Employee Activation: An Essential Big Idea For 2024

January 12, 2024 00:14:21
Employee Activation: An Essential Big Idea For 2024
The Josh Bersin Company
Employee Activation: An Essential Big Idea For 2024

Jan 12 2024 | 00:14:21

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Show Notes

This week I introduce a big idea: Employee Activation. This idea, which comes from important work we're doing with Medallia, shows you how to move "beyond engagement" to a whole new world of employee listening and action-taking based on feedback. In the new world of labor shortages, high turnover, unions, and general employee stress, Employee Activation might be the big answer. Here's a definition: “Employee Activation means designing the company so that managers, line executives, and employees can adjust, change, and redesign work around worker’s needs, suggestions, and demands.” (This week's podcast was recorded on a walk, so I apologize for some of the "animal sounds" in the background) Additional Information Is DEI about to DIE? Welcome to The Post-Industrial Age (Labor shortages as far as the eye can see) Why AI Projects Are More Like Traditional IT Projects Than You Think
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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] You. [00:00:07] Good morning, everybody. This is a fast moving year. We're already into the 10 January and we're just about to publish our big predictions report for 2024. And you're going to see a lot of new information in there on a lot of topics. But I want to talk about one in particular today that in some sense, th maybe the biggest theme of the year. And that is what we're going to call employee activation. And let me just tell you the story in this podcast and you'll learn more about it as we launch the research. Now, as most of you know, we're in a very tight labor market. In fact, I would call it a labor shortage. And this is going to continue for a long time. It's not caused by the economy. It's caused by demographics. It's caused by the pandemic. It's caused by global changes in the workforce. It's also caused by skills changes. And time to hire has gone up. Turnover is very commonly 25% to 30% in the workforce of employees changing jobs. And you have to manage your company with the expectation that every employee you have probably has five to ten other job offers on their desk or in their inbox all the time. And I was over in Hawaii in January, and there are coffee shops here that pay twelve to $15 an hour, that have banners in their windows that say $1,000 hiring bonus if you're able to come work in our coffee shop. Now, think about that. That's how bad it's getting. And because of AI, it's not the white collar workers that are going to be in big demand. It's the non white collar workers, the gray collar, the blue collar, whatever you want to call them, the people that don't necessarily sit at a computer all day. So we're going to be running companies that cannot be dependent on growth through hiring. And that is sort of a big change in the way leaders think. Everybody I've worked for in the past, especially in the startups that I've worked, always believed that the number one strategy for growth was hiring more people. That just doesn't work anymore. It certainly isn't going to go away, but you're not going to be able to hire people as fast as you need. And if you do and you don't take care of them, you're going to end up laying them off as Google just did, or they're going to leave on their own. And the reason they're going to leave on their own is they want to be involved. They want to tell you directly what's wrong with their jobs and with the company and with the products, and they want it to change. That's what employee activation is all about. It's a little bit like employee activism. I just finished reading some research by Edelman, who I always love looking at their stuff, and sure enough, they found that almost 70% of employees, and it's higher for young employees, believe that if they speak up, if they make noise, if they make a case, they can change the company. And frankly, I think they should be able to change the company, because it's the employees who know much better than the customers what needs to change. They're the ones doing things all day. They can tell what's not working. They can tell what's broken. They can tell why. It's why customers are unhappy and so forth. And that is what employee activation is all about. Now, the symptoms or outcomes of not doing this are labor unions, which we're seeing pop up in a lot of retail, manufacturing, distribution companies, including, by the way, media companies, including tech companies, now high turnover, people being checked out at work, quietly quitting, working your wage, et cetera. And this is not employees acting like babies. This is employees simply saying to you as an employer, you're not listening to me. You're not doing things the way I advise, and therefore, I'm going to just take my own action. I'm going to do what I can, which is work a little bit less, check out, look for another job, whatever. And by the way, the other thing that was interesting in the Edelman research is a very high percentage of these workers, about half said not only do they think they can change the company, but they will post on social media to affect change. So we have to deal with this labor shortage and skill shortage and shift to AI in a world where employees have enormous amounts of power and they want to use it, not against you, for you. Now, the big question is, how do you do this? It's not a bad idea. I think most people would agree that if we knew what employees want, we could probably run our companies better. How do we do it? Well, historically, this was called employee engagement. And as much as I love that industry, and I've been working in that industry for a long time, it's really out of date. These surveys don't really tell you much. This idea that an I. O. Psychologist is going to design a perfect survey, and based on that survey, we're going to correlate some statistics and figure out the most important thing to do. That's nuts. You can't predict or even guess what's going on in every store in a Starbucks or every manufacturing plant at GM. And so when we send these surveys out, we're just scratching the surface and we're guessing. And yes, you can have open ended questions and we can do NLP and all sorts of things, analyze results, but even doing that, we're not going to get much action out of it. So employee activation is a step beyond what we consider employee surveys. We actually are in the middle of finishing a big report on this, and I want to credit Medallia with a lot of help thinking this through, because Medallia happens to be a very advanced employee listening platform that grew out of the customer listening platform business. And as you know, for those of you that have worked in sales and marketing, customers will oftentimes, if you listen, tell you what's wrong with your products