Building Trust and Increasing Employee Engagement in the Workplace

Ben was concerned. Emma, a manager new to his group, had just received her employee engagement scores. They were not good. Emma had been a rock star in her previous individual contributor role. She was seen as talent for the future in the organization. As her HR Business Partner, Ben had watched her struggle as a first-time manager. Now, it appeared that her employee team was willing to put those struggles on paper in the form of not so good engagement scores. This had always been a good team. But their responses were a strong signal to Ben that something was not right.

“Emma, let’s talk about what these employee engagement scores might mean,” Ben said.

“I know, Ben,” she replied. “I am trying so hard to get this managing thing right. I am not happy with the responses and how the group sees me right now. This is such a good team. The one that really bothers me is the feedback from the ‘do you trust your manager?’ question. I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty trust worthy person, so this one really bothers me. I can’t seem to find a way to earn my team’s confidence and trust.”

“Emma,” he replied. “I’ve been doing a lot of studying on how managers build trust on their teams since we started this whole employee engagement initiative. We are trying to understand how what we do in HR helps build trust in the organization. Would you consider studying with me? I really want to help you. We can learn together.”

“Ben, that would be great,” Emma replied. “Let’s do it!”

Download Full Article (PDF)

4 Steps to Fix a Toxic Workplace

How do you fix a hostile workplace after a strike, merger or other polarizing event? How do you create a healthy workplace after a harassment or grievance investigation? It can be difficult to rebuild the trust that has been lost between members of a team or in leadership, or both. But, according to Anne Grant, a Queen’s IRC facilitator and workplace restoration specialist, you have to bring people back to a joint vision of what the workplace should be.

Is Your Workplace Toxic?

According to Anne, a toxic or poisoned workplace is a work environment where the work product is being affected by the dysfunction of the members of the team. Some signs and symptoms of a workplace that needs help could be an increase in grievances or sick time; it could be more people quitting or retiring; it could be difficulty in recruiting and retaining talent. But there are also more subtle signs, like apathy among workers or an increase in gossip or bullying.

“We have all kinds of processes for addressing a complaint,” says Anne. “But we don’t have as many processes for getting back to an ideal workplace after a complaint or polarizing event like a merger, strike or perhaps a big investigation.”

And that’s where a workplace restoration comes in. Whether it is addressing difficulties with management, a group of rogue employees spreading negativity through the office, or an issue that no one ever got around to investigating, a workplace restoration can help re-establish communication and trust in an organization.

Anne shares four steps to fix a toxic workplace:

1. Assessment

The first step is to figure out what’s really going on by doing an assessment of the situation. Why do we have a lack of trust? Why do we have apathy? Why do we have dysfunction?

Sometimes assumptions are made that are not quite correct, so the first step is always to find out what the actual issues are by talking directly to the staff. It could be dysfunctional team relations or team behaviour, which could include malicious gossip, bullying behaviours, or perhaps some members of the team just not getting along.  Another issue that often comes up is challenges with management practices. There may be a perception of favouritism, that management isn’t managing the workplace or that there’s a lack of planning. Perhaps there’s the perception of unfairness, that management isn’t managing the negative performers or correcting unacceptable behaviour.

A key part of the assessment piece is to communicate the process and be clear that it’s not an investigation. Perhaps a memo that says: “We have recognized that there are some challenges on this team. We are going to be doing a workplace assessment starting on this day. You will be able to complete a confidential survey and/or attend a confidential interview. Then the survey results and our plan will be released at a meeting next month.”

When completing the assessment, you might find that there are operational or technical issues, but most likely, you will find that there’s a lack of trust and communication.

Anne worked with a group of public works employees who drive snow plows. The initial information was that: “Oh, there’s a couple of guys, and they don’t get along with the new guys. It’s a millennial thing.” However, as she dug into the issue and spoke to the employees, she found that one of their biggest issues was that they didn’t feel like there was a plan for their department. They felt like everything they did was at the whim of the manager. George said: “You know, Frank and I are the only two guys that can drive the grader, and we’re pretty close to retirement, and we don’t see the plan for who’s going to get to drive the grader next.”

2. Plan

The second step is to make a plan to move forward. How are we going to fix this? Are we going to send the manager for sensitivity training? Are we going to give everybody a refresher on bullying? Are we going to work to model some effective workplace structures, like effective staff meetings and that sort of thing? What is the plan going to be?

In Anne’s example above with the snow plow drivers, the discovery of the real issues led to the development of a skills inventory being posted, so the workers knew who was certified to drive different pieces of equipment. It incorporated the seniority list, so it had senior employees at the top and junior employees at the bottom. Everyone could see who had what certifications, and then it could be used to plan who would be next to get training. Going straight down the seniority list wasn’t working, because George and Frank, who were at the top of the list and were the most senior guys, were going to be gone in the next year. The next person on the list, Sam, was already was certified in two other areas, and it didn’t make sense to certify him in the grader because he could only drive one piece of equipment at a time. Identifying some tangible issues meant that they were able to make an effective plan to work towards a more ideal workplace.

