Infographic: How Leaders Can Help Shape The Employee Experience in Times of Crisis

Download the PDF Version of the Infographic

In today’s landscape, you may not be able to physically look an employee in the eye or put a supportive hand on a shoulder. But, with the willingness to adapt, there are plenty of other ways you can connect with and support your employees.

Here are 7 ways to help shape the employee experience in times of crisis.

Reinforce your Company Values

FIND OUT how your team perceives the company values. Do they (and do YOU) practice these values in today’s daily work life, even when working remotely or in times of difficulty?

Keep Your Communication Channels Open

Ask questions that show you’re thinking about the experience employees are going through right now. Look for ways to augment your FEEDBACK TOOLS, and make them more timely.

Change Your Tone and the Nature of Your Questions

SURVEY your teams, especially remote workers. Focus more on open text comments to get the full weight of FEELINGS. Shift your questions to be more employee-centric and less organization-centric.

“Onboard” Remote Workers and Check In Frequently

Many workers who work from home for the first time will need access to VPN, TECHNOLOGY, and other resources. Make sure someone oversees setting these employees up for success.

Coach Your Managers

Put BEST PRACTICES and tips into the hands of your front line. Reinforce their responsibility to cascade information up from employees to leaders and back down again.

Align Expectations With Managers and Employees

Model how managers can COMMUNICATE with their teams. Managers, help your teams understand the critical outputs. Ask for DELIVERABLES. Check in.

Connect With the Mission

Have each team meet and talk through these points: What’s our STRATEGIC contribution, what are we good at, what do we want to be good at, how can we contribute in this new era?

More Resources:

How Managers Help Retain Talent with Employee Engagement Initiatives In Times of Crisis

Manager with team surrounding her

This is a transcription of a previously recorded episode on the Engaging People Podcast.

Christian Nielson

Christian Nielson

VP of Consulting Services

Hello and welcome to another Engaging People Podcast. My name is Christian Nielson. I’m the Vice President of the Consulting Services here at DecisionWise, and I’m joined by our consulting team. Today, we’re talking about how your engagement initiative can help you attract and retain top talent. Now, before we get into this, it’s an interesting time in the context of the world to have this conversation, we’re going to stop short of having this be a complete COVID-19 podcast. However, I think that will be some important context to consider as we talk this through for our own examples and stories as well as for those clients and organizations listening to this podcast. I’ll start by talking a little bit about how I’ve seen employee engagement work within the organizations. Then we’ll go around the team and hear what each of our consultants has to say on the subject.

Expanding Ownership in the Organization

As I’ve looked at engagement within an organization, one of the principles I’m looking for, especially in engagement initiatives at a manager level, is the expansion of ownership. As more and more people throughout the organization take ownership of the employee experience and cultivate employee engagement, we see great things happen. And so if we think about frontline managers and the role engagement and the employee experience plays there, we have to build where those frontline managers see their sense of ownership and understand the role they play in shaping the employee experience and employee engagement. And then we have to get managers to help expand ownership throughout their teams so that they involve others in shaping that team experience.

Client Example

I have one client that I’m working with that does a really tremendous job of expanding that ownership down to where managers understand their role in shaping the team experience. They involve others, and all of their work is not only about improving their collective experience, but also about strengthening the customer experience. They have a more outward focus. Everything they do is to create a greater sense of service and value for their customers. And this gives more meaning and purpose to their work. It galvanizes them as a team unit and connects them back to the organization.

What does this mean for attracting and retaining talent?

When our employees engage, great things happen.

  • Turnover goes down – engaged employees don’t leave as often when they find their work experience engaging.
  • You get higher NPS (employee net promoter score), which is a strong response to the survey item: “I would recommend this organization as a great place to work.”
  • You get better candidate referrals – some of our best candidates come from internal referrals from engaged employees.

These are things I’ve seen within the team environment as organizations work to expand ownership down to managers, cultivating the right team experience, involving others. We see some immediate benefits for the organization, as well as the employees. Charles, do you mind sharing some of your thoughts on this subject?

