you have anything else that you wanted to add here, particularly around that last point?

Phil Boyd-Clark:
Yeah. Just something that I'll draw upon as I go through later on as there's a saying that like many of us have heard before, which is people will join organizations, but they'll leave the manager. And so kind of what I looked at this around is that the research reinforces that point. And as we come out of this pandemic, as we talked about earlier, a lot of people may feel that they're trapped in their job and that they may have gone to the seas or gone to get some different experiences and other places, which is aligned to their, or was aligned to their career aspiration. But because of the pandemic, they've held off doing that. So one of them that we're preparing for and the kind of, one of the things that New Zealand has is, this concept of, overseas experience, a lot of people want to go overseas to gain some experience relatively early in their career before they settle down and have kids and buy houses and all those kind of things. So we're acutely aware a lot of people who ordinarily would have had those experiences, haven't had the the possibility. So as soon as the border starts opening up, we're expecting a great abstained of people to go and grab and gain those experiences. So we're trying to plan for what that looks like and in a year's time or six months time, given we just waiting to see what happens with the border.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah. Yeah. I think, I think it'll be interesting cause you know, I think part of this though, is we knew that people you know, if they go and have those overseas experiences and they do come back and what they'll remember is kind of what this experience was like with BDO. And so you might be looking at, you know, boomerang talent that may be coming back in the future. And, and so, you know, it may feel like a little bit of a impossible struggle at the moment, but it's not, if you think about it kind of the long curve of things.

Phil Boyd-Clark:
Yeah. I look at it in two ways. There's good, good attrition, and there's bad attrition. And I define it very differently. One of the business leaders were too and good attrition is when people leave a company with a high degree of respect and admiration for their company, bad attrition has when people leave annoyed, frustrated and resentful towards it. And so it's about giving people great experiences so that when they leave, they are advocates for the firm and advocates for the company. And that's what the highly effective managers are able to achieve. And that's a very powerful part of employment brand.

4 lenses of responsibility

Stacia Garr:
Yeah. I love that. I've never heard somebody talk about it that way, but I think that's a great way to think about it. Okay, cool. Well, let's, let's keep this moving. So what did we see in the data when it comes to enabling responsive managers? As I mentioned, we saw what we call four lenses and the first one of those is respect, and we're going to dive into each of these in more detail. But the first one is that foundation of respect in terms of, you know, getting information, soliciting feedback from folks and then providing that psychologically safe environment to work. The second concept, and this is probably my favorite one is this concept of distributed authority. And this means not, you know, kind of holding all the tasks to center and holding all the control to center, but instead enabling and kind of pushing power out to the edges of the organization, if you will. And I think part of the reason this is my favorite one is because it's been the one that I've seen the biggest division. It's been the thing that has made really companies during the pandemic who have been really successful. They've been really good at handling distributed authority and those who have been not successful and have really struggled. They have been really poor at this. So that's one of the reasons it's my favorite. Again, we'll go into these in detail.

Stacia Garr:
The third one is around transparency and growth. And as we thought about this in the study, and as we tested it, we were talking about performance transparency, expectation, transparency, and supporting managers as well as employees through their continued growth. What I love actually about our conversation before this is Phil has a slightly different interpretation or a broader interpretation which I think is really nicely additive. And so we'll get into that in a little bit more.

Stacia Garr:
And then finally trust. And so a lot of times we get asked, well, how is respect different than, than trust? Because it feels like they go very hand in hand. But I think the difference is that respect is just the bare bones of what you need when it comes to the relationship with the employees. But trust is that additional level. There's a a sense of truly valuing employees fostering openness, and the trust to have that open dialogue which is started with psychological safety, but kind of built upon in greater amounts and then connection to community. So this idea that we're in this together, and I think Phil, you've got a really nice example of that.


Stacia Garr:
So let's dive into these a little bit more detail, and we're going to start here with respect. And as we thought about this from the manager perspective, this is really that the manager truly shows up as the primary enabler of respect for employees. So what does that mean?

Stacia Garr:
When we looked at the areas of effectiveness, the best managers did these things. So some of them, they were using technology to provide suggestions and ideas to the organization. So they were using that for their employees to provide those suggestions and ideas. The employees themselves said that they were encouraged to share their perspectives at work. And again, that, that concept of psychological safety and what we saw was that this was very common amongst the most effective managers. But that in general, these numbers declined from before the pandemic. So you can see the numbers decline. The one that concerned me the most is that last one, that psychological safety reduced so dramatically 17% is just a huge shift for kind of any of these numbers. All of these numbers are significant changes. But 17% is just absolutely massive. And so, you know, as Phil and I were talking about this in preparation, you know, this question of how do you create psychological safety? How do you, you know, gather insights and enable people to really have this foundational conversation was important one. So, Phil, do you want to share your story of what you saw across BDO New Zealand?

BDO New Zealand insights

Phil Boyd-Clark:
Yes. Sure. so we, we kind of mentioned earlier BDO genuine believe our people are extremely important to our business and our the heart of our business. And we know we have to support them when the pandemic pandemic hit. We were acutely aware of the need to continue that theme and to show support. So we established that like most organizations did, I covered response team, which included four members of our board, our chief technology officer, our marketing manager, and myself and early on, we made the decision that our primary focus was support our people. And plus behind our people, this is what I'll clients. We met daily and we would agree kind of what initiatives we roll out that day. And then we'd review how we made progress the subsequent day. And I met the people in capability community on a daily basis as well, to ensure that we all are aligned and that we're rolling out initiatives across our different offices.

Phil Boyd-Clark:
One of the initiatives that we rolled out was probably one of the most valuable initiatives was a pulse survey, the COVID response survey, which we administered through Culture Amp. And we rolled that survey out twice during our kind of lockdown one to find out how people are doing. And secondly, to find out how we could support them, better support them. And that was all about and showing that our intention of supporting our people was delivered on. And we wanted to hear from our people around whether we were delivering on our intention. The comments in the survey that people, people wrote on the verbatim comments, but probably the most valuable part of that feedback. Cause we could look in a lot of detail on what they were thinking, what they were feeling and respond to that. And we knew we had to show it, not just that we asked them the point of view that we were then listening to the point of view, but we need to explain what we were doing and how we were doing it, why we're doing it that directly related to the feedback.

Phil Boyd-Clark:
So one very small example, which is on the slide in front of you, is we, when we moved. So New Zealand had at four alert level. So level four, which is extremely strict, we then dropped down to level three and then we've got to live with two. We were able to return to the office and we're able to return to schools that schools needed time to get ready to accept the students. It's one of the concerns that was raised by about 40% of people who have made comments to the survey was about the not being able to return to the office until the kids could go to school. Fair enough. So what we decided to do was to actually only reopen our officers, when schools were open as opposed to when alert levels were. And that was just a very small example of this type of feedback we have in this point report and allowing how people to feel that they had. And we had my understanding what they're going through and we responded accordingly to demonstrate that respect and to show that we were all in this together.

Stacia Garr:
Great. And I think that one of the, the points that you made was around just kind of equipping these leaders with, with the ability to kind of have these conversations. Could you a little bit about that and I've just seen on the chat that there's a few questions about psychological safety. And so could you maybe just give a few more examples there?

Phil Boyd-Clark:
It was really important for us to break down the feedback to a more manageable level. So the overall level we had a huge number of comments and a whole lot of responses, but we could break the information down to, to a team level. And that allowed each partner and the managers within the partners teams to really understand what those individual teams are looking for. In a way that, you know, they wouldn't, the team members wouldn't see the side of their partner directly or to the manager directly, that would kind of be the quieter on. And we could actually really work out what pockets of our wellbeing initiative really needed to to pick, to be in half. So we could work out which officers or which teams needed a bit more support from us going forward. If that allows us to get quite granular and allowed us to actually be in looking at an overall wellbeing kind of initiative response to more tactical responses based on the needs of the teams.

Phil Boyd-Clark:
And that again, allowed us to show that we were listening to people at quite a granular level and responding to the abuse at a very low level. So the example I got there as a high level kind of decision, but there were a lot more initiative to be rolled out, which was spoke to a specific team, the specific partners. So it was very much a useful comment. So the twelve thousand and forty two comments, I and a number of partners read every single one of those comments to really understand what was going on. And we then broke those comments down by teams, to really understand where the main support areas were and that's how we did it basically.

Stacia Garr:
Great. Great. Thank you. Holly, I know we've gotten a lot of questions in chat. Would you mind giving a couple Phil and me so that we can answer?

Holly Foster:
Yeah, for sure. So there are a couple that have got some upvotes, one that I think would be a great next step based on the conversation. So regarding the decline in psychological safety, is this due to the pandemic itself or due to remote working. So if people were working remotely, but not under the circumstances of the pandemic would we still see that same shift?

Stacia Garr:
We didn't test this specifically, but I'll offer an opinion and Phil would love yours as well. You know, I think that the situation of the pandemic resulted in a lot of people having, you know, questions from their leadership. And I think the difference in psychological safety was a subset of leaders at the core organizations were able to be clear, you know, we don't know exactly what's going to happen, but here's what we do know. Here are the types of things that we do know about where the business is going, et cetera. And I think that those organizations that really stepped up in their communications at the beginning were able to create more of that psychological safety, because you know, the implication of a lot of this is we're going to go into financial downturn in my job might be gone, you know?

Stacia Garr:
And, and so that creates a lot of that sense of a lack of safety. And so those organizations that were able to kind of address that as directly as they could, as they literally knew how given the information that they had, I think that they, they did better. You add onto that the remote working environment. And then, you know, that's hard, particularly because so many people were new to it. They hadn't, you know, I've worked remotely for 10 years. I think this is like the thing, right. But if you're brand new and you don't have that trust in this massive thing is happening yeah, I think it's going to create, you know, remote working hasn't a potential implication or a negative impact. It doesn't mean it does overall, but in that particular mix of, of crazy things happening, I think it did.Phil, what do you think?