3. Implement the Plan

This is where the rubber hits the road in the process. Many times, organizations do the assessment and planning pieces, but the recommendations never get implemented.

One of the ways that a workplace restoration differs from a grievance investigation is that it’s not about disciplining the rogue employee(s) or manager; it’s about identifying what the ideal workplace looks like for that team, and figuring out how to make it happen.

A big part of the implementation is communicating to the staff what can and can’t be done, and why. “We’re going to do this this month. We’re going to do that next month. That recommendation that you made, it’s a great idea, but because of the regulations for our industry, we can’t implement it.” The workers need to know that they have been heard. Treating them like partners will help motivate desired behaviour.

Anne says while it’s important to acknowledge the injury in order to heal and move forward, the focus has to be on the ideal workplace and what steps can get you there. A key part of that process is education – it’s a good opportunity to remind people of expected and substandard behaviour, without blaming or singling out individuals. “One of the issues that was reported in the survey is some substandard behaviour. There’s noncompliance with our organizational code of conduct or with the Occupational Health and Safety Act.”

Anne recalls a workplace restoration experience at a coal yard. There were many complicated issues, but one of the workers said: “We need a Tim Horton’s down by the lagoon.” It turned out that a bunch of these guys worked outside down by the lagoon all day, with a Johnny on the spot and no access to a cafeteria. Everybody up in the main building had access to hot coffee, a cafeteria and real bathrooms. One of the things that they were able to implement as part of the workplace restoration was getting a coffee truck to come down to the lagoon at 9:00 in the morning and at 1:15 in the afternoon to sell them hot coffee. While there were big issues that were not easily fixed, this small step made the workers feel like they had been heard and contributed to creating a more ideal workplace. The coffee truck was bringing more than caffeine. It was bringing good will.

4. Evaluation

The final part of the process is a check-in. Anne recommends an evaluation in three months, six months, or a year, depending on the situation. This reminds the troops that their leaders haven’t forgotten about them, and it continues to engender trust and engagement from the staff. It also holds everyone accountable for maintaining the new processes and expected behaviours. People fall off the wagon after a while, and by completing an evaluation, it holds all parties accountable.

 

Queen’s IRC has introduced a new Workplace Restoration program, which will teach you how to address a toxic workplace to rebuild relationships and productivity.

Participation or Pseudo-Participation? Change Agent Challenges in Implementing Organizational Change

Participation or Pseudo-Participation? Change Agent Challenges in Implementing Organizational ChangeCreating energy, engagement, and commitment to change initiatives is one of many challenges we face as change agents. Increasingly, organizations, managers, and change practitioners espouse a belief that involving people in the change initiative is important. Many of us would agree in principle with this philosophy: Participation is essential to successful change implementation. However, the practical dimension of how to actually accomplish employee participation in change initiatives poses a challenge to change implementers.

There are many benefits of participatory processes. Participation may help minimize resistance to change initiatives. It affords employees the perception of a greater sense of control during a change process. Control is an important factor in helping to address the feelings of vulnerability and other emotional reactions that employees may experience during change. When employees are honestly engaged in opportunities to contribute their ideas, suggestions, and creative solutions to real and anticipated problems, to express concerns and alternatives, the entire organization can benefit as people learn how to solve problems. However, despite embracing a philosophy that values participation, the reality of how change practitioners actually solicit and use input tells a different story.

What do HR managers involved in major change initiatives actually do to foster employee participation? Researchers Laurie Lewis and Travis Russ (2012) explored this question in an empirical study with 26 human resources managers. They investigated the actual practices that HR managers utilized to solicit and use employee input during major organizational change projects. The study identified four different approaches that are described below: open, political, restricted, and advisory.

  1. Open Approach
    The first style, the open approach, is an informal approach that invites people to offer their input and to talk about the issues involved in a change initiative. HR managers reported that employee input was more likely to be considered if the input was deemed to be “correctly motivated” and likely to improve the process, and rejected if it was “complaining for the sake of complaining.”
  2. Political Approach
    The second style, the political approach, was described as being more strategic in orientation, in contrast to the open approach. HR managers sought input from powerful individuals, regardless of whether the input would be considered relevant or important. Input would be used if it came from the “right people” who might contribute significant resources to the change project, such as money or other services. Given the high power status of those consulted, the change agenda might be altered based on this input.
  3. Restricted Approach
    The third style, the restricted approach, was the most commonly described method used by HR managers. Input was sought from key stakeholders: Individuals perceived to be most affected by the change, high performers, and those described as knowledgeable and savvy. However, input from key stakeholders was rejected if it did not reflect a majority view, was not perceived as relevant to the general population, or was perceived as unworkable. Unique comments, comments perceived as ‘venting’ or ‘lashing out’ and comments that were perceived to be self- motivated or not aligned with decisions that were already made, were discarded. Input was used to support the original change vision.
  4. Advisory Approach
    The fourth style, the advisory approach was the second most common approach to soliciting input. Input was sought from opinion leaders who occupied ‘pockets of receptivity’, those individuals perceived to be ‘thought leaders, strategic thinkers, innovators, and advocates’ who would support the change and be helpful in persuading others to become supportive. The purpose of soliciting input was to seek affirming information and, if necessary, to persuade these employees to change any negative perceptions of the intended change. Deliberate decisions were made to avoid the ‘complainers’ and in some instances, HR managers recounted examples where senior leaders dictated who would be interviewed—those individuals that senior leaders felt confident would provide the answers they expected to hear.

