One of my clients is a large pharmaceutical firm. Over the last 3 years, they have embarked on a journey to establish a new US Medical Affairs unit, an organization of about 350 employees brought together from other parts of the company. About half of this team is located in remote offices. These “field” employees had some of the lowest engagement scores in the company and had one of the highest attrition rates – almost twice that of accepted industry norms.
My team was asked to assist in several areas, including leadership development, communication, and employee engagement. One of the programs we instituted was a regular lunch or dinner meeting between one or two senior leaders and a handful of employees selected by the senior staff. The program, dubbed “Food for Thought,” was a structured opportunity for the employees to share feedback, issues, and concerns about pre-selected topics. Topics included understanding the impact of the change to the new organization, cross-functional operating issues, and working together more effectively.
Corporate office employees were easily scheduled for a lunch meetings. Field employees participated when they met for other group events; someone from the senior leadership team would have dinner with them during their event. We facilitated the first few of these.
The VP of the unit at the time, Michael Robinson, said this was one of the most useful programs in which he had ever engaged. “Hearing from front-line employees gave me more insight about how to lead my team in 90 minutes than I received in other ways during any given month. These connections to the employees clearly enabled me to be a better leader.”
Other results? Between 2015 and 2016 the field team increased engagement scores by 35% and reduced attrition by more than half, bringing it within industry standards.
There is a variety of methods you can use to connect with and obtain feedback from your employees. Food for Thought was a creative and low-cost method this leadership team used during a time of notable change.
Call to action:
1. When driving a change program, identify the impact on your front-line employees. As a senior leader, you’ll likely focus on cultural changes, such as how employees will work together more effectively.
2. Determine the best approach for your team. Meal time meetings, focus groups, department or work group meetings, and town hall gatherings are among those most often used.
3. Select a cross section of your organization’s employees to attend. Mixing groups is often an excellent idea to facilitate the cross-pollination of ideas.
4. Have an agenda, facilitate to keep the meeting on-track and avoid it becoming a gripe session. It’s useful to have an external facilitator to keep things on track.
5. As you hold these meetings, develop a sense of trust and speak with candor. Authenticity is paramount. If employees sense any degree of patronization, you’ll lose credibility.
6. Follow up. If you accept action items from these meetings, you absolutely need to follow through and respond back.
Whether you use a format like Food for Thought, or some other mechanism, gathering meaningful employee feedback during change is a simple and effective way to increase engagement which in turn drives greater institutionalization of the change, and adds significant value as a result.
Dedicated to your profitable transformation,