Phil Boyd-Clark:
Yeah, when I finally answer as a true consultant, it depends, but it depends on, on a number of factors. So uncertainty definitely results on that and a lack of safety from a psychological perspective. So with the pandemic, there was a huge degree of uncertainty and naturally people are gonna feel anxious and cautious, and we've seen that continue to die. So I know Australia, New Zealand have this phenomenon of net lockdowns where we put the gun to lock down and come out of it. And we've found from our perspective that has actually resulted in a greater degree of anxiety for our people then going into a longer lockdown to loss of certainty around the going and from the state refreshing on this date. So I think it's not the pandemic that's it's really caused the anxiety. It's the uncertainty around the pandemic that's caused anxiety and that, and so that the role of what leaders have to do is provide as much certainty as possible.

Phil Boyd-Clark:
From New Zealand perspective, we were very fortunate to have an amazing leader as a prime minister Jacinda. Who had a communication style, that was very clear and that helped a lot of people just focus on what they could control and focus on what they needed to do and how they needed to do it. And I think we had a huge degree of compliance to our our rules and our social distancing guidelines and the lockdown criteria which I think can be attributed to that very clear guidance we had from our government's response. And I think that helped manage that or create a bit of a psychological safety for people in that context. So is it remote working? I don't think so. I think that we get used to remote working because the pandemic itself different provided a bit of context. I thought someone's trying to come into the room.

Stacia Garr:
Okay. Well, let's go ahead and move on

Distributed Authority

Stacia Garr:
So, then if we move to the second lens around distributed authority and what, does this mean? You know, I give a quick overview at the beginning. But really, I think it comes to this idea of one. We trust our people to make decisions and we empower them to do so. So we talked here on this side about guiding principles, providing folks with quality data and insights and helping employees understand and make sure they have the capabilities to make quick decisions in the organization. The way that we actually saw that show up was a few things that were really interesting when we did our interviews. So I'm going to go with the bottom bubble there, which is around clarifying decision-making authority. So we heard stories of people just writing decision logs, having senior leaders, right decision logs, explaining like this is why this decision was made so that people could read it and understand what the thought process was behind it.

Stacia Garr:
We heard a lot of discussions about putting in place frameworks so that people would understand, okay, who's the decision maker who needs to be informed. Who's actually you know, is just a stakeholder that needs to be brought in at certain points in the process. And just some very simple things around just making sure that people understand what is expected of them at different points in order to distribute authority much better. The second point though, I think is also really interesting, which is around enhancing manager, access to engagement, as well as other people data. So this point around giving folks the information they need to understanding what is actually happening with their teams, and then being able to make decisions and make changes based on that information was a critical factor that showed up for us. If we look at what this actually looked like from a data perspective this is what we see.

Stacia Garr:
So some of the top things that the most effective managers did was managing their time to focus on value, added tasks, not administrative burden. So their employees were able to do this. And their manager was able to, to support that. The manager being able to understand the team's engagement with the work and that the employee had a clear, as well as the manager actually had a clear understanding of the decisions I have the authority to make. So we see that, that top one, that ability basically to say, no, I know what the value added tasks are, and I'm going to get rid of this administrative burden was one of the biggest factors here on distributed authority. And we saw again like I said, pretty much all of our numbers went down. But the, the biggest one that, that I think had some obscurity was around that clear understanding of the decisions I have the authority to make. So that's kind of why I spent a little bit of time talking about some of those different decision frameworks that we saw folks do, because those seem to make some of the biggest differences.

BDO New Zealand- our response

Stacia Garr:
Phil, do you want to talk a little bit about what you saw with distributing authority at BDO?

Phil Boyd-Clark:
Probably important to provide a bit of context behind, this so I think many of you may be aware in 2010, 2011 Christchurch when one of our main cities in New Zealand suffered a series of earthquakes. I'm talking thousands of effects. There's two major ones in particular, which completely changed the landscape of the city. And it put the city and the country into an unexpected crisis, this was about 10 years ago. 10 years on, we found ourselves in the fortunate position where we're to leverage the learnings from the Christchurch earthquake and to how we responded to this pandemic. And our Christchurch partners in particular were instrumental. And Warren who was part of our response team as the managing partner of Christchurch was amazing and how he kind of guided the thinking around how best we responded to the pandemic and when. And at the time, and I remember a lot of people were catastrophizing and focusing on uncertainty and focusing aspects they couldn't control.

Phil Boyd-Clark:
And our Christchurch partners and Warren in particular we're able to draw upon their resilience and their learning and guided their pears by providing structure support and a methodical way of responding to the pandemic. And the next slide, I can kind of explain this as company based like as well, good diagram, but we used the four as of of crisis management to kind of respond. So initially we're trying to do everything at once, which was in the responding to the impact, trying to reduce the impact the pandemic was going to have on us and our clients. And, and looking to ensure that we we're ready for whatever else we're thrown at us. When we kind of sat back and thought about it, we actually just started to break it down a bit further and focused on today's problem today, and focus on tomorrow's problem tomorrow, and make haste slowly.

Phil Boyd-Clark:
And that really gave us a pathway and allowed us to be a little bit more tactical, how we responded. A lot of learnings came out of the crisis. And one of the organizations that was born out of the chaos of the earthquakes was the student volunteer army. And basically what that company did was to provide the students who are based a university students based in that city is a huge part of that study is that as the university provided them with permission to help. And so we took that learning and we knew we needed to provide our people with permission to help. So what we did is we there's a lot of information coming out from the government about their responsibility, economic kind of response to the pandemic and all our clients, what that all meant and what it meant for them or what they should do.

Stacia Garr:
So every day we were developing and distributing information to all our people around how we recommended our clients best respond to the support our government was providing. And that gave our people a lot of information and permission to help their clients when they needed, when their clients needed them the most. And we were acutely aware. We are in a very fortunate position where we, our services were undermined and our clients really need us. So we were able to help them. We just find a very cool native approach. But our approach was to develop all the stuff centrally, but all those collateral centrally and then distribute it to our people so that they could be in support our clients. And that gave our people a focus and an inability to function when they could control on what supported the clients.

Stacia Garr:
And Phil, could you talk a little bit about how did that happen? Right. So you mentioned that you're giving your, your partners information every day on what, on the types of conversations they may be having and how they can support their clients. But that seems like you know, you have to first kind of know what the questions are that they might be asking and, you know, to provide that guidance. So can you share a little bit about basically what was kind of the crisis response team that put this together, and then how did you communicate that?

Phil Boyd-Clark:
Yeah, a very good point. So we had so the the crisis response team then formed another team, which is basically looking at kind of how we best support clients. And we, it, as a group of individuals from across the country are here, we're looking at what the government was doing and how the government was responding and what support mechanism the governor was putting around clients basically, or businesses and how we could then support those times. So there's a lot of information from coming from the government and it was coming really fast, really quick. And the government actually said at the beginning we're assuming a high trust model. So the government pumped in billions of dollars into the economy to support businesses, to retain the people and stay afloat. And so our clients need to know how they can best access that information or that funding and the way that made sense for them and was the right thing to do for them and their employees and their clients.

Phil Boyd-Clark:
So it was around trying to make sense of all of that. And there were changes to the scheme, and there was a time when there was additions to the scheme. And then there was when different parts of the country went into different stages of lockdown, there was different changes. So there's a lot of information that we had to very quickly disseminate and then be able to provide information to our clients. And that gave our people a lot of opportunity to engage with the clients, understand their clients and how they can fly through that uncertainty, which has basically gave our people permission to help their clients and something that we've never dealt with before. And our clients never dealt with before. So it was giving them the confidence to have the conversation in a, in a civilized way.

Stacia Garr:
And I'm going to dig on this one just a little bit more, because there's a question kind of closely related to this in the Q and A. And so I'm just going to jump in first, which is, as you thought about the actual communication of this information, you mentioned, there's a lot of information that was coming from the government and you were trying to whittle it down. Were there any particularly effective practices that you use to make it easy for your partners and your teams to quickly understand the key messages and to then communicate them broadly? So, you know, is there any technology that you used or any particular approaches?

Phil Boyd-Clark:
Yeah, everything had to be online for obvious reasons because we're all working from home. And so we had a central hub that was set up specifically for our people to access on certain things and communication from each other's was very clear. So one of the things I was going to talk about that later, and I'll talk about now is our communication strategy initially started with lets start centrally and stem off the communication with everyone. We then realized quite quickly based on feedback receiving from people that actually they wanted to hear from a more local person and more local partners, a not a centralized team. And so we changed our strategy to focus more on each office communicating to be a people in authentic and a meaningful way. And that provided a greater degree of kind of pop up from our people.

Phil Boyd-Clark:
It was showing that we are more adaptable, more responsive, more accessible, and they could see more authentic by that, by the way, in which the messaging was written. So we didn't have a single person in a central office writing and communication with the partners. They had the key themes to write through and the key information disseminate, and they were doing the way that they would normally do it. And so we weren't filtering their message. We were basically enabling them to get out and help their people. And that response was quite powerful to, again, going back to the principle that we learned in 2011, give people permission to help.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah. Great. Holly, is there a quick question that we could throw in here. T.

Holly Foster:
There is, yes.

Holly Foster:
There is one that's been upvoted quite a lot from a participant. So probably along the same lines or kind of same thread as what we've just been talking about. So perhaps one that you can both address from the research perspective and then also your experience with BDO and it failed, but with manager's openness to the new information that's now available. Have there been any particular types of information that they're most open to

Phil Boyd-Clark:
Initially it was, as they were coming out of the with the information, we were trying to assimilate it, understand it, have a point of view on it and send it out over time. That's changed. So now it's kind of focused more around getting back to what the new normal looks like. And that's where I think our support has changed quite substantially. So if you think about when we first went into lockdown you know, we, in some of our offices, we had a very office bound capture. We hadn't necessarily embraced flexibility. And our people were forced to suddenly do so. And that was a massive adjustment and we need to support our managers in particular, suddenly having to remote manage remotely, which they hadn't sort of done previously. So as time progressed, people's needs changed and based on those needs changing, we had to have our finger on the pulse, and that's why they kept jumping up and down so important for us to have an understanding of what our people are thinking so we can adjust accordingly.

