What’s Next for Employee Engagement? 3 Key Takeaways from the 2019 SIOP Conference
At Glint, we interact daily with organizations that prioritize making their people happier and more successful at work. Helping our customers do that is what motivates us, and it’s why we wanted to discuss the latest ideas and research with more than 5,000 practitioners, academics, and graduate students who attended the 2019 conference of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.
Attending this conference is the perfect way for our People Science Consultants (PSCs) to network with professionals from around the globe and discover cutting-edge practices and research to infuse into the work we do with our customers.
This year, our PSC team attended a variety of sessions on topics covering everything from the future of work, culture and engagement, to artificial intelligence and innovation. In this post we will share our ‘aha’ moments, why they struck us as important, and how we can incorporate them into the way we work with people.
Aha Moment #1: The status quo is alive and well in employee engagement – and that’s a problem
When it comes to introducing new practices for engaging employees and improving business outcomes, we heard that many organizations are trying to push the envelope. But we also heard that organizations still face the same challenges we have seen many of our customers grapple with repeatedly. Namely, leaders find it difficult to chart a new course because they aren’t sure how to tactically move forward.
People are hungry to hear the stories of organizations that have effectively moved to more frequent pulsing and meaningful action taking. We understand why they are eager for these stories—not only do they provide inspiration, they provide a roadmap to success.
Based on our work with hundreds of companies, we know that transformation is possible. We also know that each company’s transformation is unique. We’re there to be a partner and provide recommendations and guidance. Here’s what we’ve seen work.
- Create a tangible vision for change: Successful transformations start by articulating “the why” behind changes and a clear picture of what the future holds.
- Build a strategy with achievable milestones: A thoughtful strategy includes small but achievable steps that add up over time.
- Practice being open and transparent: The best strategies prioritize an open culture of sharing information at all levels to drive ongoing dialogue and frequent conversations.
- Put conversations at the core of your strategy: Conversations between leaders, managers, and employees are at the heart of moving from data collection to action taking.
- Embrace experimentation and get comfortable with incremental change: Successful strategies recognize the importance of experimenting to see what works and iterating to continually improve, wrapped up in a framework of agile action taking.
As a leader, your role is to set and drive the vision for change, lead by example, and cultivate a culture of trust and psychological safety that encourages authenticity and curiosity. When continuous improvement is the goal—and each change resulting from feedback is celebrated—it’s far easier to break free from the status quo.
Aha Moment #2: Interesting data isn’t enough – you need an interesting story
Another theme that emerged was that many struggle to tell a simple and powerful story with their data. After conducting employee engagement surveys, leaders and managers often struggle to connect the dots between survey and other data. This can leave audiences overwhelmed by data but underwhelmed by its impact.
I’ve been attending SIOP for the past 15+ years, and one thing is clear — our academic brethren are doing a fantastic job enabling I/O students to apply the right research and diagnostic techniques to organizational challenges to produce clear measurements and intelligent results. Brilliant as these are, great insights alone do not motivate organizations to transform. The insights need to be connected to what matters most. Transformations are best executed through crafting a storyline that helps employees see the path to success.
Getting at the “so what” of the data is what really matters—and it’s a powerful way to champion your engagement strategy. We have seen leaders pull this off by first determining the overarching story they want to tell with the data they’ve collected. Then they use the data to back up the story and propel managers and employees along the transformation path.
Remember: Our brains are wired to think in narratives. We innately crave journeys with a beginning, middle, and end, where the dots are connected for us. When we hear a story, we unconsciously compare it to our previous experiences and adjust our thinking accordingly. In a business setting, a story can expand people’s perspectives and give them the opportunity to explore new ideas and behaviors. And that’s precisely what you want when it comes to calling upon your engagement strategy as the impetus for meaningful change.
Don’t think you need to tell a sweeping story with a fairytale ending. Tell stories that reflect incremental change! Our customers can find those stories in trend lines and Heat Maps within the Glint dashboard—those noticeable changes signal the start of a story.
Aha Moment #3: AI can be a powerful ally for enabling People Success
We saw a dramatic increase in the number of sessions at SIOP 2019 devoted to the discussion and application of Artificial Intelligence.
AI is already changing the way businesses optimize workstreams, automate processes, and make better decisions. In fact, AI is dramatically changing how organizations work with people, helping us make better decisions and—believe it or not—be more human. It does that by helping organizations connect the dots between what employees say and feel with engagement and other business outcomes.
AI augments human intelligence and capabilities making it possible to quickly digest and make sense of vast quantities of data, but it needs to be trained well to do so. And therein lies the opportunity for things to go awry. SIOP presenters and participants discussed that AI is only as unbiased as the programming and training it receives.
A system could be biased because of the way it’s trained and how it learns. When the person or people training the system hold conscious or unconscious bias against others (due to their gender, race, sexuality, religion, age or other factors), they can introduce that partiality or prejudice into the system. Even with bias-free code and programming, an AI-powered system, because it’s constantly learning, can pick up bias as it goes. For instance, it might pick up on and propagate comments against a specific gender.
How can you ensure AI is both helpful and bias-free? At Glint, we take precautions in programming and training our AI to avoid bias. First, we use data from organizational surveys to ensure comments are about work versus random scenarios discussed on social media. Also, our training data is sampled in a stratified manner. For example, for employee comment topics, we sample equally from each customer; and for employee comment key phrases, we generate vocabulary based on relevance with different ethnicities, gender, and other groups. These measures ensure AI helps leaders and managers uncover meaningful, unbiased insights embedded in the employee comments gathered during the employee survey process.
Calling upon natural language processing (NLP), Glint’s Narrative Intelligence(TM) provides real-time analysis to understand what people are saying, how they feel about what they are saying, and whether it matters—across questions and topics. Narrative IntelligenceTM eliminates the need to manually read thousands of comments. It also avoids the human bias that may come from only reading and focusing on a small number of comments, or only comments that personally interest the reader.
Narrative IntelligenceTM utilizes machine learning and AI technology that is a generation ahead of the rest of the industry, and is purposefully built for organizational development needs. In addition, our AI is about as accurate as human coders in determining themes and associated sentiment.
Another AI feature in Glint’s platform is an Attrition Risk Index. This index is trained on aggregated data across all Glint customers and can predict elevated risk for regrettable attrition. Populations tagged with elevated Attrition Risk are those predicted to be at significantly higher risk of attrition than the average for your company. By focusing action efforts on people at a greater risk of leaving – either by level, location, job function, etc., it’s possible to take specific actions to address issues and increase the likelihood of not only retaining employees, but also ensuring higher employee engagement.
Looking forward to the next game changers
Leaders that can address these aha moments are well positioned to empower their organizations. To sum up, keep the following at the forefront as you progress with your plans to evolve from traditional employee surveys to frequent pulsing that drives meaningful action taking:
- Make your transformation journey manageable by continually finding and celebrating small wins
- Tell stories about incremental changes and everyday experiences
- Augment your human touch with AI-powered tools that help you more quickly and accurately understand employee scalar data and sentiment
We’re excited to see (and help shape) where the industry is headed and are inspired to discover new ways we can help our customers succeed through their people. Did you have any great takeaways from SIOP 2019? Or, comments on our takeaways? I’d love to hear from you.