Examining what HR managers actually do in practice provides several important insights that can help us be more thoughtful as we strive to clarify the purpose and intent of participation. This study raises some interesting questions about our work as change practitioners. Are we as change agents engaging in “ritualistic participation,” concerned with soliciting advice from a variety of stakeholders more for “show”, advice that may not be taken seriously (Lewis & Russ, 2012)? Are we working within organizations that in reality support “pseudo-participation,” where managers give the impression of openness, but retain decision-making in their own hands? Are we focused on soliciting input that supports pre-conceived plans, or do we encourage honest and open dialogue about the potential benefits and pitfalls of a change plan? Are we consciously or inadvertently discouraging inquiry, the testing of assumptions, challenging the status quo?

As change practitioners, we need to be clear about our purpose in soliciting input, and how that input will be used. We need to acknowledge the inevitable tensions that exist between approaches that focus on persuading employees to get on board with a pre-determined change initiative, and approaches that are designed to encourage creative and critical reflection on the change vision and how to implement it.

Being effective as a change agent requires us to not only identify our own assumptions about participation, but to help others in senior leadership roles make their implicit assumptions more explicit. We have a responsibility to ask ourselves and others some tough questions:

  • What are the goals or intentions of the participation process? Is it to minimize any alterations to the change initiative?
  • Is there any potential to actually influence and change the intended direction and implementation plan, or is soliciting input an exercise in persuading employees to get on board with the change?
  • Are we just going through the motions of seeking opinions and concerns from stakeholders, concerned only about the optics?
  • Are we trying to make stakeholders more receptive to the change, or simply placating them by inviting them to give feedback?

There can be a danger in some of the simplistic, cookbook approaches to employee participation. Similarly, there is a danger in under-appreciating the skill level required by change agents to address the complex task of managing the tensions and challenges involved in soliciting and using input from employees.  Engaging employees and managers in open, honest discussion of the potential strengths and the potential pitfalls of an intended change initiative requires a specific set of skills in fostering dialogue, compassion, intestinal fortitude, and the support of senior leaders. As change agents, we need to help others learn how to express their diverse views and opinions in ways that might usefully critique and improve our change efforts so that we can move our change projects, and our organizations forward, empowering our teams, and ourselves, along the way.

 

About the Author

Alison Hill, Queen's IRC Research Associate
Kate Sikerbol, M.Ed., MA, PhD(C), is a facilitator at Queen’s IRC.  As an organizational consultant and coach, Kate brings extensive experience in business, healthcare, government, and higher education.  She has designed and delivered change management and leadership development programs, facilitated team building using strengths-based approaches, and provided leadership assessment and coaching to managers and leaders. Kate is passionate about enabling change agents and managers in leading and implementing change.

 

Selected References

Lewis, L. K. & Russ, T. L. (2012). Soliciting and using input during organizational change initiatives: What are practitioners doing? Management Communication Quarterly, 26(2), 267-294.

Pseudo-participation – Oxford Reference. (2016). Retrieved September 16, 2016, from http://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/acref/9780199298761.001.0001/acref-9780199298761-e-999.

The Critical Role of Orientation for New Employees to Your Organization’s Culture

First impressions count.  However in the workplace, organizations often fail to realize that this truism is a two way street.  As much as we form first impressions about the people we interview, hire and welcome into our organizations, the employee is on a parallel journey.  How did we interview them?  How did we invite them to join our organization and how did we welcome them when they arrived?

Traditionally, “orientation” is seen as a static event, one in which we provide an employee with a list of expectations and requirements, a package of information on their benefits, and perhaps some formal welcome session or introduction to the organization’s policies and procedures.

There is much research to suggest the importance of the workplace culture in attracting and retaining highly qualified staff.  In a changing workforce, there is even more emphasis on how to attract and retain a new generation of employees, and with that, a focus on ensuring there are up to date tools and technology. However, much of the research shows that it is an organization’s culture that has the most impact on staff satisfaction and engagement.  Employees, regardless of their age or demographic, consistently stay in workplaces where they feel welcomed and valued, where they are engaged with their teams, where they have a strong working relationship with their supervisor and perhaps most importantly, when they are able to see how their role fits in to the of the bigger picture of the organization; it’s Vision.

Guelph General Hospital is a 150 bed, community-based, acute care hospital that employs approximately 1300 people and hires approximately 250 new people every year. After reviewing our orientation program and staff evaluations and thinking critically about the research around employee engagement and organizational development, we recently decided to shift our orientation’s focus. We moved away from a one-day information (over)sharing session to a highly interactive half day opportunity for new staff members to connect with our hospital’s values and with each other.