Speaker 4:
And that was the nice learning, the biggest learning for us as we have to consistently understand how best to support our people and the best way of doing that was to communicate with them and have direct feedback from them. So that the surveys we ran with, one part of that we had other mechanisms in, which were utilized to continue to make sure we had a really good health, I think, on the pulse and then responded accordingly. And now our response now is absolutely adjusting and changing and how we're responding to lockdown situations now is fundamentally different to what it was before. Because we've learned a lot and it's just you know, that we need to continue to maintain and provide clarity for our people so that they know what they need to do when they need to do it and how they can do it. So the safety or psychological safety is maintained as best it can be because this pandemic is still creating a lot of uncertainty for people. And that is still having a strain and the stress of a lot of people.

Transparency & Growth

Stacia Garr:
All right, well, let's go ahead and keep moving. The third lens is this one around transparency and growth. And I mentioned what that was at the beginning and in a lot of it was around performance and expectation, transparency, as well as just supporting overall growth. And the specific data that we had here in the, and there's, there's quite a few pieces of data on here was around things like employees receiving database insights on their performance, or getting insights on their current level of contribution. They're also business point about if employees don't know the answer, they know how to find it. And that's part of, kind of this whole growth concept and this idea of of having access as Phil mentioned, certainly online, but also a culture around going in and finding that information online. And what we found here is, you know, the, the best managers particularly focus on that first point around providing employees with database insights on their, their performance.

Stacia Garr:
But they also do a lot around just in making sure not just that they provide the data, but employees actually understand it. So message received, you know, just because I communicate doesn't mean that you actually understood it. So it was kind of both parts of that point. And we saw these numbers drop pretty dramatically from before the pandemic. So you can see those numbers there on the right. I kind of set up that Phil, you had a little bit of a different approach here on, on this one around growth and transparency. So do you want to share what happened with BDo?

Phil Boyd-Clark:
Yeah, I think during the pandemic we had early on, we made the commitment within that federalized team to protect our people. As I mentioned early on that meant protecting jobs with their livelihoods and everything in between. And pleasingly, we got through, you know, the last 365 days today because tomorrow marks the day we went into lock down a year ago and we got all our people through. And there were, we were asking people to make any sacrifices where, you know, we did a lot to support what the people and that was key for us up front, but the communication was key and extremely important that we had that right. And we knew no single communication was going to be perfect, but our process and journey of communication had to be near perfect. And that was our aim and we didn't get everything right.

Speaker 4:
And we adjusted accordingly because we had those different checks and balances, and we kind of knew how to, how best to respond. Or we actually had an official MS teams, like competition going, which is essentially that the person who got the most likes in MS teams for a particular posts, won with an official competition. And our IT manager who came first, second, third, and fourth. And because he was, it was using bribery with us, with this new puppy that he bought just before lock down and that became a mascot for us. So it was actually quite key to say how people were communicating and that communication allowed us to be very clear to people around what we expected of them and what they needed to do going forward to best support themselves, their peers, their colleagues, their clients, their families.

Speaker 4:
So that kind of just reinforced from my point of view, transparency and the need to communicate really clearly so that people again have be a little ambiguity around what's expected of them. And we were very, a lot of our communication is very open and honest around, we don't know what this will mean. We had no idea what impact of the pandemic was going to have on us when it first hit. We had no idea what impact it was going to have on the economy. But what we did know is what we did well, which was supporting people and supporting our clients. That's where we chose to focus. And that I believe made a big difference to our people because we didn't allow ourselves to catastrophize. We focused ourselves on what we could control and refocus themselves on what we knew we could do really well, which wasn't demand. And again, keep going to that point around, we were very fortunate that our services were in demand and our clients there to help. And we've been there. We were there to help them. And that's what was important. And I believe that's what got us through what was quite a challenge, year, last year.

Stacia Garr:
Yeah. Yeah. No. And I think though, you, yes, you were very fortunate, but clarity of communication is something everyone can benefit from.

Phil Boyd-Clark:
The honesty around. We don't know. I think it meant a lot to people around, like, we don't know where this is going to land, but this is what we do now. Now I go back to that quote that Warren said right at the onset is solve today's problem today and focus on tomorrow's problem tomorrow. And that was kind of a core theme of all our communications it's yesterday's problem. It's not going to solve it tomorrow is problem. We'll come back to you. And that gave people kind of focus around a reassurance that yeah, we're doing what we can doing and when we can do it and not allowing us to get ahead of ourselves

Stacia Garr:
And some nice mental space too, we're just going to focus here. Yeah. Holly, I know we've gotten lots of great questions. What can we do?

Holly Foster:
Yeah, lots of really good ones. SO thank you for sending them all through. And one that I think really ties nicely to the pillar of transparency and more product growth, the question is for Phil, but Stacia as well, we'd love to hear your kind of thoughts or anything that, I mean, research. But Phil, how did your organization facilitate mentoring and learning and the development to aid the growth of managers throughout last year?

Phil Boyd-Clark:
It's a very, very good question. And as I mentioned earlier, when we moved from level zero, essentially to level four, it was awful. It was a very unfamiliar environment, people to be in their homes, but working from home often with kids running around and trying to juggle that responsibility. So that transition was really hard for a lot of people, but they responded really well. And how we realized we needed to provide better support to our people and actually managing remotely and communicating and all those great things. And so we essentially set up a series, all every other organization that does as well as there's nothing unique, nothing innovative or beyond belief and just webinars for people to attend and actually allowed them to join when the one or two topics that people kind of told us they wanted us to focus on.

Phil Boyd-Clark:
So we had the fortune of having an amazing learning and development leader in our organization who went away and she did amazing work politics, collateral together, real time, and getting people to present in partnership with the, and we had really good uptake. To the point we've actually continued that webinar series, over time. So this year although, you know, we've been very fortunate to have basically 80% of our year outsource any form of lockdown last year. And this year we've continued with that. We have continued with that webinar series monthly, and I think it was last Friday, I presented one in providing feedback. So it was something that we think has really helped people, but it's also recognizing that, you know, learning development doesn't happen to happen. Face-To-Face, you can do it very well there remotely. And I think that's one of the capitalists that most organizations experienced last year, as you know, online learning is a really good platform and you can still be engaged and, and teach people to kind of learn in different ways and respond accordingly and develop new skills. So we did want to know and we did, one of the questions we asked in the survey was a question on, have you learnt new skills during the pandemic? And we had some very favorable responses from that, which was pleasing to see.

Stacia Garr:
And I'll just add from, from our perspective, we've seen an incredible growth in organizations investing in, in L and D platforms during this time. And so I think, you know, your, your point Phil around just bringing more learning, bring more relevant learning to folks has been a huge thing. The other thing though, is we can look to the future. And if we kind of think about the snapshot of the last three months as potentially being a prelude to what comes next is we've seen a greater investment in some of the coaching and mentoring technologies or in peer-to-peer coaching within organizations. So this idea of tapping into the expertise of folks who are within the organization both for the sake of, you know, improving skills, but also we know that people have said they felt more isolated, more disconnected.

Stacia Garr:
They're not growing their networks, et cetera. And so also as a way to kind of combat that particular problem. So, focus on mentoring and focus on coaching from a diversity perspective, also focused on sponsorship during this time.


Stacia Garr:
So, okay. I know we're we have just 10 minutes left, so let's get to our final, our final lens here, and that is trust. And so I set this up a bit around, it's not, it's not just respect. It is kind of, you know it is a different thing in that it is moving beyond that to a greater connection a greater sense of value employees, openness, and that idea that you're connected to the broader community. And so the way we captured that was this, you know, we're all in this together attitude that really helps employees learn from their mistakes and invest in solving problems together.

Stacia Garr:
And so when we look at the, the numbers around this you can see here some of the specific items on, again, on the left and what managers were doing. So things around helping me learn from my mistakes, that if a manager, if an employee says that their manager did that, they thought their manager is much more likely to be highly effective. Encouraged to share insights learned externally outside the organization. So not believing that, you know, all the learning has to take place here, but actually being encouraged to learn outside the organization and to bring that back. So this idea that you're trusted to figure out what's, what's great and important, and to build on that within our own organization. And then we've got, again, that question about is open to, to new information, which I know we, we addressed to some extent earlier. But we know that that has been kind of one of the biggest factors in, and obviously that's the one of the two that, that did increase with the with the research. So again, kind of Phil turning to you and trust, what did, how did you work to foster that.

Phil Boyd-Clark:
A very simple example. So when the pandemic hit kind of, we knew, well, things are going to change, and as often we view it as a catalyst to change. And when we came out of kind of the lockdowns that we had and the transitioning back, as I mentioned earlier, a lot of other people have a taste of working remotely. A lot of people just want to really well to work remotely and not be able to come to the habit of working from home. And actually we're a little bit reluctant to actually come back and and work in the office a hundred percent of the time. And we've seen that, that appetite for a greater degree of flexible working. And so we wanted to work with our people going forward to learn around what's going to work. What's not going to work and how do we actually take this forward together?

Phil Boyd-Clark:
And that's kind of what we're going to do is not just making assumptions and come up with the framework and say, here's a framework. We wanted to introduce a framework that was going to allow us to learn and evolve when adept with new technologies and try different things. And if they work, let's kind of roll it out further, or just teach people about the experiences and what we did, it doesn't work. And we just put it to the side. So we came up with a framework that was a little bit different, but it basically gives each team permission to decide what flexible working ranges are going to work for the individuals within that team based on the individual circumstances. So it wasn't around the framework saying PNC or HR are going to say yes or no to X, Y, and Z is around the team, controlling it.

