By Lynne Levy – Director, Product Management, Globoforce
“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” – Peter Drucker
For most organizations, their market is rapidly changing, competition is evolving, and employee populations are becoming increasingly diverse. We have also entered the cognitive age where the line between employees and technology is blurred. As a result, the organization is in a constant state of change and evolution.
The key to success in this environment is organizational agility. According to McKinsey, organizational “agility is the ability of an organization to renew itself, adapt, change quickly, and succeed in a rapidly changing, ambiguous, turbulent environment.” Consulting firms help organizations become agile. The bookstore is full of books on leadership. However, organizational agility and constant change are only useful if employees recognize their value and continuously develop their skills.
Organizational agility enables companies to compete with a faster response to changing market conditions with improved agility. Organizational agility for an employee means nonstop stress and uncertainty. How can the two co-exist? They cannot without the power of continuous performance development and recognition, creating a culture of trust and growth.
Organizational agility means having a change management office, implementing agile processes, integrating the voice of the customer, and driving iterative project management. However, you cannot project-manage or iterate the mindset of employees. You cannot make employees agile through processes. You can tell them to be agile. You can give them processes to follow. However, you need to win their hearts and minds to be willing to grow and change on a rapid basis.
With change, employees grow concerned about their jobs and spend hours ruminating about what is happening. As a result, productivity plummets. Many of us have worked in strategic, agile organizations where leaders ignored employee mindset. The situation created a toxic environment where very little was done because employees were either disengaged or fighting for executive visibility to protect their job.
Change management literature focuses on processes, leadership skills and triggers. But very few guides focus on how to make employees comfortable with change or, equally important, on how to continuously develop them to support organizational agility and change.
In reality, change is a given and employees must be agile for the organization to grow and succeed. Organizations must enable employees to connect with each other, with their leadership, and with the organizational vision and values. Such connections will inspire the willingness to change and to continuously learn and evolve.
Employees must understand that it is safe to learn new skills to support change, that they will not necessarily lose their job when change occurs, and that they have input into how each change impacts their short- and long-term career goals. Otherwise, the strategy will fail, attrition will increase, and your employee experience will suffer, impacting your reputation, brand and profitability. How can an organization become agile if employees fear change? It cannot. How can employees change without continuous performance development? They cannot.
The key to agility lies in creating an environment where individuals are supported in continuous learning and development, mistakes are considered learning, and employees feel safe amid change. The following critical factors help create this culture.
Recognition Creates Psychological Safety
In a psychologically safe climate, teams and individuals listen to one another and learn from their mistakes. Group members have a high level of engagement, and they work in an atmosphere of constructive conflict management. All of these elements have a positive impact on creativity, innovation and agility. If an employee does not feel safe, he or she won’t communicate new ideas or provide constructive feedback. Change becomes something to be feared. Google identified psychological safety as the top attribute that underpins their most successful teams.
In a psychologically unsafe environment, employees do not like to make suggestions. They believe that feedback makes them appear weak, and they continually worry about losing their job. Organizational agility creates chaos in the eyes of the employee.
So how can an organization create psychological safety? By building a culture of trust, community and strong relationships through social recognition. When organizations have a culture where social recognition is given across, up and down the organization, trust increases, relationships are built, and people feel comfortable bringing their authentic selves to work.
Social recognition builds a sense of tribalism and community. It creates a culture of continuous performance development among people who want to learn and grow on an ongoing basis. Learning and growing from mistakes become an innate part of the culture. Employees become comfortable evolving as the organization changes. Such an environment fosters agility.
Crowdsourced Feedback Drives Course Correction
In cultures of psychological safety and social recognition, course correction and continuous development accelerate. Employees are comfortable being coached by people they work with. Employees are open about their skills and how they seek to grow. Individuals lift each other up by giving recognition and feedback on how others are developing and learning.
Employees ask one another for feedback. Since learning is encouraged, mistakes are considered learning instead of failures; giving and receiving feedback becomes non-threatening. Feedback is not considered a “stab in the back” but viewed as coaching that will help the other person improve.
A Globoforce customer had a culture where individuals defined feedback as “tattling” to get ahead. The company implemented social recognition, which improved trust and safety. Feedback then became “coaching,” which lifted employees and created an environment that supported organizational agility. Their engagement scores increased significantly as the organization embraced a culture of recognition and feedback.
As an organization’s goals change and evolve, crowdsourced feedback creates an opportunity for individuals to grow based on new goals and strategy. For example, if the strategy moves from new customer acquisition to customer retention, individuals need to learn the critical skills for customer-centricity. Learning becomes an opportunity for growing versus a chance to panic. Individuals no longer worry about losing their jobs if things change. They are supported through continuous performance development from the entire organization as everyone learns and evolves.
Shared Vision Through Feedback
Developing a shared vision is a key component for employees to evolve with organizational changes. According to Peter Senge, a systems scientist and senior lecturer at MIT, a shared vision is what employees want to create or accomplish as part of the organization. A shared vision is not imposed by one or a few people as an organizational mandate. Instead, it is derived from members of the organization, creating common interests and a sense of shared purpose for all corporate activities.
The most successful organizational vision builds on the individual ideas of employees. A shared vision gives employees energy and inspiration as they feel connected to the organization. Such an emotional connection makes them more willing to evolve and change as the organization changes.
In an environment where all employees are encouraged to give feedback on the strategy, values and goals of the organization all the way up to the CEO, innovation happens organically—with constant coaching and feedback provided to both peers and leaders.
When the culture is one of trust and authenticity, employees share their ideas with the leadership team and provide feedback up and down the organization. They want the organization to succeed. This feedback could be based on current projects, behaviors or even ideas on where the organization should go.
Crowdsourced feedback enables the building of a shared vision. Only when people genuinely believe in the shared vision will they have the energy and desire to go through the process of shifting and changing. A shared vision, when built through feedback, creates purpose for employees, as well as organization agility.
Manager-Employee Alignment Creates Agility
When managers communicate with their employees and build relationships where each person understands each other, without bias, then employees can effectively provide feedback to their leaders. Managers and employees can have honest and authentic conversations about what the organization needs and how the employee can grow with the organization.
The employee-manager relationship is the most important relationship in an organization. According to Gallup polls, 50% of employees who quit cite their manager as the reason. To improve this relationship and support agility:
- Managers must understand how the employee is doing, without bias. Crowdsourced feedback and recognition support this understanding.
- Managers and employees must be aligned on tasks and on how those tasks align to the overall corporate goals. They need to be in sync on the employees’ priorities.
- Managers and employees must meet on a recurring basis to communicate effectively. Even though both may be very busy, frequent check-ins are critical for alignment and agility.
When the manager and employee are aligned, changes are easier to adopt, and employees can flourish.
Humility Through Continuous Performance Development
To create an agile organization, each employee and leader must have a sense of humility—an accurate understanding of oneself, an acknowledgment that each person alone does not have all the answers, and a commitment to continuous performance development.
This is especially critical at the top of the organization. Humble leaders focus on guiding their employees and can admit mistakes and learn from others. Humble leaders are comfortable asking for help and receiving feedback. Humble leaders foster a culture of continuous performance improvement with employees by legitimizing continuous performance development through feedback.
To achieve organizational agility, leaders must build a culture of continuous performance development in a psychologically safe environment created through recognition. Not only will this create agility, but the organization will also be one where people are proud to work, where employees are emotionally tied to the mission and goals, and where employees give the discretionary effort needed for success.