Innovation & Wellbeing Are Top EX Concerns


I’m helping several companies at the moment review employee feedback from surveys and virtual focus groups and the like. On top of everything else, there are a couple of clear issues leaders are facing:

First, an innovation challenge. That might sound odd, given all the change & disruption of the last 18+ months. But a lot of those things were already in the works – they’ve mainly been accelerated. Breakthrough and disruptive innovation, which rely on collaboration and risk-taking, have been far harder to achieve. I think this is mainly due to organisations operating in a Survive State. There has been a narrowing of focus as a result. A key question for leaders is how to return to a more open innovation mindset and quickly.


Second, a growing wellbeing concern. This is not a surprise, but the sustained slog of the pandemic really is taking a toll on all aspects of wellbeing: physical, social, emotional. As a result, some people have reconsidered their working life priorities. This re-evaluation combined with sustained anxiety is one of the dynamics behind the high turnover many companies are facing. Putting deep and culture-based strategies in place to address wellbeing challenges is critical in order to support people and minimise the risk of losing key talent.


Connection, belonging and innovation

A CEO I’m working with told me their 3 “big worries” about their people during this pandemic:

1. All the “pre-activity” (their word) that’s being lost, i.e. the chance conversations and the informal sharing of information and insight that usually takes place in the office.

2. The lack of mentoring and day-to-day coaching of junior staff – again the informal stuff where people are shown new things or learn a different perspective.

3) The difficulty that leaders are having in “instilling and sustaining” (their words) the culture of the organisation “over Teams.”

It could be that a lot of this is happening online and simply isn’t visible to leaders, which is one of the things we’re looking to find out. But I also think these are important concerns.
In fact, many of the leaders I’m working with at the moment are asking something similar, along the lines of “How do we maintain connection and belonging and evolve our culture as we work differently?” Or as another client put it: “As this pandemic goes on and on and on… how do we keep and evolve the “secret sauce” that’s made us successful?”

Connection, belonging, innovation… these are key reasons for focusing on the changing employee experience.

Tags: #COVID #EmployeeExperience

Employee engagement trends during the pandemic

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been tracking the Employee Experience (EX). We just released an update, with over 500,000 employees surveyed. We see 3 key themes:

1. Employee levels of concern have improved but are still high:
• Around 50% are anxious and have financial worries
• Two-thirds report at least some ongoing distraction

2. Despite employees’ concerns, they give their organisations “high marks” for support:
• Communicating updates on the response
• Providing tools and resources to work effectively
• Trust in leaders

3. Views about office reopenings are mixed:
• 70% of employees have some concern about safety of commuting and working from company locations when offices reopen
• Almost 75% of employees prefer to remain working from home
• This is despite recognition of company efforts to ensure safety

If you’d like to learn more about what leading companies are doing to drive a better EX during this time, or to discuss our COVID-19 pulse surveys, just get in touch with me here.

This was first posted on LinkedIn on 19 August 2020

Tags: #EmployeeEngagement #COVID-19

How the COVID-19 Crisis Reshapes the World of HR

I enjoyed being part of a very interesting session this week at The HR of Tomorrow conference on “How the COVID-19 Crisis Reshapes the World of HR” with Jay MuthuHelena Territt, and Jay Connolly.

Some things I noted:

  • The last ~6 months have just been so intense: HR has stepped up, but this pace is not sustainable, which is a worry as the crisis endures.
  • Tough decisions have obviously been made, and HR has had a key role in ensuring that decisions are based on good data & analytics.
  • A strong focus on EX has been essential as people issues have become the most critical business issues; EX helps organisations to be human-centred.

In prep for the session, I re-read our future CHRO study from earlier in the year.
What strikes me is that the priorities highlighted in that report are as relevant now (alongside a focus on safety & well-being) as they were then: agility; digitalisation; reinventing work; rethinking culture, inclusion & leadership; and more evidence-based decision making.