We designed our new monthly orientation with a clear end in mind. We did this by carefully selecting our topics, speakers and exercises in a way that would focus new employees on our hospital’s vision, mission and values. We imagined what kind of story we would want our new employees to tell when they got home from their orientation and were asked by their partner or family what their first impression of us was.  What key messages and impressions did we want them to have about Guelph General Hospital?  The answer?  It was clear that it was critical to engage new staff in understanding our values and the importance of their role in achieving our vision and mission. Not only did this focus just ‘feel’ right; it was also aligned with our research regarding what is most likely to engage new staff members during the on-boarding process. Given this focus, we re-designed our orientation program in the following ways:

Welcome from the CEO

We begin the day with an engaging presentation and welcome from our hospital’s CEO. In a short presentation, our CEO is able to eloquently message her desire for new employees to think critically about their own accountability and ability to powerfully impact the lives of those we are here to serve. She points out specifically how valuable “new eyes” are in an organization and how open she is to hearing feedback from people regarding what they are seeing as they come to learn about “how we do things around here.” She takes time to ask each participant about who they are, what led them to choose to work with us and how they hope to impact those we serve here at Guelph General. She reinforces our values by asking staff members to thank our volunteers, understand some of the systemic issues that highly influence and guide our work (LHINs, boards, etc.) and welcomes any and all questions.

Examining our values

We engage staff in an exercise to reflect what the organization’s values (compassion, accountability, respect and teamwork) might look like within each of their respective roles and departments.  It was important to us that from day one, employees are able to understand how to operationalize these values within their own work context, and explore how the hospital’s values lay the foundation for how we do our work. This exercise brings our values to life, ensures they become more than just “words on a wall” and highlights that our vision and mission can only be achieved when EACH of us live them out.

Focusing on the value of teamwork

We create an opportunity for staff to understand the interconnectedness of their roles, and how the value of teamwork assists us in achieving our vision. Participants are paired up and asked to share their current understanding of what their role will be and to brainstorm about how their roles may be connected. It is not unusual for participants to come to orientation without an understanding of other roles/services/departments within the organization. After participants are given the time to share their respective roles with one another, they are given a challenge and asked to explore the question “What are the potential barriers to reaching our vision if we get too comfortable in our silos and fail to understand each others’ roles?”  We have found that participants can easily identify the importance of understanding and removing barriers when the relationship between the two roles is clear, such as between Intensive Care and Emergency Room nurses. However this exercise is more challenging when the need for inter-departmental understanding is not as obvious, such as for someone working in our Sterile Processing Department and someone working in Food Services. Invariably however, the challenge to think broadly and systemically about their role almost always leads participants to find some common ground between their roles and how this impacts the overall care of our patients and the smooth functioning of the hospital. It’s during this activity where we introduce our internal job shadowing program called “Walk this Way.”  By highlighting a program whose purpose it is to allow for better interdepartmental understanding, we also reinforce the hospital’s expectation as it relates to one of our core values, teamwork.

Refocusing essential “information” sessions on patient and staff safety

In order to ensure a more consistent flow between essential staff and patient presentations such as Infection Prevention and Control, Staff and Patient Safety, and Privacy, we spent time with each presenter and asked them to primarily focus on the role each staff member plays in keeping both staff and patients safe. We reminded presenters that our new employees are not likely to remember all of the details of each presentation and that their focus should be on a few key highlights of their program, with an emphasis on where to get the details when it was needed. Most importantly, we wanted participants to feel welcomed by the “experts” so they would know who they could connect with should they need more support or information once they were settled in their new roles.

Creating space for participants to connect on a personal level

Part of our orientation focuses on the unique and vulnerable experience of being a hospital patient or visitor. During this review the floor is opened for new employees to share their own positive or challenging experiences of interacting with the hospital environment. Allowing this free flow narrative provides new employees the opportunity to learn from one another and connect personally with an awareness of the potential vulnerabilities, joys and frustrations that our patients and visitors experience when they come into our organization.  We use storytelling as a powerful bridge to encourage respect and compassion for the patient and family experience, and our power to either support or frustrate the people that we are here to serve.

Reviewing key supports for staff

Key messaging about the programs that reinforce our culture are shared and explained.  Supports such as our Employee Family Assistance Program, Education Assistance Fund, Respectful Workplace and Violence Prevention Framework, conflict management coaching, Crucial Conversations/Crisis Intervention Training and other educational offerings are reviewed to reinforce our culture’s commitment to creating a healthy workplace for our staff so that they in turn can live out our mission:  “To provide the highest quality of care for patients and their families.”

Touring the Facility

We end our orientation with a tour of the hospital to familiarize staff with key departments and support services, such our Occupational Health Services, Learning Centre and multi-faith chapel.

It is important to note that the orientation process does not stop after the first day. New staff go on to be welcomed into their departments and receive department specific orientation.  Additionally, the hospital follows an on-boarding approach with each employee that ensures they meet with their Director twice over the course of their first 90 days for what we call a 30-90 day check in.  The emphasis of this check-in is to further engage new employees and see how we, as an organization, are measuring up to their expectations of what it would be like to work here.