Phil Boyd-Clark:
And the focus for the team began by the performance of the team and how they deliver it to their clients. And if they can continue to deliver their clients to exceed, deliver to the clients based on the arrangements they have, then that's a win-win that's a win for them, win for the firm and win for the team and win for the client and no losers. And as moving beyond this kind of concept of being in the office for the sake of being in the office to, to working in the place that you're going to be most effective and, had a good performance. So we introduced this new framework, which we're still rolling out. And we're still learning from, and we need to do about a six month review to understand what's worked, what hasn't worked, but we think we found something that worked for everyone. And it also importantly, what it's about is saying to people. The new normal we've got to change the way in which we deliver to our client,. let's do that together and let's see what you want. And if we could, we can accommodate what you want, but at the same time, and really important point is continued to meet or exceed the needs of the clients.

Stacia Garr:
And the other thing I love about this is it, it is distributing authority, right? You're giving clear principles, helping people understand how to make decisions and, you know, trusting them to do so.

Speaker 4:
And I'm giving them permission to say, is it working or not? So is it based on these four principles? If it's not, if it's not adhering to these four principles, then it gives the team ability to kind of call it out and say, Hey, this is not working for me. So one of the things we've got, we've got a lot of graduates. Who've just started a lot of graduates who just started as we went into lockdown last year. And they are that new they're fresh. And they like, they want to see who they're going to work for and they need a bit of coaching and support. So it became a locked down, those were the first people to want to be back in the office. But a lot of their kind of managers were a little bit more hesitant than we have to say it. They, they want you to be in there. And so it was very much around the grads and the more junior staff was saying, we actually need you to be with us to coach us. So it was about demonstrating respect for each other and each other's needs and adjusting accordingly. And it's about learning from each other.

Wrapping up

Stacia Garr:
Yeah, definitely. Well, we're going to go ahead and just do our wrap up here and then we'll do get the final questions in the last couple of moments. So when Phil and I were talking about some of the takeaways we were hoping folks would get the first here is about, you know, somewhat obvious, but the more you can support managers, the better, they're just such a huge point of leverage in the organization. And if you can give them the tools to do these things, I think that's, that's meaningful and powerful for the organization. Secondly, the role of managers is fundamentally changed and will continue to in the future. So I know there was a question about, you know, kind of post pandemic, what do we see as some of those future skillsets? And I think the ones that we saw people excelling at during the pandemic, you know, the distributing authority, building respect, trust, growth, and transparency, those are fundamentally going to be that those 21st century leadership management skills. And then third don't make assumptions and use data to disprove them. So I think Phil you've given some really nice examples of how, you know, people thought one thing, but then using the data and understanding it found actually that wasn't the case. You know, people manager, the younger employees wanted to be back in the office. They wanted the manager support and, you know, the data prove that so Holly, let's just get the last question or two that we had on the Q and A.

Holly Foster:
Yeah, for sure. We'll try and squeeze a couple in. So is around distributed leadership. So it seems to be a top-down approach. People are empowered by their leaders. And would you say that that's a fair statement and how would you encourage the, this distributed leadership by other ways other than that kind of top-down approach?

Speaker 3:
I'll jump in, cause I had a little bit more time to think about this before Phil. So I think that, you know, When we did this research, we have a lot of thoughts about self-directed teams and all these things that are, you know, powerful and, and kind of far less top down. And we we've found that that without some, if you look at their literature and kind of over time, those teams often do break down unless it's a very special organizational culture. And so I think that to some extent you do have to enable, I don't really love that word empower, but you do have to enable, and you have to give some level of permission for these things to happen. And, but I think that the extent to which you can give people great data, good principles, and understanding of how to make those decisions and they don't get in trouble for making those decisions. Then I think that you can really start to make this much more of a network of people doing great things as opposed to a top-down hierarchy.

Speaker 4:
I think it comes down to competence as well. You know, we, every, every role in organization has a purpose and everyone should be able to work towards that purpose without constantly having to ask them for permission to do so. And I do like that, sometimes it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission. And I say a lot of that kind of happening. And so people are confident in their ability to deliver to the expectations of their role. And I don't, don't wait for permission, just do it and back yourself. And like Holly and Stacia said, don't feel they're gonna get in trouble. They don't beat people up for getting it wrong. When they've all they're trying to do is the right thing based on what they thought they had, but yeah, might want to tie it up from my perspective giving people that permission. So to try things and potentially fail is really important for the gym.

Speaker 1:
That's great. We're one minute too, so we'll probably have to wrap there, but thank you for all of the questions. Really great to see all that in the chat. Yeah, you'll see contact details for Stacia and the wonderful Phil on your screen now do feel free to reach out or connect with them on all of the usual channels and also visit and thanks everybody for joining today.

Stacia Garr:
Thank you all and thanks Culture Amp for the opportunity.

Responsive Manager Tool

Posted on Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021 at 12:05 PM    

Responsive Manager Tool

This tool helps you identify areas crucial for enabling manager responsiveness. To learn more about our Model for Responsivity and why it is critical for managers to be responsive, read the report,
Managing Better: Piercing the Fog of Today’s Uncertainty.



About the tool

  • The assessment tool for responsive managers is a simple survey that takes 3 to 5 minutes to complete.
  • The tool helps you identify areas that managers need to improve based on the answers you provide.
  • Members can download and print a summary of their responses and suggestions on how to improve areas that need focus.

This tool helps you identify areas crucial for enabling manager responsiveness. To learn more about our Model for Responsivity and why it is critical for managers to be responsive, read the report,
Managing Better: Piercing the Fog of Today’s Uncertainty.



About the tool

  • The assessment tool for responsive managers is a simple survey that takes 3 to 5 minutes to complete.
  • The tool helps you identify areas that managers need to improve  based on the answers you provide.
  • Members can download and print a summary of their responses and suggestions on how to improve areas that need focus.

The Stats on Managing Better

Posted on Tuesday, November 17th, 2020 at 3:00 AM    

COVID-19 has changed how employees are working and interacting with their managers. Additionally, managers are now expected to be responsible for ensuring employees safety, support mental wellness, and facilitate difficult conversations. As in all situations, some folks have done it better than others. This infographic summarizes our report on this topic, Managing Better: Piercing the Fog of Today’s Uncertainty.

Click on the image below to get the full infographic. As always, we would love your feedback, which you can provide in the comments section below the infographic.


Managing Better: Piercing the Fog of Today’s Uncertainty

Posted on Wednesday, October 28th, 2020 at 7:09 AM    

In the face of a global pandemic, a critical social justice movement, and significant natural disasters, we’ve all done our best to manage our workloads, our employees, our home lives, our finances, and our health. As in all situations, some folks have done it better than others.

We wanted to understand what responsive managers and organizations did in the last 6 months – and how those practices are different from before the pandemic. But even more importantly, we wanted to understand:

  • What types of management practices do the most effective managers use?
  • How has HR supported those most effective managers?
  • What lessons can we take from this as we design our organizations and support our managers while moving into 2021?

This research is a culmination of more than a year of research, with new survey data collected and interviews conducted in September and October 2020, to ensure a focus on the manager and organizational behaviors critical to the events of 2020.

Responsive Managers: Enabling Managers’ New Roles

Posted on Thursday, October 1st, 2020 at 8:52 AM    

We all know managers have had additional responsibilities put on them over the last 6 months: They are no longer “just” managers who also coach. In many organizations, they have taken on the roles of dramatic reprioritizer of work, checker on mental health and well-being, and facilitator of social justice conversations. To say it’s been a hard period of time is an understatement.

Given the shifts in managers’ responsibilities, we held a roundtable to brainstorm and understand the answers to some critical questions:

  • How, exactly, do managers need to evolve their approach to better support their employees?
  • Given that, what is the role of organizations in enabling managers?
  • How should organizations do this when budgets may be constricting?

During the roundtable, which was attended by more than 30 leaders, we divided the attendees into 4 groups in which each group discussed different questions around what responsive managers and organizations can do in the current times to enable employees. In the mindmap at the end of this article, we provide a detailed overview of the points discussed.

But, as you all know, we like to focus on what’s most interesting. Below are our key takeaways from the session.

Key Takeaways from the Discussion

  • Keep personalizing: For years, we’ve seen a shift toward personalized employee experiences. The pandemic has put that into hyperdrive, as everyone is faced with their own set of unique and different challenges. Attendees called out the importance of managers understanding individual communication preferences, work schedules, work environments etc.. Additionally, some leaders suggested that managers need to bring about a mindset shift from managing a team to leading a team. People leaders should get to know their team on an individual level in order to understand their needs.
  • Build a scaffolding to enable lower-risk decisions: This refers to having explicit margins of error in place when it comes to decisions (e.g., if sales drop by 15%, we will stop this experiment). This can help clarify decision making rights, normalize failure, and de-risk decision making. A real-life example shared by a company included implementing a DACI (driver, approver, contributor, informed) framework which helps clarify the decision making process, improve accountability, and allow them to track how decision making has transformed or shifted during times of change.
  • Democratize information: While not a novel idea, it was promising to hear several participants share how their managers and leaders are increasingly being open to sharing more information and context around actions being taken. Frequent 1:1s, check-ins, feedbacks, and pulse surveys were mentioned as some of the common methods being leveraged to increase transparency and enable trust.
  • Build trust not toadiesManagers that are trusted by their team and are thus successful in being responsive to their team’s needs share common characteristics such as humility, admitting mistakes, forgiving others, and just being more human overall. One of the best ideas shared was that managers should play the role similar to a can of WD-40 oil, helping their teams smooth over their mistakes and fix them, instead of holding grudges. These ideas clearly point to a shift towards a new management style, one that is empathetic and more human.

We are extremely grateful to the attendees who enriched the conversation by sharing their thoughtful ideas and experiences. As always, we welcome any feedback or suggestions from you at [email protected]

Mindmap of Responsive Managers Roundtable Conversation

Note: This is a live document. Click the window and use your cursor to explore. If you have additional thoughts, please share a comment with us at [email protected].

