Two schools of thought seem to be bandying about in the HR field these days.
On the one hand, there are those who forecast a mass exodus of baby boomers from the workforce. The predicted result is a huge talent gap. A fiercely competitive talent market. Employees can be had, they caution, but, at a premium.
Others suggest ever evolving technologies like robotics and artificial intelligence will usurp human workers. Professionals not exempted. Business journalist, Don Pittis, writes that a dearth of employment opportunities looms on the horizon. In this dystopian world, landing and holding a job will become the “status symbol”¹ of the future.
Reality likely resides somewhere in between.
As organizations volley between the automation age and the human age, traditional notions of employment and workplace are ever-morphing. Tour of duty workers are on the rise, driven in part by a growing majority of Millennials and their (semi)retired Baby Boom predecessors. These solopreneurs want more autonomy over why, when and where they work. In turn, organizations save benefit and pension expenses by contracting transient staff or farming out one-off projects. And like air is to fire, technology feeds into this workplace evolution, reducing costs even further. Think ATMs and online banking vs. front line tellers, government service kiosks and electronic licensing vs. frontline public service staff, shopping online vs. storefront retail.
While manufacturing and clerical jobs have been hardest hit so far, technology creep is edging further afield. “How Technology is Destroying Jobs” headlines a 2013 MIT Technology Review article. W. Brian Arthur, a former economics professor at Stanford University is quoted as saying “digital versions of human intelligence” are increasingly replacing even those jobs once thought to require people. “It will change every profession in ways we have barely seen yet.”²
In this minefield of real change and potential what ifs, what matters most is making the most of the workforce you have now and laying the framework together for what’s ahead. Using employee engagement surveys opens the door to actionable insights. But those surveys are just the beginning.
- Your organization sends out a survey
- People get excited
- They contribute
- Nothing happens
- They believe you’re not listening
- Next time, survey response rates drop
When input is sought, and given, employees are going to have expectations around hearing results. Not doing anything, shelving findings, turning to other priorities, impacts negatively. What starts as an engaging intention becomes an utterly disengaging failure. Future employee survey response rates plummet. Morale too. Absenteeism and retention also suffer, say nothing of productivity.
On the flip side, following up on survey data can have a profound effect on engagement and efficiency, especially if it’s inclusive and bottom-up oriented. What about thoughtfully crafted strategic directives meant to cascade top down? Bottom up – really? Unconventional thinking for unconventional times? No. After years of study, TalentMap research shows management alone can’t fix issues, particularly those that surface from employee surveys. Change comes fromemployees; the process needs to include and build from as diverse a group of employees as possible.
Goals and objectives come from the employee engagement survey
- Form an employee engagement taskforce
- Review findings
- Set goals
- Set objectives
- Identify actions/tasks to meet objectives
Convening an employee task force is a good place to start. A group of one dozen employees from all areas and levels of the organization is recommended, including one or two members of the executive team. That’s crucial. Leadership participation adds reality and advocacy into the equation. Actionable ideas can be reached based on what’s legitimately achievable; what the organization can and cannot do. And when it comes time to advocate from the boardroom floor, these leaders can present task force recommendations from a level playing field to their executive peers.
The survey task force is not the place to lead, however, it’s the place to listen and participate. Engagement, after all, comes from within each employee, an internalized, personal connection. Strong, good leaders will understand this, make people feel comfortable, free to innovate, engaged.
Indeed, how and what an organization does with employee insights is a huge part of the experiential workplace makeover. Numerous studies including data amassed from TalentMap’s Jump-Start workshops, demonstrate that regardless of what comes out of an action planning process, acting on those insights has a direct, uplifting impact on the broader employee work experience.
Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!
Report findings, goals, and actions. Make it real. Start with the simpler goals and activities that can produce quick outcomes. Then move onto more difficult challenges. And communicate. Always communicate. HR or internal communications play an important visibility role. Across the organization everyone will see that something has been achieved because of employee input. That openness and transparency wins credibility when solutions come out, and inspiration, when results come in.
Now back to those threats posed by real-now changes and potential down the road what ifs.
Listen to what’s being said out there by your own people. Analyze trends, together. And act on those findings in unison. As the old adage goes, there’s strength in numbers and it’s strong organizations that will prevail and grow in the years and decades to come.
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