Adapting to the New Normal: Why Listening to the Voice of Your People Has Never Been More Important — and How to Do It

The global COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing chaos it has caused are impacting us daily from all angles – health, economics, logistics, politics, education, relationships, and more. For people working in all industries and sectors, it is creating a huge amount of fear and anxiety. In many ways, it illustrates just how vulnerable we are as human beings, and is causing us to question every assumption we had about the future.    

In the current business environment, characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, what can leaders do to communicate empathy and offer some stability?  

To support leaders and teams in response to COVID-19, Waggl developed a 3-stage question model based on listening with empathy. Learn more at Listen Faster, Navigate Together.

Job #1:  Put people first

 

The first order of business is to establish a sense of well-being and trust – particularly at the level of each individual contributor. This requires honest and transparent communication about what’s going on at different levels of the business.  It may also require some humility and vulnerability.  

Many people still have the misconception that leadership should have all the answers. But in reality, it’s unrealistic to expect one person to have all the right answers, especially when you consider the pace of change and the magnitude of the challenges we currently face.

In the midst of the challenges we currently face as individuals and leaders, I believe that our ability to rapidly learn from one another will be one of our greatest assets. Now, more than ever, it is critical to harness the wisdom of all the people within your organization. 

One of the early inspirations for Waggl was a book called Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change which explored Positive Deviance, a concept that identifies atypical behaviors in individuals and groups to reveal outlier solutions. One of the most impactful examples of Positive Deviance is the story of eradicating Guinea Worm Disease. By observing hygienic differences between villages, researchers identified and applied two behavioral practices that reduced the disease from 3.5M people annually to just 28 cases in 2015.  

There is a tremendous amount of power and comfort in our collective intelligence.  Building a continuous listening process that asks each person for his or her input, in and of itself, helps to create an environment of mutual trust in which people feel safer.  

Job #2:  Make sure people are properly equipped to contribute

 

Once people feel safe, the next order of business is to make sure teams are properly equipped with the right tools and resources to do their jobs and be productive again. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, this means at minimum having the right technology stack in place to allow people to work remotely. Tools like Slack, Asana, a suite of Google applications, and more can make the difference between enabling a business to operate seamlessly, or coming to a screeching halt.  

But what about people that can’t work remotely? How can we enable the workforce to do what they need to do, within a structure that has been fundamentally altered?  

Now more than ever, essential businesses and services that require people to be on-site will need to keep in close communication with their employees in order to make sure that they are properly equipped to contribute, and that they have the tools and support to protect their own safety.  Of course, this includes nurses and other healthcare workers, but also people working at grocery stores, pharmacies and delivery services, sanitation workers, police, and other positions that are critical to keeping our society safe.

Again, the key to empowering people and enabling teams is being inclusive. Decisions within organizations have traditionally been made by top leaders, and the rationale wasn’t always shared with the rest of the employees. By limiting the flow of input, leaders overlook key players who will ultimately have to execute on those decisions. So instead of keeping things inside a closed room, include everyone’s voices in your organization on important decisions relating to values, culture, strategy, change, process improvement, and more. This will not only help your employees feel more connected to your organization and empowered to move forward, but it may also make the difference between success or failure.

Job #3: Empower people to co-create the future

 

Provided that we are able to ensure a sense of well-being and trust, and equip teams to productively contribute, leaders need to empower people to co-create the future for their organizations.

The truth is that the COVID-19 crisis has forever changed the landscape of business and work. In order to adapt to the future, we can’t go backward.  Building a successful organization in the “new normal” will require leaders to employ three fundamental practices:

  1. Transparent communication: This is the key to building trust and rapport in the workplace and developing a culture that is agile and strong enough to move forward. The narrative we let people write on their own is often much worse than the truth. Offering visibility into both the good and bad can remove uncertainty and benefit your company as a whole. In my experience, being transparent with what’s happening within your company can boost collaboration and teamwork, as well as build a shared sense of purpose. Your team will be excited about finding tangible solutions to problems if they have some visibility into what’s happening, and they will be far more effective in implementing strategic plans.
  2. Authentic Dialogue: Thoughtful communication from leaders helps drive active inquiry, accountability, and alignment. If communication doesn’t happen frequently and effectively, leaders run the risk of losing loyalty and trust, which will ultimately result in failure. That’s why it’s essential to keep an authentic dialogue flowing in all directions at all times between leadership and employees. Give your employees the chance to participate in the process of shaping organizational priorities.  It will still be important to have regular check-ins with leaders and team members, as well as through weekly stand-up meetings and regular town halls. Most importantly, find a way to take a dialogue-first approach that creates shared ownership through inclusive team-based action planning.
  3. Shared Ownership: Shared accountability is a critical characteristic of any successful business. We all have to pull our weight and take responsibility for our own engagement. Making the decision-making more collective vs. unilateral creates a culture in which accountability is viewed as a shared responsibility. When individuals and teams begin to feel shared ownership for the organization’s culture and productivity, it fosters trust and leads to stronger execution and performance overall. 

To build trust and navigate rapid change, it’s vital to empower people to utilize their voices to provide actionable insight on topics that matter most. Learn more at Listen Faster, Navigate Together.

Listen Faster, Navigate Change Together

 

Right now, remote work and interrupted workflows are presenting steep challenges to how organizations keep employees engaged and productive.  By keeping people engaged, connected and informed, Employee Voice is the most agile way to include your people in authentic dialogue, and align your teams around action.

If you need an agile way to meaningfully engage with your employees during this critical time, we would like to invite you to use Waggl at no cost.  In order to help support the community during the COVID-19 crisis, Waggl is offering a free 90-day trial of its Employee Voice platform.  This is a stand-alone license with no contractual agreement.  

Waggl is a robust employee engagement solution that utilizes Employee Voice to crowdsource real-time insight to drive faster action and alignment around critical business topics.  By enabling a shared real-time dialogue around critical questions, Waggl rapidly surfaces and prioritizes insights, ideas, and information to help your organization adjust to the new normal.   Most importantly, Waggl can help you maintain connection and reinforce a sense of community for your people in the midst of uncertain times. 

At Waggl, we want to help — If you are ready to listen to the voice of your people and collectively shape the path ahead, please use Waggl now at no cost for 90 days. Learn more at Listen Faster, Navigate Together.

 

With sincerity,

Michael Papay