Don’t Overthink Your Employee Engagement Initiative – Choose and Work on Something

Charles Rogel

Charles Rogel

Senior Consultant

You know, I think about this topic, and I thought of an example that I read about in The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg a number of years ago. He included a story about a company called Alcoa Corporation. It’s one of the largest producers of aluminum in the world. Back in 1987, a new CEO was appointed, Paul O’Neill. And during his first speech, people had high expectations. The company wasn’t really performing very well. He got up and he basically said, I want to talk to you about worker safety. And it was interesting, because nobody was expecting that to be the topic. And he went on to talk about how they were going to focus on their safety record, that everything was going to be kind of geared around their performance metrics. If you want to understand how the company is doing, look at how our safety record is doing.

And it was a very interesting take. Many people were worried about his approach. Investors were worried, and they thought they had hired the wrong person. But miraculously, it really helped to turn the company around. With the focus on safety, all of a sudden, people had permission to look at the unique problems, processes, and equipment within the organization. The focus on safety really transformed the culture of the organization. Everyone focused on improving processes and procedures that led to worker safety, but efficiencies and profitability also increased. The next year, the company had an all-time, record-high in profits, and after 13 years as the CEO there, O’Neill’s net income was five times higher than what he started with. Now, I like this story because when you think about managers and engagement and what they’re trying to do with their team, I always recommend just choose something, work on something.

Figure out what you're all about as a manager

Maybe safety is a big initiative in your organization. And maybe safety doesn’t sound too exciting, but frame it in a way where safety equals care about people. This topic of safety at Alcoa really resonated with the union employees because of their skepticism about a new CEO. But when they figured out that, “Hey, this is all about improving worker safety!” they got on board. That whole initiative transformed the organization.

But turning it back to a manager and what you’re doing: what are you all about? Are you about creating growth opportunities for your employees where they’re going to advance their careers and develop their skills? Are you all about providing autonomy and empowering your employees to make decisions in the organization and boosting creativity? Figure out what is important to you and your team to be successful and make that your engagement initiative and use that when you’re hiring people. When you’re talking to people about their needs and what really motivates them, make sure your engagement focus is really resonating with your employees. Dan Deka, can you share some of your thoughts with us?

Continue Growth Conversations Even During Hard Times

Dan Deka

Dan Deka

Senior Consultant and Executive Coach

Sure. Everyone, it’s nice to be here with you and our thoughts and prayers go out to you during these uncertain times. I think at no other time is engagement as important as it is right now. We do so much work, and we gather all this feedback, and what’s the purpose of it? To help people feel engaged, to help them feel connected, to help them feel secure. And there’s just so much going on right now, that I think there’s a lot of elements of our work that definitely helps to increase engagement and adds a great deal of benefit to people.

Right now, I’d say from my standpoint, I have a couple of different types of clients. I have coaching clients, 360 clients, and engagement clients. And I can just say for my coaching clients, it’s a fantastic time to continue the conversations. These are all conversations and coaching relationships about leadership, and there’s no better time in leadership than during times of uncertainty. So that works really well.

And then for our engagement or our 360 clients, you know, there’s the decision, do we continue to do these efforts during these times or not? And in general, with most of my clients, if they’re not critical healthcare workers and they have some time on their hands, this is a great time for them to connect to people, to do those 360s, to get that feedback, to make sure that they have that coaching support around them during this time. We definitely don’t want to do work and then leave people by themselves at this time. We want to do that work, get them feedback, and then talk with them about that feedback.

Growth and communication are critical to employee engagement

So, some organizations are continuing there, and then most specifically for this conversation around engagement, what we learn from a lot of our engagement surveys is, communication and growth are critical. And communication is especially critical now, where a lot of people are working from home and may feel a little bit isolated. I think the general feedback from a lot of our engagement surveys emphasizes the importance of communication. Oftentimes it comes across as cross-functional communication across departments. And I think now with everything that’s going on, communication just becomes that much more important.