and what you could design better. But you've got to be able to listen. And it's hard to get to know what they really want. It's not just focus groups, it's suggestions, it's feedback, et cetera. So how do we do this? What we basically discovered when we looked into it is it isn't a problem of listening anymore. It's a problem of empowerment of managers and supervisors and line leaders to do the things that employees need or demand. I think one way to think about this that I always remember is the way the Ritz Carlton has trained their staff, which is that at a Ritz Carlton location, if you're a desk clerk or a manager, you are empowered to do whatever the customer needs. And the message that I remember Ritz Carlton is, quote, use good judgment, unquote. In other words, we trust you. We trust you as an employee. We trust you as a manager, as a store manager, as a regional manager, as a district manager, to make decisions that are good for your employees and your customers and your business. Now, I'm not saying that's easy. [00:06:58] If you're whole Foods and you have a hundred stores, you don't want every deli counter to be different. But there's ways of doing it. And I'm reminded of a conversation I had with Ikea quite a while ago where I asked them this question about how they decide what to do, what kind of meatballs to serve, and how to arrange the various labyrinth stores that they have and what they said. You know, we do believe in listening to all our employees, but because we're a swedish company, we have a bit of a socialistic approach. And when one store or one group has a good idea, we bring it to the employee councils. And the employee councils are run by employees, not managers. And the councils discuss the suggestions, and when they decide that a suggestion is good, they implement it. And because it's done in a socialistic way, everyone gets on board. So there are ways of doing this without creating what you might consider to be chaos. But even that said, this is a new idea. And the idea for us as HR people is to get off this listening bandwagon and go deeper. I'm not saying that surveys and people analytics and NLP and feedback are not important. They are. But you have to remember that when we design the feedback system, we are highly likely to lose out or miss out on information we need. A good example is crowdsourcing. One of the things medalia does is they have crowdsourcing tools that allow an employee to make a suggestion, post it, so that all the other people in those roles can see it and other people can vote on it. So a good idea can surface to the top very quickly. For example, one of the examples they give is a telecommunications company that sells telephones and service. Employees were upset that a lot of customers were walking into the stores with no shoes, no socks, wandering around, using the equipment, making a mess. And so one of the employees said, we're just putting a sign on the front of the store that says, no shoes, no socks, no service. Sure enough, it wasn't the only store that was having that problem. So other people did the same thing and it became a new sort of corporate program. I know another example of a food service company, retail restaurant chain in Canada, where they had to rearrange the internal operations of the staff to cover the people that were coming to the drive through window. One store did a reorg, the other stores found out about it. They all thought it was a good idea. They all copied it. I mean, there's hundreds of things like that that you can do if you activate the employees. And by the way, if you're in a union shop or union threatened, shop activation could prevent some form of union activity from forming. If this is something your company is worried about, by the way, there's a bigger benefit to all this, and that is your company runs better. Because as I've probably said to you many times, I firmly believe that employees are the most vested stakeholders in the company. They have the most to lose if the company doesn't do well. Customers can always change who they buy from. They are the closest to the products and services and systems that the company implements, and they have essentially voted with their careers and their lives to work there. So there's no reason they would ever want to undermine the company unless the company's not listening. And that's what this research from Edelman is all about. Now, as you get your hands on the predictions, information, and by the way, we're going to do something a little different this year. The detailed report is only going to be available to academy members and corporate members. So if you want to read the report and you're an individual, just join the Josh Person Academy. It's very inexpensive because you get all sorts of other materials, including an online course about the predictions that you can share with your team and an action guide that goes with it. But you can get the information and the overview of all this and listen to the webinar as any HR person, any professional. But the reason this activation thing is important is we're going to be doing a lot of work this year on AI. Every company is going to be implementing AI technologies, tools, systems, to change jobs, to change roles, to change operating procedures, to give people better data, to improve the employee experience. I mean, we're finding out with Galileo that we're completely changing our research process. In fact, I'm pretty excited about it because after 25 years of doing research, I feel like we're going to turn into a completely different kind of content company for you guys. And your content consumption experience is going to be ten times better than it was on our website. [00:11:36] As much as we've spent an awful lot of time on these websites over the years, they've never really been perfect. So those kinds of projects which are going on all over the company are going to change jobs, change roles. People are going to need to be trained, they're going to want to have input, they're going to want to have opinions. They're going to tell you what they learned. Sorry, I'm out for a walk. I got a few little friends here with me, and if you reflect on this need and desire for activation, this is going to get easier. Co design solutions with the team. Don't sit in an office by yourselves trying to figure out what to do. Co design, not a radical new idea, but it's something we're going to really want to do in this new world. And then of course, there's the issue of the labor shortage that I talked about in the beginning. When people feel empowered and engaged, they have autonomy in their job and they feel they can affect their work environment, they're not going to quit, they're going to love it. They're going to feel like this is their company, and that's really where we want to go. Okay, we got a lot more things to talk about. Let's stop there, and I hope you have a fantastic 2024 and we'll be talking again sooner.

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