Employee Experience

Adjusting your Employee Experience (EX) program in times of crisis

In times of organizational crisis and change, the company looks to their HR leaders for guidance and reassurance. This is especially the case, now, given the disruptions associated with COVID-19 and the related economic crisis.

So how can HR and employee experience (EX) leaders help their organizations appropriately manage employees’ experiences during these trying times?

The same way that all experience management (XM) professionals can: “by enhancing the capability to continuously learn how people are thinking and feeling, propagate insights into the hands of people who can take action, and rapidly adapt in this dynamic environment,” as Bruce Temkin points out in a recent article.

In most cases, this means making adjustments to the EX Management program.

5 principles for making changes to your XM program

As organizations consider changes to their EX management programs, it is important to anchor on foundational XM principles that apply to all XM professionals during times of crisis:

  1. Show humanity. As you ask employees for feedback, you must be ultra sensitive to their existing circumstances and concerns and be clear about how the collection of their feedback can help them. In times of crisis, employees’ concerns shift to the most fundamental of needs such as their health and safety and whether they will have a job tomorrow.
  2. Take a hiatus on metrics. Major organizational disruptions can have a dramatic impact on employee survey responses and scores. For example, many organizations observe drops in survey scores shortly after mergers and acquisitions. At times like this, you should still ask employees for feedback, but your focus should be on what’s important to employees right now, not on metrics and historical comparisons.
  3. Ask less, listen more. As you adjust your existing employee listening strategy, shift your measurement approach to be more open-ended and less anchored on what questions have been asked in the past.
  4. Build up your immediate response skill. Following up with employees on their feedback is always important, but it is even more critical in times of crisis. One of the core competencies within the XM operating framework is “RESPOND”, which is all about how organizations respond to and act on feedback. During these times, take greater care to ask about what you can act on, get feedback to the people who can do something with it, and communicate, communicate, communicate with your employees.
  5. Accelerate your feedback cycles. Building on principles 3 and 4, it’s critical that you collect, manage and respond to feedback as quickly as possible. For most organizations, this likely means introducing new or different types of listening mechanisms, such as always-on feedback to digital employee experiences.

The 7 most common EX program questions in times of change

Over the past several weeks, we fielded dozens of questions from our EX clients and partners about the specific changes they need to make to their EX management programs during this time of crisis. While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, here are answers to the 7 most common questions we’re currently being asked:

1. Timing for annual employee census – should we delay?

While there’s no one right answer to this, there are a few practical approaches that could make sense. Remember the first principle – show humanity. Much of the content of traditional employee census surveys will be (and will be perceived by employees) as irrelevant right now.

This was a key topic of a recent conversation we facilitated with numerous EX survey experts and the consensus was that this is precisely the time to survey employees but not about business-as-usual topics and themes.

In line with this, we have observed two productive responses to this issue. Mainly that organizations have either:

  • delayed their annual census but temporarily implemented targeted pulse surveys that focus on content that is highly relevant and actionable, or:
  • moved forward with their census but made significant adjustments to the content to be highly relevant and actionable

2. Should we adjust our expectations for survey response rate?

Organizations should expect to see changes in survey response rates, just as they would survey scores.

It is my belief, however, that the current disruptions from COVID-19 won’t directly impact response rates as much as when, how and why surveys are administered.

For example, one might argue that response rates will go down because ‘filling out surveys’ is the last thing on employees’ minds right now. That could indeed be true if the organization rolls out the same business-as-usual survey(s) as it has in the past.

On the other hand, the organization may actually observe an increase in response rates if it creates timely and relevant content, communicates a clear value proposition to employees, and asks for feedback in a seamless (effortless) way. Much like survey scores, we recommend taking a hiatus from tracking response rate metrics but if organizations apply the 5 principles above, they may very well see response rates increase!

3. How should we compare trends to past surveys?

It is very likely that survey scores will be impacted in some way. For many traditional census survey themes, organizations may observe score drops from past years, that are at least partially impacted by these disruptions.

But it’s also possible to see increases in certain areas, especially around communications and trust in senior leadership, if the organization is emphasizing these areas.

However, as we highlighted in the second principle above, survey scores and metrics should not be your main concern right now. Take a hiatus from your metrics, especially if they keep you from focusing on what’s important and actionable now. There is a time and a place for score trending, now isn't it.

4. Should survey scores influence compensation?

Firstly, in almost every case, we recommend that organizations not incentivize leaders based on survey scores. However, we recognize that this is a reality for some organizations. Given the likelihood that survey scores will be impacted, this is an opportunity to refocus incentives on the actions leaders take in response to employee feedback vs. the survey score or metrics themselves.

In fact, when organizations implement incentivization tactics, it is usually a well-intended effort to build accountability for action. With any luck, this temporary change will stick and continue in the future!

5. What should we ask employees?

It is impossible to create an exhaustive list of topics that covers all situations and that is precisely why the 3rd principle – ask less, listen more – is so important during these times. In some organizations, a refined list of these timely, relevant topics may come from direct conversations with employees, open-ended items, focus groups, etc.

Nevertheless, in my recent discussion with several employee survey experts, we aligned on several timely and critical topics:

  • Personal safety and employee well-being
  • Roadblocks to getting work done
  • Ways that the organization can support employees better
  • Frequency and quality of communications about process and policy changes
  • Concerns meeting customer needs
  • Perceptions of senior leadership and their communications

Other areas that our internal experts and organizational psychologists recommend for certain companies, include:

  • Effectiveness of change management efforts
  • Role/job clarity in the new work environment
  • Perceptions of workload in the new work environment
  • Autonomy and empowerment
  • People leader enablement

6. Should we make adjustments to lifecycle surveys?

One of the hallmarks of mature EX management programs is that they are never static.

It’s critical that your EX measures are always relevant, timely and impactful to employees and the business.

If your core people processes, such as your candidate and new hires processes, have been disrupted in the short term, we recommend temporarily adjusting the survey content or if it’s more practical, pausing the existing surveys and creating separate instances of those measures while the temporary processes are in place.

7. Collecting feedback for both work from home and on-site employees

Applying the first principle, you should first acknowledge that many of these employees are in harm’s way at work and in some cases, for the first time in their careers. So before asking for any feedback, make sure that you show genuine appreciation for the work they are doing.

Secondly, acknowledge that they may be more concerned with their personal safety at work than ever before. These should come through in the communications surrounding any request for feedback.

From a practical perspective, surveying these employees usually requires different distribution mechanisms. Before deciding on a single distribution mechanism, ask yourself whether it is possible to survey those employees safely (i.e., without diverting their attention from critical/ dangerous work tasks, without increasing their exposure to the virus, etc.).

If the answer is no, use other listening mechanisms such as focus groups, one-on-ones and skip-level conversations. If the answer is yes, ask yourself whether there are technology-mediated or digital experiences that these employees engage in. Look for opportunities to embed surveys, questions, and feedback in those systems they are already using, e.g., point of sale devices, internal portals, mobile devices, etc.


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