I guess from my experience, it’s purposely taking the engagement data that you have, whether it’s from a month ago, or from six months ago, or a year, looking at that feedback that you have, and then saying, how does it apply to our current scenario right now, and leverage that. I’m very confident and talking with clients about that now, how employee feedback from the past is even more applicable now. So those are some thoughts around how I think this work is especially important during these times of uncertainty and how you can leverage either your current work or past work around engagement.

Christian Nielson – Thanks, Dan. Given the current context and my interactions with clients and review of survey data, I’m consistently impressed by the importance managers play in creating the right experience and how important communication is and how detrimental vacuums of information can be. Especially right now, as some organizations are experiencing remote work for the very first time, and certainly at this scale where people are going remote. And so, that manager and the organization strengthening communication and getting the word out there is very important. All right, let’s hear from another one of our consultants. Thomas, do you mind giving us a little bit of your take on this?

leader increases eNPS by showing his team he cares

New Hire Interviews Can Be Powerful Engagement Initiatives

Thomas Olsen

Thomas Olsen


Yeah. As an HR business partner, I saw a lot of interviews. I saw a lot of different managers and the way that they interviewed candidates, and I think that’s the first initial contact that a candida has with the company. That’s really our first opportunity to show them that we’re an engaged company and that we have an engaged culture. And so, I think it’s really crucial for managers to spend a little bit more time preparing for that interview. I think a lot of managers tend to take that as a very trivial opportunity and just something that they have to go through. They have to weed out these different candidates, many of which are pretty smart. I think if you’re looking for great talent, those candidates will be able to see through a process that is not very well thought out, with generic questions.

Prepare your managers more for hiring interviews to win over top candidates

And so, I think a manager that comes in a little bit more prepared to that initial interview can really win that candidate over. And they can really show their engagement in the way that they approach the candidate. Just with questions that are not as generic. And I also say some of the most successful managers that I’ve worked with, while they’re obviously interested in somebody’s skill set, they’re really trying to hire for cultural fit which also means they’re trying to figure out if the person is a fully engaged candidate.

So we talk about the engagement spectrum where we have somebody that’s fully engaged, some people are key contributors, some people are in this opportunity group, and some people are fully disengaged. We obviously want more fully engaged candidates, so can we ask questions that weed those candidates out? I think we just have to spend a little more time prepping that initial interview process. And as far as retaining top talent, my thoughts there are not earth-shattering. One-on-ones, having frequent check-ins, and just being transparent and having an open-door policy for a manager can keep that engagement up for existing employees.

Christian Nielson – I think it’s a great point that managers, including myself, don’t always remember the gravity of our role in shaping someone’s first impressions of an organization and starting that employee experience right. I think we’ve heard some sound advice on bringing people in that are going to engage with what we’re offering as an organization or looking for signs that this person’s going to come in and disengage very quickly or is already kind of prone to that. But also, just in terms of the experience a manager can create, can they prime them in those first few moments for greater engagement long term? I think these are some wonderful considerations. Next, let’s hear from Chris Story, another member of our consulting team.

Retain Talent by Helping Employees See Their Impact

Chris Storey

Chris Storey


You know, it may be a fairly obvious point, but when we’re talking about top talent, we’re talking about those who have something to contribute rather than just those who will take direction or follow orders. So there’s an important balance that we want to strike between orienting talent and giving direction, which is important, and drawing upon the ideas and experiences of that top talent. So, I think that’s relevant because those who feel that they are contributing and making a difference will be retained. They’ll remain in the company and they’ll be more engaged.

Managers lead strong teams with psychological safety

So back in 2012, Google’s project, Aristotle, studied high performing teams and at first tried and failed to find any patterns that explain such stellar results. And it’s interesting, because Google is pretty good at finding patterns. After further study, they did find that the best teams were those where psychological safety existed.

So what we mean by psychological safety is a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. When we are in teams with a high degree of autonomy in place, we’re trying to innovate, push the limits, maybe even respond to something like COVID-19 situation, there’s an inherent risk for employees. So, it’s helpful to remember that along with that autonomy, they want to feel safe. I wrote down that employees want to avoid looking incompetent, ignorant and intrusive, which I guess are the three I’s of employee embarrassment or something. I just made that up, but those are the three things that employees are certainly going to want to avoid. So what can they do?