The following participant feedback statements help to reinforce that we are on the right track:

“I felt like the CEO was connected and meant it when she welcomed all of us. She was knowledgeable and welcoming.”

“I liked the story sharing at the end about how people have felt welcomed or not welcomed at a hospital.”

“Really awesome to hear about all the resources available to staff to help us bring our best at work.”

“Great to hear CEO’s personal path to get a better feel for the cultural direction of GGH.”

The culture presentation “…was a great opportunity to learn more about the roles of other health care workers and my interactions with them in my job. A good reminder of how our behaviours can be perceived.”

The confidentiality presentation “…provided excellent scenarios and discussion as to how to handle each…more aware of how to handle various situations.”

Revamping our orientation program to a half day highly engaging session has resulted in a much more meaningful introduction to our hospital. Getting clear on what key messages an organization’s new employees need to walk away with after attending an orientation session is an important first step in ensuring an engaging orientation program that sets the stage for empowering staff to see their role in creating and sustaining a healthy and safe workplace culture.

 

About the Authors

Karen Suk-Patrick, MSW, is the Director of Organizational Development and Employee Health Services at Guelph General Hospital where she has worked for a total of ten years.  Karen’s background as a clinical social worker informs her systemic approach to organizational development and her passion creating a healthy workplace and taking care of the most valuable resource the hospital has – its people, so that they can take care of patients.

Chantal Thorn has been a staff member at Guelph General Hospital for the last 10 years, most recently in the role of Organizational Development Specialist. Chantal completed her Phd in Applied Social Psychology (Organizational Development) in 2007 where her research looked at work life balance supports and systems and their impact on employee commitment and reduction in work life conflict. Her role both within Guelph General Hospital and with her own coaching/consulting company is to facilitate individual and organizational excellence.

Managing Emotional Reactions to Organizational Change

Can you recall a time when you experienced a major change in your organization?  Perhaps like others around you, you experienced a roller coaster of emotions:  excitement that at long last something was going to happen to change the status quo, confusion about the specifics of the intended changes, and anxiety about what it could mean for you, your team, and even your family.  Change can be disruptive, both professionally and personally.  Change can affect the nature of our work, where we work, when we work, how we make decisions, and how we communicate. Change can impact our identity, our sense of belonging, and our relationships with coworkers, clients, and customers.

Emotional reactions to change are a normal reaction to the real and perceived disruption that accompanies organizational change.  Successful change leaders know that understanding and addressing the mixed emotions that employees may experience can help employees feel motivated and committed to achieving their goals, implementing change, and realizing a new vision for the organization.

Emotions are psychological and biological responses that affect our minds, our bodies, and our motivation. Emotions colour our perception of events and influence how we make sense of the world around us.  Emotions are useful.  They help us evaluate the significance of events and assess the consequences.  If people assess the consequences as beneficial, positive emotions result.  If the consequences are perceived as potentially harmful, negative emotions may result.  Barbara Fredrickson’s research on emotions helps us understand and appreciate the role of emotions.  Negative emotions such as fear and anger narrow our focus, and limit how well we are able to be creative, interact with others, deal with complexity, and take risks.  Positive emotions broaden our focus and enable us to interact with others, experiment with new things, and be creative.

Yet some organizations believe that expressing emotions should be actively discouraged.  It can be tempting to interpret the mixed feelings that people express as resistance to change, and to view resistance as something negative, to be ‘dealt with.’ Employees may be expected to hide their emotions.  Employees who feel the need to hide their emotions for fear of being labeled a ‘resistor’ may end up pretending to comply with intended changes.

Managers may be advised to keep supervisor-employee relationships task-oriented and unemotional, but is this the best strategy?  Huy (2002) conducted a study of a large information technology company that was suddenly threatened by major global competition.  Responding to this challenge necessitated a major restructuring over a three year period that involved a shift to a market-customization focus from a universal service focus, turnover of the executive team, changes in the organization structure,  a 25% reduction in the workforce, elimination of seniority entitlements, and greater financial accountability.  The chief operating officer, sensing potential negativity just as a change project was reaching a crucial mid-point, sent out a memo to all managers stating that any expression of cynicism about the change would not be tolerated.  These managers were reminded that as they held leadership positions that they must display enthusiasm at all times. However, the middle managers who were most successful in managing change ignored this advice, and paid attention to the psychological well-being of company employees and their families.  These managers encouraged their employees to express their emotions. Some managers held one-on-one meetings with employees, while others met with employees in small groups.  Allowing employees to share stories—and feelings— helped them to develop a greater sense of control over the changes, improved morale, reduced absenteeism, and built trust between managers and employees.

Learning to address emotional reactions during change is crucial to individual, team, and organizational performance.  The managers who did attend to the emotional reactions of employees during the change implementation achieved greater employee commitment to change, higher levels of customer service, fewer cost overruns for overtime, and shorter time to implementation compared to managers who did not attend to employees’ emotions or who did so after the changes took place.

Whether your role is leading a team, or supporting others to manage change successfully, here are five tips to help you and your team as you embark on your change initiatives.

