In Times of Anxiety, Lead With ‘We’ and ‘Us’

Behavioral insights from employee feedback can help organizations identify and drive new, data-informed priorities.

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Pervading nearly every facet of our personal and professional lives, the impact of COVID-19 is made worse by the fact that there is no playbook for companies and their leaders to follow, including leaders who have successfully navigated quick and crashing waters in the past. Seemingly overnight, employers had to direct their workforces to work remotely as governments imposed widespread lockdowns.

People’s confidence in the decisions you make as a business leader has never been more important: The recent 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer survey found that employees in 10 countries see their employers as more trusted, reliable, and credible channels of information during the COVID-19 crisis than traditional media or government sources. This invaluable trust could easily be squandered through uninformed decision-making. Therefore, it’s crucial that employers continue to disseminate information with clarity and consistency to their workforces, clients, and shareholders.

Many Fortune 500 companies and professional services firms that I work with are well versed in the tremendous impact of making decisions that are informed by big data and behavioral insights. Decision makers must now act swiftly and pragmatically, using data to help navigate financial, operational, and personnel challenges that lack clear resolutions. Leaders are being forced to make unprecedented decisions in the short term, knowing that these actions will lead to adjustments to their businesses, operations, people strategies, and plans in both the medium and long terms.

One of my clients, a tenured CEO, invited me and my team of researchers on the journey to navigate COVID-19 by harnessing behavioral insights to support and manage workers through what is, one hopes, a temporary — albeit highly stressful — situation. Our work began with delving deeply into the analytics of the organization’s workforce, and we paired this analysis with quick surveys to get an immediate pulse on how the company’s employees were responding to the crisis. This approach allowed us to identify and drive new, data-informed priorities for the organization.

Several important insights emerged that confirmed that both managers and employees within the organization were facing difficulties. The pandemic was affecting their well-being and their anxiety levels, which runs counter to operating a highly functional organization, or what my colleague Amy Edmondson has termed a fearless organization.

First, the company’s employees wanted to know that their leadership had a clear action plan for the company.

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