Help employees avoid the three I's of employee embarrassment

  1. Offer explicit invitations for others to speak up – set ground rules at the beginning of a collaboration session so that people can speak up with ideas.
  2. Shape incentives to foster learning – it’s not just about perfect outcomes all the time, incentives are built around learning and collaboration.

So to be clear, the message is not that companies should be really nice to their employees. In fact, the galvanizing companion to psychological safety is accountability. You can think of those as two dimensions. For example, high psychological safety and low accountability is just kind of the comfort zone, it’s a warm and fuzzy place where we’re not really expected to contribute or we don’t feel that sense of ownership that you spoke to, Christian. On the other hand, high accountability for demanding goals, and low psychological safety can result in limited collaboration. So the sweet spot is where there is a high amount of accountability as well as psychological safety. That’s where high performance lives, that’s what Google found. And so I think that’s one point to bring up here in terms of how to help employees, your top talent remain and then engage in the company.

Christian Nielson – Thanks, Chris. There are some competing forces there and balance that a manager can seek to find. Stephen Mickelson from our consulting team. Any thoughts?

Employee Engagement Initiatives Help Both Managers and Direct Reports Grow

Stephen Mickelson

Stephen Mickelson


Yeah, definitely. About a year ago, Christian and I were in an onsite debrief with one of our large clients, and we were debriefing HR VPs on the engagement survey results for the various leaders that they supported. And as I reviewed some of the most engaged teams for a particular HR VP, she replied with, “Of course this leader’s employees are engaged. If she left to work in fast food, they would follow her.”

And I’ve remembered that because it was perhaps a little bit of aspiration and perhaps a little bit of jealousy. I’m not currently a manager, but I really hope that at some point in the future, somebody can say the same thing about me. It’s a very succinct reminder of the impact that a good leader has on his or her employees. Good leaders have so much influence over the experience that the employees have within their teams. So much, that some employees might leave to take lower pay and harsher working conditions at another organization. The flip side of that is that when employees have great managers, they are much less likely to leave their organization.

So, if you want to be the type of manager that employees really would follow to a minimum wage job, you need to know how to cultivate engagement on your team. Regardless of your personality type or your current experience, engagement is a competency that can be learned, it’s iterative and there’s always something new to learn. So odds are you’ve had tons of training in whatever your background or your field is. But unless you’ve studied organizational behavior or have experience in this area, the engagement survey or the engagement initiatives that your organization is doing is a great new learning opportunity on how to cultivate engagement.

Here are four ways that engagement initiatives can help you develop as a manager

  1. You will hear your employees’ points of view on new things – those can at times be pretty difficult or uncomfortable or challenging to handle. But the more you do it, the more you get used to it, and the more you can handle the different perspectives and the truths that your employees face on a daily basis.
  2. Have open conversations with your team about their employee experience – those sorts of conversations may have never existed in the past.
  3. Learn how to rally your team around a common, mixed shared goal.
  4. Learn how to address perceptions – they might not fall within your direct and immediate control.

Christian Nielson: Thank you Stephen, appreciate that. Spencer Taylor from our consulting team. Spencer, any thoughts on this?

How Managers Help Retain Employees in Hard Times

Spencer Taylor

Spencer Taylor

Senior Consultant

A lot of my thoughts have been in the context of what we’re facing today with this whole pandemic. We used to live in a world where our topic of attracting and retaining top talent typically means we’re thinking of holding on to people so they don’t go elsewhere. And that’s more common in a healthy economy; however, a lot of the headlines are saying the economy may head a different direction. And so, then we’re talking about retaining people in a world where furloughs and fear are kind of the words of the day. Plus, Dan talked about the issue of proximity.

How do you deal with the issue of proximity?