Introducing the Responsive Organization

Posted on Tuesday, June 9th, 2020 at 10:37 PM    

Beginning in 2020, we decided to dive into a topic that we'd been thinking about for a while. Why are some organizations able to continue performing effectively and sustain themselves in the face of disruptions and external changes, while others are not?

We call such companies “responsive organizations” – and we launched our study with the aim to understand why responsivity is so important, what are the characteristics of organizations with high levels of responsivity, and how can we build for it. After collecting data from and interviewing more than 100 leaders, our findings revealed that there are 4 lenses through which organizations need to evaluate their people practices in order to become more responsive. Read about our findings in detail by accessing our report.

As always, we would love your feedback. If you have thoughts, please share in the feedback section!

Responsive Orgs: Lens 2 – Distributed Authority

Posted on Saturday, April 18th, 2020 at 7:50 PM    

The second layer of our Model for Responsiveness is DISTRIBUTED AUTHORITY. Our research indicates that responsive organizations empower employees to make decisions affecting their work, which enables collaboration and effective responses to market needs.

In this roundtable, we gathered a diverse group of global leaders for a discussion around the second layer in the Responsive Organization model.

Figure 1: A Model for Responsivity | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

Distributed Authority happens when organizations change the way their authority structures work. Instead of holding decision-making centrally (as most organization in the last 100 years are apt to do), authority to make decisions is spread throughout the organization, in all functions, and in all levels. Responsive organizations understand that, in order to respond to external pressures, people at the edges of the organization are often better equipped to make educated decisions about how to get things done.

3 areas of distributed authority

Figure 2: Behaviors for Building Distributed Authority | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

Distributed authority mindmap

Distributed authority roundtable video recap

Roundtable summary & leader advice

In the following sections, we expound on these 3 areas and highlight the good advice we heard at the roundtable.

Decision-making rights

Decision-making rights is the control employees have about how they execute their role or their responsibilities. We found that decision-making rights vary greatly by organization, manager, level, and sometimes even industry.

Advice from leaders:
  • Defer to expertise, not title. During crisis, there is often an unconscious “because I said so” attitude from managers. We get it. Lots of people feel powerless and are looking to salvage some sense of order. However, one of the best pieces of advice shared was that organizations should default to expertise, not title. Let the person with the most information make the decision on the thing.
  • Implement decision-making logs. One leader said that her senior leaders (C-suite) had instituted a process wherein they published the decisions they made and the reasons for those decisions. We like this idea for a couple of reasons. First, it establishes a level of transparency that we think is healthy during a crisis and helps everyone become comfortable with those decisions. Secondly, it’s an excellent learning tool. Not only are the decisions public, but the reasons why those decisions were made are also public, teaching employees the subtle art of decision-making.
  • Throw out the 9-5. We have mentioned this in previous roundtable readouts, but it bears repeating. The world has gone mad. Employees are dealing with children and/or parents, lack of schedule, feelings of isolation, and a host of other challenges. This is an excellent opportunity for organizations to determine what’s important and what is not. Is it important that an employee is sitting at their desk and available for 8 hours straight everyday? Are the processes that have been followed for years really necessary? Or is the fact that work is actually getting done and deadlines are being met more important?

Diverse & engaged teams

The power of diverse thinking and inclusivity has been well-documented over the years, and not surprisingly, our responsive organization research backs that up. We know that organizations with diverse thought and inclusive behaviors do better – from higher engagement scores to more innovation – than their less inclusive-minded counterparts. We also know that diverse thought and inclusive behavior leads to more responsive organizations – allow them to react more quickly to external threats and opportunities.

Advice from leaders:
  • Take advantage of the sense of humanness happening right now. Leaders mentioned that there is now more inclusivity and shared responsibility to carry the load and help each other out. Some leaders mentioned they had seen teams pull in people who are relevant, but not central, to disperse feelings of isolation. They also mentioned the need of leaders to be open and vulnerable about what they didn’t know so that others felt safe to do so as well.
  • Leaders, create opportunities for contribution. Leaders mentioned ideas to help employees feel included – particularly those who may be more introverted and less likely to speak up. Ideas included: sending detailed agendas, complete with challenges to be discussed and decisions to be made, so that everyone had an opportunity to think about how they could contribute; being aware of those not actively participating in discussions, and encouraging them, either with back channel communication, or gentle verbal prompts, to share their ideas; establishing that there are no bad ideas; emphasizing that we’re all in this together and working to solve the same challenges.
  • Make decisions together. As fairly radical changes are being made to structure, work environment, communication patterns, and work itself, leaders in the roundtable encouraged other leaders to make as many decisions as possible together as teams. Things such as asking for agenda items, asking for input on meeting cadence, duration, ideas for getting the work done, and the like, can go a long way to build trust and buy in.
  • Understand nuances in team engagement. With the large number of people working remotely, it’s worth paying attention to how teams are maintaining their engagement at this time. As such, it’s important that leaders maintain an open mind to varying levels of engagement that may point to different needs across teams. So in addition to providing resources to individual people, organizations should consider providing resources to teams like promoting frequent check-ins, managing collective anxiety, and showing empathy toward one another.
  • Scale up tools. To keep a close pulse on engagement, leaders in our roundtable mentioned that organizations need to amplify and scale up tools, especially for middle-managers so they can understand team engagement real-time. We heard that this is a particular area of opportunity, especially for the healthcare industry because it tends to lag behind in engagement tools and resources at the mid-management level.


Organizations that distribute authority get more Collaboration (and should encourage it). More minds are better than one – and organizations are able to gather insights across different areas or business functions when authority is distributed.

Cross-functional teams are enabled to solve challenges or take advantage of opportunities at the edge of the organization rather than waiting for central decision-makers to either notice the challenge or prioritize it. Collaboration also builds employee networks, which in turn increases the flow of knowledge around the organization, allowing employees more ready access to expertise.

Advice from leaders:
  • Be clear on expectations. Distributed authority does not mean that organizations operate in chaos. Organizations should be clear on expectations and desired outcomes. For teams, either formal or informal, expectations can act as a unifying force that help to foster communication and break down barriers
  • Look for stumbling blocks. As organizations have focused on efficiency and productivity over the past 100 years, they’ve also standardized ways of doing things that often stand in the way of collaboration. To enable employees to exercise their authority, organizations should look for those things that may keep employees from sharing information with each other and helping each other on projects.
  • Embrace self-driven teams. Allowing greater fluidity in how teams operate may help address some of the current engagement challenges people face today. For example, people in autonomous or self-driven teams can volunteer to combine different skills or talents to address a particular immediate need and maximize their impact. They can also exercise autonomy as a team by deciding priorities to work on each day and how they will divvy up tasks to accomplish them.
  • Think in terms of MVP deliverables. A minimum viable product (MVP) or deliverable is a version of the deliverable that allows a team to collect the maximum amount of value with the least amount of effort. Particularly now, organizations can begin to think in terms of MVP and consistent iteration instead of holding a deliverable until it is nigh on perfect. This encourages innovation and collaboration, but also helps employees focus on what is value-add.
  • Default to the strategy. In helping employees determine what’s important, consistently reiterate the end goal or strategy. Ask them to ask themselves, “how is what I’m doing related to the end goal or strategy?”
  • Stand up meetings. While many teams are not currently collocated, one leader said that they still have a daily standup meeting. The meeting allows all members to check in with each other, to raise questions or concerns, and to state what they will be working on. This requires each team member to come to that meeting already having thought about the value-add activities they would be accomplishing during the day. It was also a nice opportunity to connect on a human level.
  • Focus internally. A few leaders mentioned that they are using this time to actively work on their internal structures and norms. Employees and managers are finding internal projects that have been on the back burner for years, but once complete, will increase the abilities of the organization. Thus, not all value-add activities should be externally focused; sometimes the best thing employees can focus on are internal.

To sum up

Overall, our roundtable conversations acknowledged the important role that distributing decision-making has on enabling the organization to effectively and efficiently respond to external needs.  There was also a sense of urgency around the need for greater clarity, communication, and expectations around decisions, especially within the current remote working context.

A special thanks for all the leaders who joined our second roundtable. Thank you for your willingness to share ideas and insights – it makes our research that much better!

Responsive Orgs: Lens 1 – Respect

Posted on Saturday, April 11th, 2020 at 7:23 PM    

The foundational lens of our Model for Responsiveness? RESPECT. Our research shows that organizations that have any intention of effectively responding to their external environments must start with respect of their employees.

Figure 1: Model for Responsiveness | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.


This week, we took the opportunity to gather several leaders together in an interactive roundtable and brainstorming session around RESPECT for employees and the 3 features of employee respect, as shown in Figure 2 below.

3 Areas of Respect for Employees

Figure 2: 3 Areas of Respect for Employees | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.


This leader roundtable addressed each of these 3 areas in the context of two main questions: 1) What are your respective companies doing in these areas? and 2) What are your ideas for doing this better?

This discussion was particularly interesting given the current context: our organizations are faced with the need to radically change internal processes and norms to react to unprecedented change in their marketplaces. Most urgently, companies are ramping employees to work effectively from home; more long-term, companies are considering cashflow and product viability, and making people adjustments to accommodate. Below is a mindmap representing the roundtable discussions.

Responsive org roundtable #1: Respect mindmap

Source: RedThread Research, 2020

For a brief summary of the roundtable and the 3 aspects of a Respectful culture, watch the video below.

Respect roundtable recap

In the following sections, we expound on these 3 areas and highlight the good advice we heard at the roundtable.

Psychological safety

One of the most powerful themes, directly addressed in the psychological safety discussion but permeating all other discussions as well, was the need for organizations to create a psychologically safe place – to view employees as thinking, feeling humans and ensure their well-being.

In times such as these, mistakes will be made and failures will happen. A psychologically safe place acknowledges these mistakes and failures respectfully, without compromising employees’ self respect or jeopardizing their careers.

