The Fear of Knowing

Our world is changing around us all the time. This is not exactly a profound statement or news to anyone reading this, but what is new for all of us is the speed at which these changes are happening. We see some organizations excelling in this fast-changing world, while others have issues keeping up. Starbucks is a prime example of this phenomenon, their reaction was viewed as slow, but their recovery was received with general praise. This new world we live in is not only affecting organizations externally but internally as well. There is no denying that the workplace is shifting and the relationship between employees and employers is changing rapidly. Some companies are adjusting to the times, others…not so much.  

The most recent example of Nike's female employees taking matters into their own hands is a prime example of both the effects of the #metoo movement and also what happens when a company is taking an outdated approach to understanding the experience of their employees. While we do not know for certain what Nike’s approach was for gaining feedback from their employees our guess it was likely through an annual survey, and possibly some version of a “suggestion box” (although given the stories we have our doubts they were even doing that). This approach might have worked a few decades ago, but companies who want to run efficiently, attract and retain top talent, and ultimately improve their bottom line need to rethink their approach. 

As we've highlighted in previous posts the rapid spread of information is challenging how we collect and measure changes in opinions. Understanding employee mood and sentiment is not any different. If a company is making internal decisions based on how employees felt during a one week period six months ago, you are not making decisions on actual understanding, just a snapshot in time. An annual employee survey is about as helpful trying to project the winner of Daytona 500 from an overhead picture on Lap 28: better than no information, but not exactly helpful in the long run.  

Our approach provides a continuous stream of data, engaging employees the course of the year about company culture, the direction of the company, communication from management etc. Shifts in attitude or changes in intensity provide critical insights into a company’s culture and ultimately critical intel on problems before they become a disruption. But let be honest, the vast majority of employees will always be skeptical of internal surveys, even if they are administrated by the HR department.  Confidentiality and the feeling of being listened to are crucial elements of getting honest results. A third-party entity that has agreed that results only shared in the aggregate provides the employees with insurances that retribution or targeting them in any way is off the table, and provides the company with meaningful results.    

Here's a look at how Trendency work with a company, let's call it ACME, functions. ACME has 500 employees with a wide variety of experience and expertise and has put a high premiere on building a corporate culture that focuses on growth and transparency.  Each workday, approximately 25 - 35 employees are prompted or out of habit follow a link to answer a handful of questions, some of which are recurring, others are reserved for timely issues that are of importance (should we go back to Puerto Rico for the company retreat or pick somewhere new?). 

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Over time, Trendency shows that overall the overwhelming majority of ACME's employees have a positive view of the workplace.  However, the longitudinal nature of the data allowed us to see that there was a clear change in the positive concentration in the lead up to ACME's three board meetings during the course of the year. While this is probably an obvious cynical pattern, what was most interesting was that the positive feelings dipped more dramatically with the lower level staff members than those in management. This is the type of information that a traditional approach is unlike to pick-up and can be hugely informative to management teams during these stress points, and an opportunity to find ways to improve the company's culture.   

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Trendency's data not only allows for an ongoing understanding of changes but also provides the ability to look at the difference in gender, age, tenure with the company, position within the company, or even how far they live from the office.  ACME invests a great deal in employee benefits to attract top talent in their field, but with Trendency, ACME's executive team could look at what keeps their top performing employees from leaving throughout their tenure. Our data allows a company like ACME to dramatically shift their investments to match the wishes of their employees and ultimately save money for the company by moving away from some of the more expensive investments that do not factor into employee satisfaction and focusing more on the investments that have a direct relationship with satisfaction. Further, we can understand how these priorities shift depending on how long employees have worked at a firm, where they live, their age etc.  

Our offices are no different than the "real-world".  In the past, people relied on specific points during the day to receive information about the world around us. Whether it was reading the newspaper on the way to work, listening to the radio in the car, or tuning into the evening news, our habits dictated where and when this information would reach us.  Same can be said for the workplace, where individuals would dedicate years if not decades to a company, working for the same person(s) for their entire careers. Today people are bombarded with new information from their morning alarm clock to the moment they go to bed at night. And the workplace has changed right along with it.   

If the way your organization tries to understand how their employees are feeling hasn’t changed in the past decade or two, it is probably time to rethink how you are engaging and listening to your most important assets. Just ask Nike how things turn out if you are not keeping up with the world that we live in.  

Brendan Gleason