If you have a bunch of employees who are not used to working remotely, now all of a sudden they’re remote. I have found, in both being a remote employee and managing remote employees, that the “out of sight, out of mind” principle applies, where it’s easy to forget that your employees need you and you can go and have the water cooler talk and have some of that ongoing connecting. And again, you add to that, the idea that the person who used to sit to their left or right either physically or virtually, may not be there anymore. They may be on furlough or unfortunately had to be laid off, or whatever the case might be. Retention’s a whole different animal in that context.

Let the ENGAGEMENT MAGIC framework be your guide

And that’s where the whole underlying wisdom of the ENGAGEMENT MAGIC framework that we talk so much about internally here at DecisionWise comes into relevance, because helping people needs to be addressed individually. Helping people find meaning. Again, given those changing tides and obstacles that are out there that none of us could have anticipated. We’re in this world where we need to feel like we’re in this together, but we’re literally being asked to not be together. It’s a unique challenge. I think we have to be really mindful as managers and leaders, with how we’re creating that sense of togetherness, how we’re helping our people feel connected as the “C” in our magic model indicates, having that impact and autonomy.

Build an environment where employees can choose to engage

I also think we can learn sometimes from what doesn’t work. I had an experience come to mind where a few years back, before I worked with DecisionWise, I worked with this company as a consultant. The president had hired us to come in and do some work. Sometimes, companies think that if they just pay their people above-market wage, provide a comfortable environment, the right tools, and the best technologies, people will engage and contribute at a deep level. And that’s kind of the prevailing environment we walked into with this project. We found out pretty quickly that it was ultimately the CEO who was the epicenter of the toxic environment. In fact, we were told if you ever see the CEO, turn and run, he doesn’t believe in consultants. He doesn’t like anyone from the outside coming in and influencing the organization.

So, it was crazy trying to operate in this world, and I wasn’t even an employee! We heard rumors that he’d terminate half a department just because he had a bad day. I’m confident that there was way more to the story, and he may have had a good reason to make some adjustments. But the point is, people perceived that. To them, that was their reality. We talk a lot when we do 360 coaching, that perception really is reality for people. The same thing applies when we’re thinking about engaging through hardship and through the process of attracting and recruiting as well.

Help promote cross-department collaboration

I think it’s a balancing act. I think we just have to be of the mind that we’re in this together, in the sense that we can support each other across organizations and across team boundaries. It’s a great opportunity for us to break down some of the silos that we see a lot. In our engagement survey, one of the most common challenges is for companies to collaborate effectively across departments. This is a great time to work on that issue, because a lot of people are kind of on a more level playing field in terms of having to work virtually. In a way, it’s easier to connect across departments because it’s just clicking that next name down the chat line. So I think we can seize it as an opportunity.

Christian Nielson – This is an interesting time to be thinking about the employee experience as Spencer and many others have mentioned, especially during this current economic climate and rare global experience. So here is a summary of a few of the things I’m taking away from the conversation:

  • Managers create a lot of the employee experience
  • Managers can improve that experience dramatically through communication (how they listen, share information, etc.)
  • Managers get to choose the level in which they involve their employees in shaping the team experience
  • Employee gets to choose if they will engage

Don’t feel like you have to do it alone. Invite people to be part of the solution, improve that collective experience. With that, we’d like to thank everyone for being part of this conversation and we look forward to you joining us for a future episode very soon. Thank you

How Moments of Truth Impact Trust and The Employee Experience

Man Reading a Contract

How moments of truth impact trust and the employee experience is what both employers and employees deserve to understand. Every relationship comes with a Contract and every Contract gets blitzed by Moments of Truth (MOT).

Pay Attention to Your Contracts

The Contract is a perceived set of promises that establishes the terms of that relationship. Some Contracts are explicit, such as a written statement of work–you do this, I give you that; or the Contract you sign when your daughter breaks her third mobile phone. Others aren’t openly expressed or agreed on but can have have the greatest potential influence on the Employee Experience. These Contracts are implicit and come from expectations that both parties bring to the relationship. If one’s expectations aren’t met, the implicit Contract is broken and conflict begins to fester.