Perhaps the main consequence of the pandemic has been to accelerate trends that were already apparent and to increase the intensity of that change.  #employeeexperience #futureofwork

This was first published on LinkedIn on 19 October 2020

Tags: #FutureOfWork #EmployeeExperience

Listening Through a Crisis: Employee Experience When it Matters Most

Our clients have continued to prioritise employee experience (EX) through the coronavirus crisis.

They have run surveys on key topics like working from home, communications, and well-being. They have explored issues like resilience and agility.

In terms of how the surveys are being used:

  • Results have been analysed at a business level, so leaders can immediately address concerns and identify hot-spots
  • Managers have received team reports, so they can act locally
  • Employees themselves can be nudged towards specific resources and tools, for example, to support their well-being or to access benefits

So what are some of the learnings from this period?

Change leadership

An immediate focus for many companies was ensuring new work arrangements were effective.

Nomad Foods, for example, quickly deployed a pulse survey focused on well-being and productivity:

“The objectives of the survey were to gather insights from employees who are working from home, understand what we could do differently and gather ideas on how ways of working may change as we move out of lock down.

The results were really encouraging. Most people believed that working from home was going well and felt extremely well supported. In fact, we saw a desire for ongoing flexibility in the future. As a result, we’re now accelerating our smart working initiatives.

The survey helped us identify some groups who were under more pressure, which included those managing issues like childcare (including home schooling) and supporting elderly relatives.“

Tim Kensey, HR Director at Nomad Foods

From a change leadership perspective, organisations viewed the crisis in terms of three phases:

  1. Managing through the initial challenges
  2. Restoring stability
  3. Rebounding strongly

Surveys have provided a way to listen to and involve employees in each phase. This has been the case at Virgin Money:

“In Virgin Money we ran a pulse survey in April to assess our agility in creating new ways of working and serving our customers, and we also looked at how we can best support and connect with colleagues.

We achieved our highest ever response rate for a pulse survey, and colleagues told me the content of the survey was superb.

Our Executive Leadership Team and Board found the feedback really helpful.

We’re will also integrate some of the questions from the COVID-19 Leading and Accelerating Back surveys into our all-colleague survey in June.”

Edwina Emery, Employee Engagement Manager at Virgin Money

Analytics and narrative insight

Looking across the survey data that’s been published, it’s clear that employees had a generally favourable impression of their company’s efforts in the early stages of the response. There’s a kind of “grade inflation” effect that you need to consider when analysing results.

It’s also important to examine the drivers of stress and anxiety. Over 90% of employees express some level of anxiety from the coronavirus, with 55% indicating a moderate or high degree of anxiety. Key driver analysis shows where you can focus to have the most positive impact.

Comments analysis provides a narrative insight into key concerns. One organisation that has done a good job of using text analytics is the train operator LNER:

“We analysed our survey results to understand how well people are dealing with this crisis. We found that employee engagement at LNER is not just holding up, but it is improving. In fact, we have seen engagement improve over the course of several years. We’re far more resilient as an organisation.

The results told us that communications are working, people believe our health and well-being programmes are effective. We can also see that many front-line managers are doing a great job of staying in touch with their teams.

We analysed the comments feedback to understand where there were concerns and opportunities. We could see if we had any hot-spots. This showed which things contributed to people’s anxiety about the coronavirus. These insights were especially for staff who are in customer facing roles.”

Jennie Pitt, Inclusion and Engagement Manager at LNER

Agility matters

A key feature of the crisis has been the speed at which events have unfolded.

What’s critical from an EX point of view, is being able to survey people on an agile basis, in the moments that really matter to them.

Agility and responsiveness was critical at ARM, for example:

“We have started to implement a continuous listening strategy at Arm and we were able to quickly measure how well people were managing changing working arrangements.

The response to our pulse survey was overwhelmingly positive. People really appreciated being asked for their opinions.

We also asked people for tips and suggestions, in terms of what was working well. People came back saying that all those tips should be made public as a way of sharing creative ideas and best practice. This kind of in-the-moment feedback and knowledge sharing is really critical.“

Hayley Whitwood, Director, Organisational Effectiveness at Arm

There was a similar focus at Avon:

“We were able to run a short survey in ten languages in a matter of days, with great support and guidance when we had queries.

