Vox Populi – Guiding productivity through cynicism

An honest answer or an insult? A question or a challenge? How does it pinch when your best strategies fail and in place of concentrating or winning strategies, you end up being the target of endless ridicule? It can spurt through email, comments on your intranet blog, a jive at the water cooler and often be stretched as far as cynical questions during the town hall. We have seen a response as the one added in the link Hard-wired Reply. No matter what role we serve, these replies have almost become our daily bread. They often push us to brain storm and pose as the butter as well. These are the verbal and sometimes non-verbal cues that are, radically different from using the open door. It is not always an upfront discussion, where you can take a root cause analysis and find a solution. This is a blatant dissent shown through open statements and twisted replies. They may not be visibly productive, yet they result in action.

A diabolical purview

Each time an initiative is implemented, there is due diligence. This entails the alignment to the requirement, serving the highest good. This is aimed at every cost. No CHRO would want to design an employee engagement activity that does not meet the values or the lookout of the employees. So where does this get stuck? Is the motto of the HR department to embark upon, every strategy, is to end up as a villain in the fairy tale?

A moment of truth

Since the beginning of time perspectives vary. This brews stronger in the organization with increasing expectations. Salary benchmark programs are the best illustration, to this. The new salary structure which proves best as per Mercer or Hewitt study that falls within the company’s budget is handpicked. Every compensation strategy includes the future threats. Consecutively designs highest take-home with the assured basic and desired variables. The new structure is discussed and initially rolled with the top leaders of the firm. The leaders provide business intelligence to inculcate the changes required. A whip here and a touch there, finally, complete the structure. This is rolled out initially as a broad over view, presented through the town halls. Questions are taken to ‘explain’ the difference. Letters declaring the new structure gets issued and then, hell breaks loose!!!

What happened, what went wrong in this exercise? A closer look at the situation would show the following;

  • Disgruntled employees, who neither understand nor accept the new structure. The expectation was way apart from the result.
  • The incremental change in the take home, barely reflects the hikes.
  • On the top, the goodies of the old structure are gone.
  • The employee benchmarks on the perceived level of an increase in the income vis-a-vis to that drawn by those in the greener pastures. This is the first straw.
  • A hush-hush discussion, through the grapevine, of pending salary review fuels the expectation for a higher income. The balance sheet of the firm may not be read or understood by every employee. Even so, the collective understanding of the increase in the firm’s revenue remains no rocket science.
  • Finally, the time spent on planning and designing of a compensation package should directly equate the time spent to explain it to the employees. At the end of the day, they are the customers to this service. Hence an attenuation to ensure that there is no knowledge-gap about the incremental benefits, from the new structure needs to be pin-pointed.

Here the fissure is clearly on the expectation and understanding level.

Gauging the Vox-populi:

What gets measured gets done. You have dashboards for employee query that allocates the criticality level to every query or concern. This system is effective to manage routine. Nevertheless, the human interaction stands matchless. Popular concerns result from intertwined issues to an extent that requires drilling down to every entity.

  • Dot on every point: Understand the level of dissent. Identify the statement, if made from a personal level or an objective standpoint. Weigh the probable degree of friction rising, due to it.  Understand, would this dissent remain as a statement or can it become a trigger when the employees need to decide?
  • Question appropriately: Reply with empathy, but raise the questions that dig deeper towards the solution. For e.g.: “We don’t like to work here”. Investigate where the concern is. Is it about the work, the environment, the reporting leader?
  • Comb in: Single the concerns, clubbed in a statement. Just as it is shared in the earlier statement, identify the level of dissent in each category. Rank them as per the priorities.
  • Hit the bull’s eye: Identify a group think, delve deeper to seek the root cause. In a group, there are influencers, influenced and dormant members. Comb each member rightfully to each category to identify their concerns and offer them a solution. In the example discussed earlier, there might be two or three people in a group who have a problem with the manager. Each of their reasons would vary. However, they club their concerns on a general level and voice it repeatedly to the team, until it becomes a team’s concern.
  • Broaden the horizon: Seek the undisclosed issues beyond the narrow focus of the concerns. It’s not about opening a tin of worms, but addressing what is a potential bone of contention The case discussed here, had a new manager introduced to the team. The team had initially expected to find a senior team member promoted to that role. That member lacked educational and business intelligence to take that project ahead. Consequently, was declared a mentee to the new manager. This fissure widened with the learning curve of the manager, creating a pandemonium of complaints.
  • Invective assails:  There would be issues at cul-de-sacs. This would often remain beyond resolving them. An organization I worked in there was a problem with the bus-transport. Employees traveled more than 20 kilometers to reach the office. The bus went around different places to pick employees. This increased the travel time by many folds. This was a major cause for baulking. The employer had offered the transport facility as part of the benefit. Nevertheless, the travel time and experience created a major uproar, resulting in employees choosing to work in the organization near their residence or other employers who offered better transport. Here the bone of contention was impossible to resolve as the employer, did not see it as a concern. When such issues arise, acknowledge them with empathy. Inform the business owner of the risks that would create if it is not resolved. Counseling is a way-out, though is often seen as a last resort by the employees. Alternatively, help the employees view the problem differently.
  • Despicable situations: There can be a worst case scenario, where you are made to paint pictures or sell the improbable. A retrenchment or a merger can never become a well -accepted event. You may endlessly try to highlight the positive side and fail ceaselessly. A fitting strategy would be to pre-wire every such response, which can arise. Agree to hear and acknowledge them. Remember its not what they hear you say, but what they say to each other while working and at the water cooler.  All those statements collectively program their brain. One town hall or repeated focus group that you arrange to set the message across would only differ if the statements used are at the end or the effort made is lesser. Before you offer a solution, set the ground for it and follow it up. Include all those statements from the grape-vine and group talks, in your solution as you present them. Avoid copying the words, but address the concerns. Earnest effort is what it takes to build the trust in the long run.
  • Highlight ‘what it means to work here’, through ‘what’s in it for me’. Target this program on the big picture drilling down to every employee. Build an FAQ with the questions raised and answers provided. This would reinstate the message in the long run.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Each cynical statement may rip us of our self-efficacy. However, it ensures, we get on our feet.  Every program requires planning. This allocates time to different stages. The stage of dealing with the responses is an essential part of the initiative. The collective understanding from Vox-Populi contributes to business intelligence, when it is measured and tracked the right way. An open attitude to listen and absorb every message is the stepping stone.

You must have worked in organizations where, everyone resented almost everything under the sun, yet they sent you a friend request on Facebook. Some of your employees whom you least expected, greeted you at a distant locale when they met you. The paradigm changing from a cold shoulder to a warm welcome is a natural process when these resentments are resolved to what it could be and the rest was absorbed as a part of the communication. Tell us what is brewing at your workplace?

  • S. K. Singh

    Hi Nabomita,

    Good insights. I am with a company in which most of the conditions exists. This article may help me in devising a productivity improvement programme in our company with some more confidence. Thanks