Read the Book: The Employee Experience

Moments of Truth and Pinball

In a moment of truth, the Contract that both employer and employee have established is put to the test. Think of MOTs as the bumpers in a pinball machine. Depending on the position of MOTs, expectations can ricochet off them in virtually any direction. When MOTs contradict the express promises made in the Contract there’s turbulence. When something happens that tests the validity of the promises that make up the Contract, that’s a moment of truth. Until a MOT occurs, any Contract between employee and employer is theoretical and untested. Employee Experience - Moments of Truth - Pinball
But once a MOT arrives, the Contract gets very real. Employees quickly learn whether their employers or supervisors will keep their promises. They also find out in stark terms how the organization’s leaders view them, which can be a pleasant surprise or a rude awakening.

From the employee’s perspective, it doesn’t really matter as much whether the outcome of the MOT is positive or negative, as long as the outcome is consistent with expectations.

That means every moment of truth is also a potential turbulence point in the Expectation Gap, that space between what employees expect and what they experience. Mismanagement of these moments of truth creates a situation where no one trusts anyone else.

The result of a collision between expectations and MOTs is like what happens when physicists at the Large Hadron Collider bring elementary particles together at near-light velocities: unpredictable energies and particles hurtling off on random vectors. Those energies and particles can be harnessed for greater productivity, or they can rampage out of control and destroy the entire system.

How Moments of Truth Impact the Employee Experience

What’s essential for leaders at all levels to understand is that MOTs are never neutral. They always have an impact. In fact, a MOT always has one of three effects:

  1. Reinforcement of the Contract leads to feelings of safety and validation. Employees feel more secure and believe more strongly that they can trust in and invest themselves in the organization. They also feel good about themselves for having believed in the organization. A relationship of trust is the result.
  2. Violation of the Contract produces anger and cynicism. Employees feel varying degrees of anger at the organization, ranging from annoyance to rage, for not keeping its promises. Because they also feel manipulated and even betrayed, they can develop the cynical belief that the organization’s leaders can’t be relied on to do anything they say they will. It’s not hard to see how this attitude can lead to total disengagement. A relationship of distrust is the result. Incidentally, revising the Contract, even when changes are minor, is often seen as a violation. The thinking goes, if the organization can change its mind at the drop of a hat, what will change next? Even if the change in the Contract is positive, the fact that it can change suddenly, and without the employee’s consent, can create a net negative outcome. Revision can lead to uncertainty and worry.
  3. Creation of a new Contract may lead not only to confusion but also curiosity. These aren’t necessarily negative emotions, but confusion can lead to more problematic feelings if employees remain unsure about the new rules, their new roles, or what’s expected of them. That’s one of the reasons why change is hard. But communication is key. Curiosity can be a force for good and presents an opportunity to engage employees at a deeper level. Depending on the way the new Contract is handled, a relationship of trust or distrust could be the result.

Moments of Truth and Employee Engagement

These emotions are where the rubber meets the road with the Contract. They’re what you have to acknowledge and manage. Your subordinates aren’t going to say “You violated our Contract last week when you announced that pay freeze.” But they will reveal their anger, cynicism, and feelings of betrayal in subtle ways…and some that aren’t subtle.

Being mindful of those emotions isn’t a touchy-feely New Age management trope; it’s a leadership survival skill. A change to the Contract, whether company-wide or between a team lead and a line employee, often evokes powerful emotions that can dramatically affect your Employee Experience and engagement.  

Stepping up in moments of truth makes trust lasting and resilient, and helps your organization be sustainable. Trust is the oxygen of the EX. With it, you have life. Without it, trust dies. Trust isn’t static. It can’t be expected to run on autopilot. The level of trust your employees have in you today won’t be the same tomorrow. Trust is a continuum, not a state. It is always being increased or decreased.

Learn more about how to manage your organization’s trust with its employees by picking up The Employee Experience: How to Attract Talent, Retain Top Performers, and Drive Results.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Wiley, from The Employee Experience by Tracy Maylett and Matthew Wride. Copyright (c) 2017 by DecisionWise, LLC. All rights reserved.
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DecisionWise Provides FREE Access to its “Manager Weekly Check-in Tool”

Manager using online tool

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, DecisionWise is offering its Manager Weekly Check-in Tool FREE to every manager in every organization.

