Last week, we attended the Leaders Lounge HR NY Summit, where the theme was “The Future Of Work & HR Transformation For The Large Scale Organization.” Along with the future of work and workforce transformation, employee development and the role of data were also key areas of focus.
I shared a presentation on leveraging technology to build engagement and empathy in the workplace. Here’s what was discussed:
In the past, our markets followed commercial patterns that are far more predictable than we are experiencing today. As a result of this predictability, we structured our organizations for efficiency and effectiveness. Today, we live in an era of unpredictability. As a result, our organizational design has shifted from efficient and effective hierarchies to networks of people. With networks, companies can be faster, more agile, and more adaptive—a perfect combination for a rapidly changing world.
Intuitively, this shift would lead us to believe that more connections across an organization are being made and therefore, there is a higher level of empathy. As I’ll explain later, with a higher level of empathy, engagement increases. Nevertheless, these shifts in organizational design have not come with a corresponding shift in higher engagement levels. When we dig into why, we suspect that engagement levels are low because employers are not empathizing with their employees as much as necessary to see a corresponding increase in engagement.
According to Bersin by Deloitte, 88 percent of HR professionals recognize the need to shift from hierarchical organization design to networks, but only 11 percent know how to do this effectively. Low engagement levels confirm that HR professionals are not effectively making the shift:
• One-third of employees change jobs every year
• Half of all employees are looking for a new job
• Nearly 70 percent of employees aren’t engaged in their current jobs
The Empathetic Organization
Before jumping to a focus exclusive to engagement, we must first think about the underlying cause of low engagement. Employees feel that their employers aren’t willing to adapt to individual needs. Empathy, as defined by Satya Nadella of Microsoft, is one’s ability to grasp unmet, unarticulated needs. Nadella speaks of empathy as it relates to customers, but an HR professional can easily substitute employees in this definition. Focusing on individual employee needs and unique experiences cultivates employee passion and supports their growth within an organization. In addition, empathy is also what drives innovation and change.
In fact, nine out of 10 employees are more likely to stay at an empathetic organization, and eight out of 10 are willing to work harder and longer. Bottom line: companies that show their employees they care win in the long run.
Shifting From Empathy for High-Potentials to Empathy for All
There is one group of employees that companies have historically focused on meeting their unmet, unarticulated needs. High-potential leaders (HiPos) within organizations have four characteristics: a drive to excel, catalytic learning capability, enterprising spirit, and dynamic sensors. Companies around the world have designed leadership development and rotational programs to specifically satisfy the needs of high-potentials.
As a result, we have data on needs employees want met. They want career pathing and support—when these needs are met, HiPos become more satisfied with their company, and are more likely to stay.
When employees are committed to their organization, they help create new opportunities for growth and innovation.
While we have considerable data based on actual programming for high-potentials, we also know they are not the only ones that value career pathing and support. 86 percent of millennials—the largest generation in the workforce with 56 million looking for work in 2017 compared to 53 million Generation Xers and 41 million baby boomers—will not leave their jobs if their companies provide them with career training and development.
So what are some steps organizations can take to ensure all employees, not just high potentials, feel empathy? Empathy builds when employees:
- Learn or do something every day that helps them grow
- Receive frequent and timely feedback to drive improvement
- Grow in their career and skill set
- Connect with managers and peers
Leveraging Technology to Enable Organizations to Become Empathetic at Scale
While the above steps to building empathy will lay a foundation for an empathetic culture, they are typically incredibly difficult to scale. Creating programs that meet these needs for high potentials is much easier than doing so for an entire workforce that inevitably includes millennials. An organization must solve the problem of scale, and it is at this point where technology comes into play.
At Bridge, we’re committed to building tools that enable organizations to build a foundation of empathy at scale. Our tools do the following:
• Deliver continuous purpose-driven learning
• Make the learning experience personalized and efficient
• Support managers with the curriculum and tools to become mentors and coaches
• Create places where experts share and are recognized for their knowledge
• Empower employees with actionable data for self-improvement
• Scale effective peer-to-peer feedback
When Employers Invest in Empathy, Great Things Happen
We did the research: organizations that invest in creating engaging experiences see employees develop 1.5 times faster, leading to greater profits. Company ratings on Glassdoor improve, leading to a stronger talent pipeline. And employee retention increases—when we asked employees that gave their companies a high rating (five stars) what it would take for them to want to leave their company, they said it would take an increase in salary of nearly 50 percent.
We are passionate about supporting companies in creating an organization of the future: one that effectively moves toward networks that rely on the power of empathy to increase engagement levels and ultimately better business outcomes.
To learn more about creating a company culture that is engaging and empathetic, check out our whitepaper, “Enabling Performance Through Continuous Feedback,” and read how General Electric is using Bridge Practice to deliver personalized feedback to increase engagement in their Accelerated Leadership Program.