Advice from leaders:
  • Personal huddles. Quick, concise, personal check ins – not about the work, but about the person. One leader suggested two questions leaders can ask: 1) How stressed are you? and 2) What help do you need?
  • Increased leadership connection. Leaders should be connecting more with employees to understand needs and provide direction. Suggestions included more regular pulse engagement surveys (instead of the yearly, or bi-yearly versions), direct contact with employees that may be struggling, regular check-ins and communication with staff, and follow-up with support for information gathered through surveys and check ins.
  • Leadership responsibility. Managers and leaders set the tone; if organizations are striving for an open, safe, place for employees, it is the managers and leaders who must model the behaviors they expect.


Autonomy & Respect from Leaders showed up in the data together. We think this is because they often go hand in hand: managers who allow more autonomy  among employees tend to respect them more, and vice versa.

Autonomy means that organizations give employees control over the day-to-day operations of their roles. They recognize and honor employees' abilities to use their unique skills and knowledge to problem-solve.

Advice from leaders:
  • Address failure carefully. Employees are paying careful attention to how leaders react to failure. Will leaders continue to encourage intelligent risk-taking and learning from mistakes, or will they buckle down and discourage it? Our roundtable discussion encouraged leaders to share failure stories (including their own) and learn jointly from things that didn’t go quite as planned.
  • Experimentation. Organizations can use the current chaos (nothing is working the same way it did) for experimentation because everything is up in the air. There may be antiquated systems, processes, technologies, or even products that need to be rethought. Now is the time. Organizations should use this time to develop an experimentation muscle to deal with uncertainty and change.
  • Post-crisis team. One leader suggested the idea of putting together a team dedicated to identifying positive changes made during this time and finding ways to institutionalize them. While there is a strong desire to return to “normal,” now is a good time to determine what, if anything, about the “normal” wasn’t good, and retool it.
  • Collaborate with employees. During this time when everything is up in the air, one leader said he noticed more collaboration between managers and employees. Instead of, “Do this!” it was, “What can we do in this circumstance?”
  • Focus on well-being. Leaders also noted that more time was being spent on personal conversations. Managers were asking after employees and their families more, and carving out more time during the week to spend some time together as humans, not just coworkers. Managers were also more understanding (because we’re all in this together…) about screaming children, aging parents, barking dogs, and strange haircuts.
  • Equip managers. One leader mentioned that he would like to see more help for managers – and not just traditional training. Coaching and mentoring, job helps, data, and feedback can both set expectations for what we expect from managers, but also alleviate some of the pressure they’re currently feeling. One leader also suggested creating networked leaders so that they can share information with each other and hold each other accountable for the types of leaders they want to be.

Bottoms up information

Finally, organizations show respect to employees by providing ways to get information to them, but probably more importantly, gather information from them. This shows up in two main ways.

First, through feedback loops. Feedback loops ensure that employees have the information they need to do their jobs as well as information about how they’re performing those jobs. Feedback loops ensure that everyone is on the same page and working in the same direction. One leader noted that organizations often default to being “nice,” or not sharing necessary information because it’s not polite, when in actuality, keeping that information from employees shows a lack of respect for them as humans and as employees.

Second, organizations also show respect to employees, their knowledge, and their skills by soliciting their perspectives. Employees at the edges of the organization, or with deep knowledge in certain areas often identify needed changes before those more centrally located. Established norms for gathering and sharing that information enables organizations to move more quickly as a whole.

Advice from leaders:
  • Use OKRs and goals as feedback mechanisms. Organizations that have moved from yearly goal discussions to more frequent check-ins can and should leverage these discussions to make sure that everyone has the information they need. This ensures that goals don’t get lost at lower levels and established a process and norm for feedback that is often less threatening and more collaborative.
  • Use tools such as retrospectives. Many leaders mentioned that feedback an/or perspective sharing doesn’t happen because there are not mechanisms in place. A retrospective is an exercise wherein a team gets together to discuss what went well, what didn’t go well, and what needs to change. This can be used at the end of a project, at certain milestones within a project, or even at regular intervals. A retrospectives normalizes feedback and perspectives and eliminates the need for blaming. It also promotes teamwork. (Incidentally, we used a retrospective at the end of our last roundtable to make the next one even better.)
  • Model behaviors. This has been mentioned in previous areas we have discussed, but it bears mentioning again. Feedback and perspective-sharing often doesn’t happen unless it is modeled by leaders. Some suggestions for modeling from the roundtable included: clearly setting expectations and holding managers responsible for feedback / perspective sharing; inviting senior leaders (CEO) to be transparent on where the company is during a crisis and inviting questions / suggestions; and providing coaching job aids that give managers key information about how to give feedback.

To sum up

In all, roundtable conversations were much more optimistic than pessimistic. Yes, the current situation is throwing all that we know and are comfortable with out the window, and we are all feeling our way through this. But, as these leaders pointed out, this is a perfect opportunity to make changes that will positively affect the organization internally, as well as help it compete more effectively externally.

A special thanks to all of the leaders who participated in this interactive roundtable. Thank you for your willingness to share your experiences and insights – it makes the research that much better!

The Responsive Org: The Future is Now

Posted on Tuesday, March 31st, 2020 at 10:30 PM    

So, things have changed

Not to overstate it, but within the space of three weeks, our entire reality has changed – personally and professionally. We are now social distancing, homeschooling our children, and hoarding toilet paper (you know who you are). But, as people leaders, we’re also trying to figure out how to enable entire workforces to work virtually, understand markets that have changed ridiculously fast, and deal with the financial repercussions of “doing the right thing.” It’s hard. And it’s a little bit scary.

The good news (if there is good news) is that many of the professional changes we're seeing were likely inevitable: changes in technology, the global nature of business, and evolving customer and employee needs had already set us down this path. Before the crisis, some organizations had begun to peer around the corner to the future, putting in place the strategy, infrastructure, and practices to respond to changing environments quickly.

So many others, though, kept talking about the need to respond to these things in the future, expecting that they’d have time to adjust. However, thanks to COVID-19, the future is here. And it's evenly distributed1

Some organizations are recognizing the opportunity before us. In a recent webinar, HFS Research shared that 22% of their sample of 279 major enterprises indicated they were seeing emerging opportunities as a result of the crisis and are making appropriate investments (or actively responding to the situation). Only 16% said that they were hunkering down and planning to roll out cost-saving measures, and exactly 0% said that their business was in grave danger and that they were considering drastic immediate options to survive this.2

Figure 1: Changes to Business Decision-Making from COVID-19 | Source: HFS Research, 2020.

So how do you move toward a position of taking advantage of emerging opportunities? The first step is to understand what an organization that can respond quickly to change looks like.

For the last 6 months, we have been studying the idea of organizational responsiveness – or what makes organizations able to respond more quickly to their market and employees’ needs than others.

This research was originally due to publish in May 2020. However, as we've looked at the incredible efforts of organizations to respond to this new reality, we recognize that our model and some of our findings could create some coherence and provide some guidance for leaders trying to help employees right now.

What the research says

Six months of research, lots of literature reviewed, and several conversations with really smart people have provided a sound overview of what a responsive organization is, what characteristics they have, and how organizations should become more responsive. The following discussion is led by the following 4 questions.

  • What is a responsive organization?
  • What characteristics do responsive organizations have?
  • A model for responsiveness: How do I prioritize as I build a responsive organization?
  • How can I participate in the roundtables?

What is a responsive organization?

One of the most difficult parts of this study has been trying to understand and clearly articulate what a responsive organization is – defining the undefinable qualities that separate those organizations who can respond to their environments from the ones that are at their mercy. After scouring the literature and conducting a lot of interviews, we landed on the following definition for a responsive organization:

An organization that determines trends in their environment and responds to them in ways that turn possible disruption into a distinct organizational advantage.

Responsive organizations are not just those who are able to keep up with the market; they are defined by their ability to understand and use trends to move ahead of the market. Four quick examples from recent history:

  • General Motors3 – For getting rid of unprofitable parts of the business so that they can focus on mobility – not just automobiles – broadening both their market and their innovation. (An example of this responsiveness on display at this moment is their quick turn to manufacturing ventilators within their electric vehicle manufacturing plant4.)
  • Target5 – For recognizing and understanding the trend toward boutiques and creating cult brands inhouse to fight the big box store image and remain competitive.
  • Netflix6 – For continuously pivoting as they recognized trends in the marketplace – from mailed DVDSs, to streaming movies, to partnerships with networks to stream content, and ultimately to becoming an award-winning studio of their own.
  • Amazon7 – For seeing the potential in delivering items directly to one’s door versus leaving the house for them, and then creating large-scale efficiency by doing so.

In the cases of each of these organizations, they weren’t just lucky moves – they didn’t just happen into the right answer. They were able to recognize trends in the marketplace and capitalize on them. And in order to do that, they needed a people structure and philosophy that supported it.

What characteristics does a responsive organization have?

During our initial research, we searched, not just for good examples of responsive organizations, but also what those organizations have in common – the characteristics that they share. Through extensive literature reviews and many interviews, a set of characteristics emerged. Figure 2 outlines these characteristics and provides a company example of each.