“The disruptions caused by COVID-19 have forced organizations around the world to modify their business practices. These disruptions have greatly impacted employee communication,” said DecisionWise President, Matthew Wride.  “Many leaders are now managing remote teams, or they are trying to support social distancing requests. One of the biggest challenges managers currently face is keeping communication open and staying connected with their teams.”

Based on the 5-15 concept that has been attributed to Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, the DecisionWise Manager Weekly Check-in Tool allows a manager to organize team communication and conduct more valuable one-on-one meetings. After the manager registers a team, an email will automatically be sent to each team member each Friday morning. Team members provide responses to four simple questions. Updates are provided to the manager in an aggregated, online individual and team report. These reports provide valuable insights into an employee’s activities, challenges, and accomplishments. The tool also provides talking points for one-on-one meetings.

DecisionWise is providing the English version of its tool without charge to mangers throughout the world. For more information, please visit:

About DecisionWise

DecisionWise is an employee experience consulting firm specializing in leadership and organization development using assessments, feedback, coaching and training. DecisionWise services include employee engagement surveys, 360-degree feedback, employee life cycle (ELC) surveys, leadership coaching, and organization development. DecisionWise was founded in 1996 and is privately held. With area offices in the United States and Brazil, and associates in six other locations throughout the world, DecisionWise operates in over 70 countries and conducts surveys in over 30 languages.

Media contact:

Justin Warner
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Podcast: How Managers Can Help Organizations Retain Talent with Employee Engagement Initiatives – When You Need Them Most (Round Table Discussion)

woman reviewing her 360 results

In this episode, we’re joined by a panel of DecisionWise consultants who discuss practical ideas and examples for how to attract and retain top talent with your employee engagement initiatives.

DecisionWise VP of Consulting, Christian Nielson says, “As I’ve looked at engagement within an organization, one of the principles I’m looking for, especially in engagement initiatives at a manager level, is the expansion of ownership. As more and more people throughout the organization take ownership of the employee experience and cultivate employee engagement, we see great things happen.”

Our panel of consultants include: Christian Nielson (host), Charles Rogel, Dan Deka, Thomas Olsen, Chris Storey, Stephen Mickelson, and Spencer Taylor.

In Chaotic Times, What Are Your Employee Experience No-Nos?

No written on brown paper

At DecisionWise, we use the Listen, Understand, and Act model to help guide our clients in their employee listening programs.  In this blog post, I would like to focus on using a different mental model to help us understand the employee experience (EX) from a unique perspective.   

The "Gap" Model

The “Gap” Model

Frequently, during the survey debrief sessions we facilitate, leaders naturally start applying what we call the “gap” model.  They look for each place where they see gaps in their survey scores. These are either gaps they see in comparison to defined benchmark scores, or gaps that exist because scores don’t line up with what the leaders had hoped to see.  Here is what a typical gap model looks like:

  1. Ask questions
  2. Examine the responses
  3. Identify the gaps
  4. Try to understand (sometimes, guess) why the gaps exist
  5. Take action to close those gaps

To be sure, a gap analysis is a helpful way to see where change is needed, but gaps don’t necessarily tell you: (1) if action should be taken, and (2) gaps don’t provide much indication as to correlation, let alone causation.  Also, a gap analysis doesn’t paint a complete picture because it can’t tell us whether a gap necessarily matters to our employees; it only identifies a gap’s existence.  Additionally, there is another feature of a gap analysis that can be problematic.  Sometimes, finding the gaps becomes the goal instead of understanding the data. It’s as if our brains go on autopilot, and finding the gaps becomes a game of “whack-o-mole.”  It might be fun, but for what purpose?    

Don't concentrate on the steps.

Invert Your Thinking

Instead of focusing on an organization’s gaps, let’s invert our thinking.  We start by focusing on the outcomes we desire instead of concentrating on the steps needed to get there.  Put simply, we define our end-goal, and then working backward identify those forces that support change towards our objective or forces that impede our progress.  You might call it “thinking backward.”   