We got instant feedback from more than 2,000 associates across the globe.

This kind of agile insight is critical for understanding the experience of our associates during this critical time.“

Anne-Elisabeth Jehl, Learning & Talent Manager at Avon

Accelerating back

In the third phase of the crisis leaders are focusing on how to rebound strongly.

This includes planning for how to operate as conditions improve, and how to manage through ongoing uncertainty. There’s a focus on effective risk management. Leaders also want to learn from what’s worked well during the earlier stages of the crisis.

Key topics include:

  • How do you reconnect with people who have been working from home and who may want to continue working from home in some fashion?
  • How do you “re-board” people who have been furloughed?
  • What’s the best way to support key workers who have remained on site?

Many companies have been measuring levels of anxiety and stress through all the stages of the crisis and will to continue to track this.

Leaders also want to make sure that the organisation does not simply default back to the way things were before the crisis. Instead, they want to learn from the prior months about the experiences that have led the organisation to be agile and effective.

Leaders also want to ensure that people are not just drifting back into established work habits, but are coming in with a growth mindset. This is critical, given the need to rebound quickly.

Tags: #COVID #EmployeeExperience #EmployeeSurveys

This article was first published in June 2020.

Simpler, faster, better

When it comes to employee experience, engagement and continuous listening, I am currently working with several large companies where we are helping them:

  1. Save money at this critical time (e.g. halving what they have previously spent on traditional engagement surveys with other providers)
  2. Become agile (e.g. collecting insights in the moment, flexibly, from key groups and then driving change via sprint sessions with managers) 
  3. Get far more value (e.g. through smart analytics and alignment to their business priorities and CX)

Simpler, faster, better. Three key priorities, especially now when cash-flow really matters.

I’ve encountered some leaders who think you cannot listen to employees during this crisis because it’s too difficult and expensive. That feels like an excuse. It’s certainly not the case with our tools and our HPEX framework.

My clients are keeping in touch with workers through pulse surveys and virtual focus groups. They’re providing real-time advice to employees and giving them access to resources. They’re personalising communications through mobile tools. They’re prioritising well-being.

Here are some of the guiding principles that we see the best companies following:

  1. Understand this as a defining leadership moment — to continue delivering the best possible outcomes for all stakeholders; staying true to your purpose, values, principles and culture, and embrace new ways of working
  2. Adopt an agile and continuous learning mindset – harness innovation and creativity that arises during difficult times
  3. Involve and engage all stakeholders in decision making (e.g., shareholders, employees, customers, supply chain partners, unions/works councils, healthcare providers, community)
  4. Focus on the intersection of employee and company well-being
  5. Balance immediate needs with the ability to rebound and remain viable long-term

One of my learnings from the Financial Crash is the importance of this final principle. The companies that rebounded the strongest had been able to keep their eye on the long-term. In fact, they took advantage of the opportunity provided by the crisis in order to re-imagine and re-invent processes and systems that had lain untouched for too long due to inertia.

In this scenario, two low-hanging fruit for many companies still are:

  1. Modernising a traditional employee engagement survey and moving to continuous listening and employee experience instead
  2. Re-tooling a traditional and tired performance management process so that it provides more ongoing, constructive and useful feedback

You could easily add to this list re-thinking skills and jobs for the future of work, and ensuring that your organisational design is fit for the future.

Some of my HR clients have told me that their to-do list has actually risen up the business agenda. That’s because people and organisational priorities are at the heart of how you need to respond to this crisis. Discussions that were hard to move forward are now getting traction. Just so long as you keep a focus on: simpler, faster, better.

Message me if you would like more information on any of this.

At WTW we also have a library of great resources related to the COVID-19 crisis that you can access here.

Tags: #EmployeeSurveys #COVID #FutureOfWork

This article was first published on LinkedIn on April 7, 2020.