Characteristic Explanation Example Company

Decentralized structure
Decentralized structures allow the organization’s various divisions and business units to react to the environments in which they find themselves instead of relying on central control to react to ‘average’ environments. W.L. Gore has long been held up as an example of decentralized structure. Traditional org charts found in most organizations are not found at Gore. Everyone has the right to talk to everyone else, providing the freedom the organization has needed to innovate in areas ranging from Gore-Tex to aerospace cable wiring assemblies.8

Team-based organization
Responsive organizations tend to leverage teams – both formal and informal – to react to internal and external conditions, and to share knowledge across the organization. Teams come together to solve problems, and then often dissolve and reform so that employees are constantly sharing what they know and applying that knowledge to solve new problems. Cisco talks of making teams the source of insight and inquiry. Cisco allows teams to self-identify – recognizing both the formal and informal teams, and then offers team leaders development resources and information about how their team is working.9

Continuous learning & development
Responsive organizations tend to prioritize (read: invest) in continuous learning and development so that their workforces can gain needed knowledge and skills for a constantly changing environment. It often moves far beyond traditional learning events and instead embraces a culture of teaching each other, exploring beyond the walls of the organization, and trying new ideas. Unilever takes continuous learning & development seriously, most recently introducing the idea of a talent network. Employees are asked to create “purpose statements” and share their skills (and desired skills) broadly. Using an ecosystem of learning, work, and people management technologies, employees become a part of the talent network – a system that finds projects that align to development goals as well as already developed skills.10

Openly shares information and data
Responsive organizations tend to be freer with information – meaning that not only do they intend to share information throughout the organization, but that they also put mechanisms into place in order to ensure that it happens. Zendesk has a policy of radical candor amongst its employees, and regularly conducts root cause analysis to help their teams dig into problems. This practice is used in the moment of error. Instead of simply identifying and commenting on incorrect code or bring it up later (after it’s been fixed, the team stops, discusses why the code is incorrect, and how it happened in the first place.
This practice creates a culture of sharing and openness and allows the organization to learn and respond together.11

Dispersed decision-making authority
Responsive organizations tend to be less hierarchical in their decision-making – allowing them to be made at lower levels, which speeds up work and helps organizations move more quickly. Ritz Carlton empowers all of their Ladies and Gentlemen (what they call their employees) to solve guest problems to the tune of $2,000, per guest, per incident.12 This move disperses decision-making authority throughout the organization, making it more able to meet the needs and desires of their guests.

Tools to help employees do their best work
Responsive organizations tend to be early intelligent experimenters of technologies that help employees excel. Some of the more recent of these technologies includes AI, natural language processing, and blockchain. Some of the experiments and implementations leaders we have spoken with are trying include:

  • AI – for surfacing the best information for learning a specific thing
  • Analytics – offering insights into personal behavior
  • Natural language processing – using tech to “listen” in meetings and provide insights to leaders to make them more effective
  • Nudges – offering timely, insightful data to improve personal interactions

Figure 2: Characteristics of Responsive Organizations | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

We think it interesting that these 6 characteristics repeatedly surfaced in our discussions and in the literature. Much has been written about them individually; however, in our work, we see them as part of a holistic system that works together.

These patterns formed the basis of the survey questions we asked. From these 6 characteristics (which, again, were based on significant qualitative research), we formed a Responsivity Index that was then used to determine which actions taken by organizations contribute significantly to their ability to be responsive.

What's the model? How do I build a responsive organization?

Once we understood what a responsive organization was and the characteristics it had, we used the data to create a model of responsiveness, as shown in Figure 3. This model represents 4 layers that build on each other to create responsive organizations.

Figure 3: A Model for Responsiveness | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

Why layers instead of levels? Good question, with two answers. First, as the model shows, the layers are transparent. Organizations, looking down through the top of the model, can see the impact of the lower layers on the higher layers. For example, it is difficult for an organization to be responsive at all without baseline respect. Respect is on the bottom of this model and affects all four layers.

Second, organizations that have made it to Layer 2 still have to focus on Layer 1. While our conversations with leaders indicated that there was a good deal of “systematization” that could occur to enable lower layers, people leaders still need to pay attention to those lower layers.

Interestingly, the data shows it's difficult, if not impossible, to jump layers. For example, most organizations aspire to be the type of organization its employees and the market trusts. However, to do so, the organization must also espouse respect, distribute authority, and have a culture of transparency and growth.

As with other models of this type, the more responsive an organization is (i.e., the higher the layer it has achieved), the more likely it is to:

Figure 4: Met or Exceeded Business Goals | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

Figure 5: Very Highly Engaged Employees | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

Figure 6: Responds Quickly to Changes in the Marketplace to a Very Great Extent | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

Figure 7: Innovates Faster Than Competitors to a Very Great Extent | Source: RedThread Research, 2020.

Let’s briefly review each layer.

Layer 1: Respect

Interestingly, our data and interviews suggest that good old-fashioned respect is the foundation for all organization responsiveness. While this shouldn’t be surprising, it's a bit surprising how often respect is sidelined, particularly during times of crises. We are seeing this real-time with COVID-19. As organizations pivot in-office work arrangements to work-at-home arrangements, we’ve heard horror stories about organizations (and managers) who insist on detailed schedules and task lists at the start of each day, theoretically to ensure that employees are “on task” and not wasting company time.

This is not a new problem. In a Georgetown University survey of nearly 20,000 employees worldwide, respect was rated the most important leadership behavior. At the same time, though, employees report more disrespectful and uncivil behavior each year.13

Organizations looking to be more responsive to their market absolutely need to be an organization that espouses respect: from the organization to employee, from employee to employee, and importantly, from manager to employee.

Layer 2: Distributed authority

Layer 2 happens when organizations begin to change the way their authority structures work. During the first industrial revolution (and since, actually), there was a propensity toward efficiency. It's undoubtedly more efficient to make decisions centrally and have them roll throughout the organization flawlessly.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t work anymore. With diversified portfolios, different clients, and varying needs in business units, organizations need more flexibility. Like it or not, it's often quite inefficient to wait for a central authority to make a decision on something happening around the edges of the organization.

What’s more, this centralization likely stifles both agility and innovation. In her great book, Seeing Around Corners, Rita McGrath talks about innovation happening at the “edges of the organization.” In order to react to those changes at the edge of the organization and take advantage of opportunities there, organizations necessarily need to distribute authority much more widely than most of them currently do. According to our data, distributed authority at all levels helps with collaboration, and helps to eliminate busywork or nonvalue work.

Layer 3: Transparency & growth

Layer 3 describes the way organizations share information and encourage growth. A lot has been written lately on the importance of continuous learning & development, and it's become a buzzword in the employee development space. This has been enhanced with the ever-growing reskilling discussion: at least 54% of the population will need upskilling by 2022 (WEF), and 50% of them have concrete plans in order to do so (KPMG).

And, once again, this problem has been exacerbated by the current COVID-19 situation. Organizations, who frankly should have been looking at this all along, are suddenly faced with making sure leaders can lead, employees can work remotely, they are communicating as needed, and that employees are continuing to develop new skills – all in what was once considered “nontraditional” environments (they very well may become our new traditional environments).

Responsive organizations embrace the idea of growth. Particularly, they embrace the idea of growth outside of traditional channels. These organizations do not rely on classes and elearning courses to upskill their workforce; rather, they empower them to learn by doing, to fail safely, to understand which skills may be useful to them and to the organization in the future, and to give them honest data on how they’re performing.

The propensity for growth goes hand in hand with the dedication to transparency. Lack of information is basically ignorance. If employees need the best information to make the best decisions for your company – especially if you have distributed authority, ensuring transparency is crucial to responsiveness.

Layer 4: Trust

Layer 4 is Trust. Organizations with Layer 4 responsiveness have a community mindset. They have ceased to think in terms of “us” (management) and “them” (employees) and instead begin to focus on a “we’re all in this together” attitude – one that helps employees learn from their mistakes and invests in solving problems and learning together.

Obviously, a culture of trust can only exist with the three bottom layers in place. But a culture of trust goes beyond this and encompasses a sense of community. It is no longer enough to have a traditional employee value proposition – one where employees are paid and employers are paternal. At Layer 4, organizations move into an area where purpose and meaning take on more significance.

Responsive organizations – those that espouse purpose, and meaning, and community – work as a unit – an organism that responds along the edges and communicates back to the center. All employees are aware of the mission, vision, and purpose, and all trust that the organization – and other employees – are working together for that good.

Responsive Orgs: What the Literature Says

Posted on Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019 at 7:00 PM    

It feels like every time we turn around another post, article, video, or report is discussing the changing nature of, well … everything. We’re constantly inundated with information showing the dynamic and ever-evolving world in which we live and work.

Rethinking How We Do Business: Responsivity

In previous times – when organizations could reasonably predict their environment for the foreseeable future – it was easier to set a course of action and revisit the plan every 3 or 5 years. That no longer works today. Businesses must now find a way to adapt and to change in ways that don’t become obsolete in the same amount of time it took to strategize about those changes.

So, what kind of organization will survive in the future?

Our prediction – the responsive organization.

But what exactly is a responsive organization and what steps can organizations take now to be more responsive?

Our current (working) definition of a responsive organization is:

An organization that identifies change, determines trends, and responds in ways that turns change and disruption into a distinct organizational advantage.

To begin understanding these organizations in more detail, we looked at more than 50 academic and business articles, reports, and books for this literature review.

What we saw

It may not come as a surprise that academic literature isn't flooded with research on the concept of “responsive organizations.” However, the concept has loosely been described throughout popular press and the foundational ideas have been rigorously studied. We looked at any concept we thought would help us uncover what makes an organization responsive (i.e., agility, decision-making, engagement, motivation, rewards, learning, empowerment, technology, performance management).

In reviewing the literature, we uncovered 5 themes of responsive organizations:

  • Structure is still needed, but rigidity won’t work
  • Authority and power can’t be held by the few
  • Empowerment leads to chaos if learning is lacking
  • The human element is a distinct advantage, now more than ever
  • Technology has an increasing role as a supporting actor

Structure is still needed, but rigidity won’t work

There's a general agreement that traditional hierarchical structures are barriers for organizations wanting to be more responsive. These organizational structures were set up to address efficiency – as though humans would always just make widgets on an assembly line. However, work is no longer done in a linear manner and efficiency limits responsivity – to customers, changing market conditions, new technology, etc. The modern world of work requires a network of individuals and teams that balances stability and flexibility.

More specifically, responsive organizations remove layers – opting for flat, more networked, team-based structures. Working in a network enables businesses to organize around what matters most (i.e., specific challenges, products, knowledge, customers, markets) and to remove traditional notions of control and authority. Yes, there are some decisions that should be made by leaders and within a centralized structure but, by in large, there's a lot more opportunity for the employees who are doing the work on the frontlines to identify problems and take action on solutions.