Inversion has been used by philosophers and scientists for years, but Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s long-time business partner, was one of the first to apply it in the business world.[i]  Munger pointed out that it is much easier to find success by knowing what to avoid (having worked backward from your goal) than it is to find a formula that outlines all the helpful things you might do.  Put differently, the list of things to avoid is much shorter than the list of things you could be doing.   

Consider the analogy of a perfect meal.  There are lots of little things that will make the perfect meal experience – countless touches, ingredients, flavors, etc.  However, a single hair in your soup, and the experience is ruined.  No amount of flavor will counteract such an unpleasant sensation.   

Employee Experience No-Nos

Employee Experience No-Nos

In our experience, Munger’s theory is often true when building and measuring the employee experience.  There are many things you can do to help, a little here and a little there. There is, however, always a core list of things you should never do – employee experience no-nos.  In a world that has been seriously disrupted by COVID-19 and corresponding economic stress, it might be wise to think of what we should avoid instead of worrying about what we should add.  Let’s improve our capability by narrowing our focus. 

So, during this current stressful period, let me suggest the following approach to avoid those pesky EX no-nos.   

  • Define what your employee experience would look like if you had a magic wand to help you during the current chaos.
  • Consider the forces that support your ideal state (positive forces). 
  • Consider those forces that might block your ideal from happening (negative forces).  Put most of your focus here!
  • Keep listening to your employees.  Use open-ended text questions to get your employees’ unfiltered assessment of what they are experiencing. 
  • Instead of using a traditional gap analysis, focus primarily on the data that helps you gain insights into your positive forces and negative forces. 
  • Don’t use employee feedback as a way to evaluate things; instead, use it to understand what you should avoid.    

You might even consider augmenting your research with small focus groups.  You might ask your study participants something like, “Other than pay and benefits, describe what is most frustrating about your employee experience right now.”  Or, you could ask them to rank a list of items from least frustrating to must frustrating.  Of course, you will be introducing negative sentiment into the equation, but that’s okay because we are anticipating receiving negative comments.  Please note that we recommend focus groups in this context because asking broad, negatively focused questions in a wider survey would probably introduce more dissatisfaction than it would provide effective insights. 

Build your employee experience no-nos list.

Build Your Own Employee Experience No-Nos List

Now, expertly armed with your insights, you can start to build a common, shared list of experiences, scenarios, or behaviors that should be avoided.  Publish this list of EX no-nos.  Teach new managers what this list means.  Remind senior leaders why avoiding these items is vital, especially as organizations attempt to retain their best and brightest talent in these uncertain times.   

In summary, this blog post is little more than a reminder to follow the wisdom of “begin with the end in mind,” and pay close attention to your detractors because their influence is often disproportionate.  Pound for pound, in the current environment, it is better to avoid EX no-nos, than it is to offer a long list of perks and enhancements.   


Podcast: Crisis Communication

In this episode, we sit down with DecisionWise Consultant, Chris Storey to discuss how to maintain strong communication ties with employees during a time of crisis.

We touch on practical ideas leaders can implement to increase communication (especially during the COVID-19 pandemic), ways to avoid common pitfalls, and understanding how communication is tied to engagement.

Chris stresses the danger of failing to communicate:

“Employees might see a vacuum of information and fill it in with their own reality or what they might be guessing is going on.”

Listen for more ideas, stories, and examples in this insightful conversation on communication.

Podcast: Keeping Optimism in the Workplace

In this episode, we sit down with DecisionWise Senior Consultant, Spencer Taylor to discuss how to keep optimism in the workplace.

Spencer reflects on the importance of keeping a larger perspective when we are going through a difficult time:

“When we’re going through hard things, it’s nice to reflect on the successes of the past and to learn lessons from our history, and to carry those principles forward in a way where we use them as tools as to how we can behave through the more challenging times.”

Listen for more ideas, stories, and examples in this insightful conversation on optimism.