1.  Listen and legitimize.  Accept that capable and committed people will experience confusion, anxiety, and doubt, as well as enthusiasm for the change. Don’t try to talk people out of their emotions. Make it safe for people to express their emotions.  Provide safe opportunities for people to vent, one-on-one, and in small groups.  Allow people to say goodbye to the past and cherish their memories.  Provide support that enables people to move forward and embrace the future.  Encourage thoughtful reflection on, and discussion of, the emotional dimension of work.  When emotions are acknowledged, and people are treated with respect, people are more likely to engage with change.

2.  Create hope for the future.  Focus on the change vision and create a sense of hope for the future. In doing so, you can help people shift out of anxiety, and turn their concerns into curiosity.  Conversations about possibilities can inspire positive emotions of excitement, confidence, team spirit, and a sense of accomplishment.  Being open to new possibilities creates enthusiasm for what the future holds. Change requires a tremendous amount of energy. Sustaining change over the long term means tapping into the power of positive emotions.

3.  Encourage employee voice.  It’s a trap to dampen any negative feedback from people by insisting that everyone ‘be positive.’  Engaging employees in frank conversations about real and potential operational risks and problems can be very useful.  Frontline employees may have deep insight into the technical and logistical challenges that lie ahead.  Anticipating and identifying real and potential barriers before change is implemented enables people to engage in problem solving that could avert costly mistakes.  Encouraging employees to share their ideas and their feelings builds commitment to interim goals and the longer range vision.

4. Maintain a sense of humour.  Even during difficult times, maintaining a sense of humour can help both you and others to put things into perspective and avoid getting caught up in anger or anxiety.

5.  Understand diverse perspectives.  Empathizing with others helps us to understand different points of view and demonstrate caring.  While we don’t necessarily need to agree with these different perspectives, we do need to understand and acknowledge them. Ask yourself, If this was happening to me, what would I want to happen? How would I like to be treated?  Different groups in the organization may be reacting to change very differently.  Different emotional needs must be recognized and addressed according to the situation.

People who are fully engaged at work contribute with their heads, hearts, and hands.  Managers, team leaders, and human resources professionals who understand that emotional reactions to change can be anticipated and acknowledged are in a better position to harness the energy of emotions in productive ways.  Organizations with healthy cultures that support emotional expression are more likely to build employee commitment to change and implement change successfully.

 

About the Author

Kate SikerbolKate Sikerbol, M.Ed, MA, is a facilitator with the Queens IRC Change Management program and an organizational consultant and coach who has worked in business, industry, government, and higher education.  As a scholar-practitioner she is interested bringing theory to practice, especially in the areas of organizational change and communication. Kate holds an Honours BA (Psychology) from the University of Western Ontario, a Master of Education from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Arts in Organizational Systems from Fielding Graduate University.  She is currently completing her doctorate in Human and Organizational Systems at Fielding Graduate University.

 

 

Selected References

Duck, Jeanie D.  (1993).  Managing change:  The art of balancing.  Harvard Business Review, November-December.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2001).  The role of positive emotions in positive psychology:  The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions.  American Psychologist, 56, 218-226.

Huy, Q. N. (2002).  Emotional balancing of organizational continuity and radical change:  The contribution of middle managers.  Administrative Science Quarterly, 47(03), 31-69.

Sala, F. (2003).  Laughing all the way to the bank.  Harvard Business Review, September.

Smollan, R. K. (2009).  Organizational culture, organizational change, and emotions:  A qualitative study.  Journal of Change Management, 9(4), 435-457.

 

 

Communicating During an Organizational Change

Communicating During an Organizational ChangeMost experts would agree that communication is a vital ingredient in successful change initiatives, and there is much research to support this assertion. My own research revealed a very high correlation between change success and communications efforts (Pearson correlation r = 0.567, significant at the 0.01 level). Furthermore, it has also been shown that ineffective internal communication is a major contributor to the failure of change initiatives.(1) For example, Sally Woodward and Chris Hendry surveyed 198 employees in U.K. financial services institutions undergoing change and asked them to specify the barriers to change.(2) Two of the six barriers identified were: lack of adequate communications (not being kept informed, receiving conflicting messages, wanting to understand but not being given explanations) and lack of consultation. In my view, expert communication is indispensable when persuading people to support change. Some researchers even claim that the essence of change is communication; that is, that communication produces change rather than merely serving as one tool in its implementation.(3)

Communication efforts during a large change project attempt to persuade stakeholders to adopt a new view of the future, but before they can arrive at this new conviction, three things must be absolutely clear to them: the “why,” “what” and “how” of the change.

The importance of answering the “why” questions is backed by much empirical research. For example, Paul Nutt, in his study of major change at a hospital setting, found that employees were more likely to accept the change if they felt it was justified.(4)

>> This paper is one chapter from Dr. Carol A. Beatty’s e-book, The Easy, Hard & Tough Work of Managing Change. The complete e-book is now available on our website at no charge: Download

HR Secrets of Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies

HR Secrets of Canada’s Fastest Growing CompaniesWe surveyed the Profit 500, an annual listing of the 500 fastest growing companies in Canada, to find out about their HR practices. We asked questions (see Appendix) surrounding their strategic capabilities, organizational development activities, change management processes, training opportunities, performance management systems, leadership development programs, and the use of HR technology.