Regardless of the actual structure, the key point is that old models which primarily emphasize command-and-control operations will become increasingly less effective in the future. Instead, organizations have to provide enough structure to direct work but be flexible enough to evolve in real-time. This idea of flexible, network-based organizational structure is central to the idea of the responsive organization.

Authority & power can’t be held by the few

One of the key benefits of more network-based, flexible structures is the ability to facilitate decentralized decision-making and shared leadership. In traditional models, authority is held by the few and decisions trickle down to workers lower in the hierarchy in a (slow) process. Responsive organizations recognize that power can no longer be held just by the few and embrace the idea of shared leadership. Power – the authority to make decisions and to act on behalf of the organization – has to be pushed down to the people closest to the challenges being solved.

A cautionary note: This doesn't mean that managerial roles or leadership roles should become obsolete. In fact, they’re more important in responsive organizations. However, their roles will continually evolve into coaching and developing people rather than managing tasks and timelines.1

Responsive organizations trust their employees and provide the psychological safety necessary for employees to know they won’t be punished if they act – in good faith – on behalf of the organization. This is critical. Evidence suggests that, when employees feel trusted, it positively impacts performance and these employees are more likely to make extra effort outside of their role.2

Decentralized decision-making and sharing authority are more than simply telling employees they can make their own decisions. Responsive organizations create cultures that value entrepreneurialism and encourage – even reward – employees for coming up with solutions.

“The need for organizational sharing of information, decision making and responsibility among project team members requires a new paradigm of how data and personal relationships will flow.”3

All that said, responsive organizations also understand that strong organizational norms, articulated accountability, and organizational controls are still needed. These set boundaries for employees and help them interpret shared authority through the same lens – ensuring that employees know when leadership needs to be involved.

Empowerment leads to chaos if learning is lacking

Traditional command-and-control models can impede how quickly individuals identify and address skill gaps. When individuals have little insight on strategy and no authority to make decisions, in real-time, they're simply doing a job. They’re not as often confronted with the reality of what’s needed next for them to be able to succeed.

On the other hand, responsive organizations are pushing individuals to operate in roles not easily defined. They're giving employees insights on the vision, strategy, and goals of the organization so employees can better respond to customers. But to respond effectively to customers, employees need to have the skills, capabilities, and knowledge necessary to meet customers’ existing and future needs. This requires employees to be continuously learning both the skills they need to perform today and those necessary to prepare for the future.

Unfortunately, our recent research suggests that a majority of organizations are falling short in helping employees learn and prepare for the future. Less than 50% of organizations are providing an environment to facilitate information-sharing, encouraging continuous learning, or helping employees identify what's needed for future success (see Figure 1).


Figure 1. Developing and Preparing Employees for the Future | Source: RedThread Research, 2019.

Employees in responsive organizations are constantly faced with the reality of their own limitations and must work quickly to address these. This requires responsive organizations to place learning and development (L&D) at a premium for 2 reasons:

  1. Giving employees the power and authority to act on behalf of the organization and to take charge of problem-solving is great, unless they don’t have the necessary skills and abilities to actually do this.
  2. Expecting individuals to operate in roles, not jobs, means they need to also identify where the skill or knowledge gaps are among the team and find a way to fill those.

Responsive organizations are also learning organizations that push individuals to continuously build upon their capabilities and teach employees how to learn.

The human element is a distinct advantage – now more than ever

It would be great if we could read the “Responsive Organization Playbook” and see a few chapters on structure, authority and decision-making rights, and L&D, and call it a day. But the truth is, there’s a human element in responsive organizations that is often overlooked when reading up on organizational agility (a term similar to and highly related to responsive organizations).

Responsive organizations balance profit with purpose.4 Sure, organizations have to make profit to survive, but “rather than viewing profit as the primary goal of an organization, progressive leaders see profit as a byproduct of success.5” That means, responsive organizations are clearly attuned to the human side of their organization – creating 2-way channels of communication to understand their talent beyond the profit they provide.

This enables responsive organizations to create cultures that are intrinsically motivating6 – creating an employee experience that minimizes control and micromanagement, and increases individual agency and competence. These cultures recognize and reward progress, not just goal attainment.

Technology’s role as a supporting actor

The sheer volume and speed of information coming into and out of organizations necessitates the use of technology. In fact, many of the articles we read highlight a need for organizations to leverage technology to capture and interpret data both within the organization and external to the organization. This is especially true for responsive organizations. Next-generation technology has to be embraced by the organizations of the future.7

This doesn't mean that technology should be seen as something which will come in and disrupt the human element of the workforce. In fact, responsive organizations will need to identify the unique attributes that humans bring to the workforce and leverage technology in a way which enables people to do deeper, more creative work.

Just as responsive organizations need to create flexible, networked, and agile structures – they also need to invest in technologies, systems, and tools that will evolve with them. More importantly, disparate technologies have to be able to seamlessly integrate with each other. Employees are tired of leaving one system to manually enter data into another system about what they just completed in the first system. Unfortunately, this is the reality in many organizations – technologies aren’t integrated with each other and many don’t fit into the flow of work.

The truth is, there are a lot of great technologies out there, and many solutions are trying to provide seamless integration in the flow of work. But we aren’t sure we’re quite there – yet. This suggests to us that responsive organizations may need to think differently about their technological architecture and use a buy-and-build approach to ensure they're arming their people with access to the right information, at the right time, and in the right way.

What caught our attention

Of the literature we reviewed, several pieces stood out to us. Each of the pieces below contained information that we found useful and / or intriguing. We learned from their perspectives and encourage you to do the same.

The Operating Model That’s Eating the World

Aaron Dignan

“These companies are lean, mean, learning machines. They have an intense bias to action and a tolerance for risk … They are obsessed with company culture and top tier talent, with an emphasis on employees that can imagine, build, and test their own ideas. They are driven by a purpose greater than profit….”


  • Discusses the responsive organization from 5 key components, including purpose, process, people, products, and platforms
  • Highlights the shift in each component of the responsive organization
  • Gives an example of an organization that has made the appropriate shift in each area

This article gets us excited about the responsive organization of the future. It gives a simple overview of the components of the organization that need to be reimagined and calls out the organizations that have made shifts in these areas.

The Future of Organizations is Responsive

Mike Arauz

“This difference – between optimizing for certainty vs. optimizing for uncertainty – is at the core of what separates successful organizations from everyone else.”


  • Illustrates that organizations are thriving – and will continue to – because they are responding to disruption by creating new ways of working
  • Argues that traditional structures impede resource availability
  • Suggests that responsive organizations optimize for uncertainty, rather than certainty

This video presentation (slides and transcription provided) illustrates why work isn’t working anymore and provides a compelling argument for organizations that embrace uncertainty. In addition, the presentation highlights where technology is best-suited to support organizations and where the qualities unique to human (creativity, collaboration, etc.) should be leveraged.

Elements of a Responsive Organization

Dean Kimpton

“The idea of placing purpose before profit, is not about blind altruism, but attracting the interest of people.”


  • Gives a short review of the ideas central to responsive organizations
  • Discusses the potential upside in risk and failure
  • Outlines the link between engagement and responsiveness

This quick read offers a fast skim of what makes an organization responsive and outlines a few reasons why. It also highlights what organizations should consider when trying to measure responsiveness.

The Four Intrinsic Rewards that Drive Employee Engagement

Kenneth Thomas

“ requires workers to make a judgment – about the meaningfulness of their purpose, the degree of choice they have for doing things the right way, the competence of their performance, and the actual progress being made toward fulfilling the purpose.”


  • Argues that intrinsic motivation is essential when workers are asked to self-manage
  • Highlights the factors involved in whether a worker is likely to experience intrinsic motivation
  • Discusses each fact in the context of how organizations can create a high-engagement culture

This article provides an overview of current thinking about intrinsic motivation. It highlights the 4 components that help individuals determine whether they are intrinsically motivated, including meaningful purpose, choice, competent performance, and progress toward purpose. It also provides 7 recommendations for how to build a more intrinsically rewarding environment to boost engagement.

The Darkside of Transparency

Julian Birkinshaw and Dan Cable / McKinsey & Company

“We’re getting used to transparency in our lives … But transparency can also cause pain without much gain.”


  • Summarizes the potential benefits of transparency within organizations, but cautions where this can go awry
  • Suggests there are certain times and internal practices that shouldn't be open to radical transparency
  • Discusses the role of transparency in daily activities, employee rewards, and creative work

There's an increased discussion around sharing information and pushing it down to the right levels. With that discussion comes the debate around transparency. This article highlights that debate, suggesting there might be times when privacy wins out over radical transparency.

Overall impressions

When we started this research, we weren’t sure what we’d find. To be honest, there isn’t a lot of information outside of the popular press to help organizations understand what the idea means. It’s still a bit of a muddy concept, and we had to get creative about the avenues we took to research topics that supported this concept. However, in taking a step back, we see that yes, it is a thing – a real thing that’s more than just organizational agility.

Responsivity requires organizations to:

  • Rethink how they're structured
  • Invest substantially in learning
  • Give up control, and push leadership and decision-making down
  • Embrace technology
  • Rethink the importance of the qualities unique to the human-side of their enterprise

Additional readings

  1. "Responsive Organization Practices: Lessons from Pepisco, AirBNB, and Charity: Water," Responsive Organization Practices – Responsive Org – Medium, Seidman, D., 2018.
  2. "Adaptability: The New Competitive Advantage," Harvard Business Review, Reeve, M. and Deimler, M., 2011.
  3. "Linking Empowering Leadership and Employee Creativity: The Influence of Psychological Empowerment, Intrinsic Motivation, and Creative Process Engagement,” Academy of Management Journal, Zhang, X. and Bartol, K.M., 2010.
  4. "Knowledge Sharing in Teams: Social Capital, Extrinsic Incentives, and Team Innovation," Group & Organization Management, Hu, L. and Randel, A.E., 2014.
  5. "The 5 Trademarks of Agile Organizations," McKinsey & Co., the McKinsey Agile Tribe, 2017.

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