Continuous Listening in times of COVID-19

Author - Morten Henriksen. Executive Officer

The COVID-19 pandemic places the human agenda in companies at the center of their concerns and actions. We see that companies have strengthened their focus on employee wellbeing, but at the same time are forced to consider tough strategic decisions regarding costs and possible layoffs in order to secure the survival of the company.

From an employee perspective, the combination of concerns about both health and job security is generating a level uncertainty many have not faced before. Therefore, this is a time for compassion and careful listening.

But how are we — as organizations, leaders and employees — supposed to listen when some have been sent home, others work in new shift structures and the rest are working remotely? Our clients are very engaged in their listening strategies at the moment and we see the following trends:

  • Companies maintain their listening strategies
  • People want to be heard and to connect
  • Top management take the lead
  • Important to signal business-as-usual where possible
  • Demand for small, agile and continuous surveys

Listening shows you care

In our dialogues with client companies we experience that they prioritize their listening efforts. Both from the top and at team level. In these distressing and unpredictable times, it is vital for organizations to show that they care and to reduce anxiety and build trust as much as possible. The concerns among employees range from what will happen if they fall ill, over how to remain productive while taking care of children to how to connect with colleagues or customers in alternative ways.

The first clients who flagged the need to stay closer to employees also had the initial reservation “Should we survey in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis?” The simple answer is yes! The optimal situation is of course that leaders and colleagues connect on a frequent basis and are excellent to address, identify and reduce anxiety and obstacles to remain productive. However, this is extremely difficult when working remotely. In real life most of us are not ready to share our deepest concerns in a virtual meeting. A survey with the right contents can serve as a foundation to open up to some of these concerns and give leaders a platform to express empathy and compassion for the human side of the crisis. Simple things for you can be big things for others. It is also in times of crises that companies and top management show their true colors. Do the employees believe the organization is looking out for them?

People want to be heard

We know that employees want to be heard — especially in times of crisis. From the engagement surveys conducted during the past months, we have seen high response rates on the same level as in previous surveys — also in companies with locations that have experienced significant disruption (e.g. China and Northern Italy). All clear evidence that employees want to share their views.

The results and feedback that is influenced by the situation on parameters such as job security, loyalty, information, team alignment, operating efficiency, etc. For team leaders it is time to step into character and there is no reason for scores on leadership effectiveness or job expectations to decline. On the other hand, no one expects the leaders to have all the answers in this unprecedented crisis.

Top management takes the lead

In times of crisis, organizations look at the CEO and top management to send clear messages and a clear direction. And it is important to be visible, transparent and communicate much more frequently than normally. CEOs and top leaders that are good at this will leverage their strengths and shine.

Top management communication and decisions are to a greater extend interpreted by each individual employee and leader alone. Every decision taken that signals we are not in a business-as-usual situation will have an impact on behavior and lead to a request for further communication about direction. The same will be the case at team level.

Most companies need to signal business-as-usual regarding direction, targets, plans, deadlines and also surveys. Everything can of course be adjusted where there are immediate pressing needs but canceling or postponing agreed plans or surveys could send the wrong message to the organization, erode trust and increase anxiety among employees. It is important to look for alternative ways and not allow this crisis to become an excuse for longer-term inaction.

COVID-19 surveys emerge

Several of our client companies are following the COVID-19 impact on their organization and employees through regular pulse surveys. The development and pace of the crisis calls for biweekly or monthly surveys — either in full scale or sample set-ups. The survey contents is adjusted according to work situations in the company (people working remotely, on locations, etc.), but also according to crisis disruption in the organization. We have identified 3 phases that call for different focus and action:

  • Stage 1 - Calm before the storm
  • Stage 2 – Disconnected
  • Stage 3 - Light at the end of the tunnel

To read more about these phases please see the blog: Adapt your COVID-19 surveys to the stage of the pandemic

WANT TO KNOW WHAT YOUR EMPLOYEES ARE THINKING DURING THESE UNPRECEDENTED TIMES?

Get in touch for a non-binding dialogue to see how we can help your organization put the ear to the ground and listen to your employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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Morten Henriksen. Executive Officer
Author

Morten Henriksen. Executive Officer

Morten has 15 years’ experience as a consultant and advisor for large Scandinavian companies – especially within finance and advisory services. In his blog posts, Morten draws on his solid professional insights and personal experiences and knowledge as a manager.