Overall Findings

Overall, the top HR challenges faced by the Profit 500 include (1) finding key talent, (2) managing and feeding talent pipelines, (3) appropriately leveraging HR metrics to inform decision making, and (4) choosing and incorporating the right HR technology.

1. Finding (and Keeping) Key Talent

It may seem paradoxical that finding and keeping key talent is an issue, given the unemployment rates of recent years. However, increased hiring is leading to increased competition, leaving many organizations on the Profit 500 to discover new methods of attracting and retaining the talent they need. According to the survey, a little over 60% of the Profit 500 are looking for innovative ways to increase their ability to fill performance gaps, including the ability to analyze and select for the skills they require. This has led the Profit 500 to consider where and when employees work and how to engage them most effectively.

Talking Trust in Trinidad

 34 Behaviours That Affect Levels of Trust in Business EnvironmentsI recently had the opportunity to work with a group of HR professionals in Trinidad, through Queen’s IRC’s partnership with the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business within the University of the West Indies.

As part of our discussion about building trust in the workplace, we discussed behaviours that lowered trust and those that raised trust. It did not take long for the participants to generate lists of behaviours through table discussion. It was not surprising how frequently participants pointed to similar behaviours in very different workplaces.

Below are two lists of behaviours which affected levels of trust in their workplaces. Have you experienced these in your workplace?

Behaviours which they experienced in their workplaces that LOWERED trust:

  1. Dishonesty from management and leadership
  2. Leadership not walking the talk
  3. Lack of transparency (hidden agendas)
  4. Not admitting mistakes
  5. Playing favourites/showing bias
  6. Lack of open dialogue (secret side deals)
  7. Lack of rewards and recognition
  8. No credit given for ideas contributed
  9. Executives not fulfilling responsibilities
  10. Lack of communication
  11. Unwillingness to change
  12. Selective sharing of information
  13. Double delegation
  14. Personal biases and prejudice
  15. Double standards
  16. Incompetence
  17. Not listening
  18. Breach of confidence
  19. Acting without facts

Behaviours which they experienced in their workplaces that RAISED the level of trust:

  1. Keeping your word
  2. Being honest, fair and treating people equally
  3. Rewarding and recognizing employee performance
  4. Mentoring other employees
  5. Delegating responsibility
  6. Sharing information
  7. Being personally accountable
  8. Supporting structures such as policy, training, internal promotions, penalties, and sanctions
  9. Keeping confidentiality
  10. Supporting work-life balance
  11. Demonstrating competence
  12. Giving credit for work and ideas
  13. Coaching and acting as a change agent
  14. Demonstrating integrity
  15. Leading by example

To learn some ways to help build trust in an organization, please read 5 Steps to Build Trust and Change the Culture in an Organization

If you are interested in building trust training for yourself or your organization, please visit Building Trust in the Workplace.

Exploring Senior Leadership in the Canadian Mental Health Association

Clark MacFarlane, Executive Director, CMHA – Cochrane-Timiskaming BranchClark MacFarlane has over twenty years of experience in the health care sector, and is currently the executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) – Cochrane-Timiskaming Branch, in northern Ontario. CMHA branches provide direct service to people who are experiencing mental illness, and to their families. They are in the process of implementing a new service delivery model, which shifts from traditional treatment methods to a recovery approach.

In this interview with Queen’s IRC, Clark discusses the funding challenges of being an incorporated charitable organization almost completely dependent on government funding, the difficulty in building the talent pipeline in northern Ontario, and the struggles that come with leading an organization with multiple sites. He opens up about the rewards and challenges of managing in a unionized environment, the cultural shift that happened when the union came in, and the lessons learned in the first round of collective bargaining. Clark talks candidly about what they could have done better in change management, and the steps he takes to create a healthy work environment with happy and engaged employees.

Recognizing Employee Engagement in the Workplace

Recognizing Employee Engagement in the WorkplaceThere’s a lot of talk about employee engagement these days, but how do we recognize these engaged employees and show appreciation for the things they do to support the company? It’s not always easy to distinguish what exactly engagement in the workplace is, and it can be demonstrated differently depending on a person’s role and the function of their company.

When I think of engagement, I consider it to be those behaviours and actions that warm the heart. I can picture specific employees I’ve worked with over the years and the behaviours I’ve witnessed that have touched me. And perhaps you’ve seen them too. These behaviours show that the employees care about the company, their coworkers, and the integrity of the company. They do this through their words and actions, both inside and outside the workplace.

