“They’re not listening to us”

Several years ago, one of my clients restructured an organization. About half of the organization was made up of field employees who were disheartened, dissatisfied, and disengaged. 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.

We instituted one communication program which included regular lunch or dinner meetings 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 met for lunch. 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.

My client, the leader of the organization, 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? Within one-year, field team increased engagement scores by 35%. Within two years, it reduced unfavorable attrition from 16% to 2%.

There are several 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.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article. Please go out to LinkedIn to add your comments.

Dedicated to your profitable transformation,

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