See if you’re familiar with the examples below of engaged employees:

Caring about the company

  • The employee who is crying because her car got hit in the parking lot, but is sweeping up the glass so it does not look bad to the customers and so no one gets hurt.
  • The employee who volunteers on his or her own time to represent the company at events, even when unsure of what the event is all about.
  • The employee who drags out friends and family members to volunteer events to help get even more company representation out there.
  • The employee who defends the company to someone who has made a derogatory remark about his or her workplace.
  • The employee who recommends a family member or friend for employment because it is such a great place to work.

Caring about the staff

  • The employee who brings in baked goods to fellow staff on her day off because she is thinking about them at work even though she is not there.
  • The employee who sends a thank you note after a meeting about how grateful they are to be part of the company.
  • The employee who reminds others how lucky they are to work in such an environment and gives examples of the behaviour they are grateful for.
  • The employee who sends a recognition award to someone in management to thank them for leading and supporting a great culture.
  • The employee who takes the effort to really train the new person well, in the best interest of the customer and to protect the reputation of the company.

Caring about integrity

  • The employee who gets her husband to come in and help move her to a different office so the company doesn’t have to pay a mover, even when budget allows for moving expenses.
  • The employee who doesn’t have all the facts, yet still defends a change or decision that has been made that is not popular.
  • The employee who asks for a project or assignment in addition to what they are already doing because they are excited about the prospects of the new work.
  • The employee who blogs and tweets with excitement about their workplace events.

To me, this is the essence and heart of employee engagement. You probably all know employees like this.

I have come across many definitions of employee engagement, depending on where you look. In that familiar space we all know as Wikipedia, I found, An ‘engaged employee’ is one who is fully absorbed by, and enthusiastic about their work and so takes positive action to further the organization’s reputation and interests.”1

Browsing through Forbes on the topic of ‘what is employee engagement’, the following surfaced: “Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals. This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company.”2

Sounds good on paper, right? But something is definitely missing. No “definition” can give justice to the feeling that you get when you experience engagement.

So how do we demonstrate appreciation for this type of engagement?

Demonstrating appreciation for engagement

Showing engaged employees that you appreciate their commitment to the company doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. It can be as simple as a comment to let them know you notice and acknowledge their actions. There are several things we can do to say T.H.A.N.K.S to these valuable workers:

T – Take the time to comment on your appreciation of the behaviour that you are witnessing at the time. For example:

  • “Thank you for bringing your sister out to the event today. It really shows your passion for the organization when you not only come out to assist, but you also bring a family member along.”
  • “I read your blog and agree that was an exciting event. Thank you for taking the time to share such positive excitement with others.”
  • “Thank you for defending that decision yesterday. I was impressed with how you had so many facts to back up your point of view and glad you understand and believe in the reasons behind that decision.”

H – Have a conversation about your appreciation.

  • Emails and thank you cards are wonderful ways of expressing your appreciation, but very common in today’s digital world. Having a face to face conversation makes it so much more personal.

A – Acknowledge the actions of engaged employees in various ways.

  • Quote them when you are telling their story to others or use their comments as testimonials (with their permission) on your intranet or LinkedIn company page.
  • Take pictures of them for your company Facebook page.
  • Talk about what you witnessed to others.
  • Give them fun assignments related to their engagement, such as letting them lead a focus group or volunteer activity.

N – Notice their behaviour.

  • “I read how passionately you felt about that.”
  • “I noticed the sparkle in your eyes when you started talking about that.”
  • “I saw how excited you became when you were at that event.”
  • “I saw you light up when you were demonstrating that.”

K – Know what kind of recognition that employee likes to receive.

  • Recognition in front of peers to someone who does not like public recognition is not special and is not encouraging.
  • A quiet thank you for someone who likes public displays of appreciation won’t cut it, the same way as a public display of appreciation won’t be appreciated by someone who likes a quiet thank you.
  • Posting on the company Facebook page about an employee who is not a Facebook fan does not make it special. Know your employees and what they like. How do you find out? Ask him/her.

S – Specialize your message.

  • Make it personal to the employee and mean what you say. Think of what makes that particular action, behaviour or employee different and how you can express that speciality.
  • Trying to think of flowery terms or copying words from the internet is not as special as when it comes from the heart.
  • Employees know when you are being sincere and when you are not. Mass thank yous, while nice, are not as effective as specialized ones that are tailored just for that individual employee.

When we are talking about how to engage staff and how to recognize engagement we also have to look inside. Nothing can be more powerful than leading by example.

Ask yourself, “How do I demonstrate my own engagement in the workplace?” “How engaged am I?”

 

About the Author

Cavell FraserCavell Fraser, B.A., C.H.R.P. is the Vice President Human Resources for Libro Credit Union. She recently achieved her Queen’s IRC Certificate in Advanced Human Resources. Cavell has taught human resources in the business program at Fanshawe College, Woodstock campus. She is a on the Executive of the Stratford and District Human Resources Association and is a Director on the Technical Training Board.  She is a former Director on the Board of the Foundation for Education and the Four County Labour Market Planning Board. Cavell and her family reside in St. Marys, Ontario.

 

Footnotes

1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Employee_engagement accessed September 2014.

2 http://www.forbes.com/sites/kevinkruse/2012/06/22/employee-engagement-what-and-why/ accessed September 2014.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.