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The Future of Work has been a hot topic for a number of years. Emerging technologies, emerging generations of employees, changing values and routines have all influenced futurist’s predictions for how the world of work will look come 2025, 2030, or 2050. Then, the circumstances of the last few months have brought a whole new set of possibilities and implications. All sectors face challenges as they respond and recover from the consequences of COVID-19. The future, let alone the future of work or the workplace, is now perhaps feeling a little undefined. It is not the first time, however, that an unforeseen force has shifted the course of economic development. The very essence of looking to the future is that it will always feel somewhat unknown, unpredictable. A leap into new challenges, hurdles, and opportunities.

In some ways, Employee Engagement is an equally undefined topic for many. It means different things, to different people, but we define it as the resulting outcome from an emotional or psychological attachment between employees, their work and their organisation. Crucially to the definition, this relationship is genuinely reciprocal – employees commit and contribute, organisations support and enable their employees. There are various ideas that suggest how Employee Engagement will be nurtured in the future. Often, they focus on an organisation’s offering or benefits; flexible working policies, limitless holidays, personal coaching, wellness, the list could go on.
All are valid and worth consideration, but we would argue that Engagement of the future will need to be:

  • Technology Driven: technology today can provide limitless possibilities for reaching and engaging broad, varied audiences
  • Employee-centric: empowering employees to want to perform to the best of their abilities as it makes them feel good, and fuels business success
  • Meaningful: new software alone won’t cut it in an age of constant change, distraction, innovation and for a workforce with evolving needs and expectations. Real engagement comes from personalised, relevant and science-based approaches.

In the present, businesses are revaluating strategies, priorities and objectives in the face of an immediate uncertainty. One remedy to navigate these times and prepare for the future are solutions and approaches that encourage people to go the extra mile, achieve greater productivity, develops brand ambassadors, and deliver even better customer experiences. And that requires genuine, sustainable engagement to bring out the best in your people and business.

Technology: Friend or Foe?

Before COVID-19 there were concerns around the rise of automation, echoing every significant jump in technology’s capabilities since the Industrial Revolution. And we may arguably always have that love-hate relationship with technology. The same addiction to our mobile devices, is what has helped us stay in touch with our loved ones during lockdown. The flexibility and immediacy of our digital tools and software is what has meant collaboration and communication haven’t suffered too much while remote working was enforced. For many it hasn’t been that simple of course, but the point is that technology is an enabler, it helps empower our individual creativity, curiosity and contribution.

But it is just that – a vehicle, a channel, a platform, for us to work upon and improve. If we look back on the last 100 years, what we have learnt is that behind every new technology or engineering break through are the humans driving that change. We may have been ‘afraid’ of automation or AI (or maybe better said, the change they would bring to jobs and markets) and how they would come to replace people, but we must remember that these developments are for us to adopt and apply in a way that enhances the world around us. We will still need the innovators, the operators, the fixers and creatives to support, maintain, understand, and optimise whatever the latest trend is. Technology isn’t the sole solution nor is it the end of the journey. It is what we can utilise to address everyday problems – and to create solutions to human problems, you cannot remove the human element.

Understand People, Unleash Potential

Future of Work predictions often talk about how people will be doing their work (e.g. conference calls via VR headset) or where (from the beach), but we would argue that why they will work is equally important.

Gallup report (State of the Global Workforce, 2017)

According to the Gallup report (State of the Global Workforce, 2017), two thirds of the global workforces (67%) are not engaged at work, which means they are putting in time but little discretionary effort. Why does this matter? That lack of engagement (employee has turned up but is tuned out) results in a significant productivity gap that is estimated to be worth billions of pounds.

How often do organisations claim that their people are their biggest asset? Businesses must learn to understand, empathise and respond to employee needs and drives if they want to close that costly productivity gap. Companies with high empathy scores generate 50% more earnings, and over 70% of employees would consider leaving their current company if it displayed less empathy. Each generation that reaches the workforce (and simultaneously the marketplace as consumers) arrives with its own expectations and values, formed by its experiences and the experiences of the previous generation. New generations and needs do not translate as people wanting it all, and not wanting to work. When revaluating priorities, people are looking to organise their life in a way that enables them to work to their best abilities, enjoy time with their family and friends to the best of their abilities, stay healthy to the best of their abilities and so on. Organisations need to understand what employees need from work, identify and explain what they as a business need to achieve for success, and make the subsequent experiences manageable, efficient and memorable to encourage commitment, participation, productivity for more profitability. Here, businesses have a prime opportunity to provide solutions that enable the fulfilment of their people, and that tap into and support their needs and motivations, to unlock that engagement gap.

Empathise, Enable, Engage

So what does the road to the Future of Work, Future of Engagement actually look like? How do we get there? As we’ve discussed, it won’t necessarily lead to everyone working from home, or everyone’s job being replaced by AI, but technology can have a powerful role to play in providing a platform for change.

Engaging Experiences: A lot of the time organisations know they want to enhance Employee Engagement in their workplace, but don’t know how or where to begin. Often the bigger picture can be improved by identifying themes or smaller areas to impact through change. Tools that help break down tasks and reward for each goal achieved seem simple but actually go a long way towards building up self-esteem and highlighting the value of an employee’s role. Applications that identify daily goals, recognise achievements, energise participants throughout, can show how on an individual scale and as part of a team they contribute towards driving the organisation towards its goals.

For example, immersive, ongoing experiences that require teamwork or reinforce and embed corporate values can help bring intangible aspirations to life for all to relate to and work towards representing. Employees can learn to identify desired behaviours and identify how they can embody them in their daily tasks or interactions.

RAMP: Intrinsic motivation (a drive from within, rather than external rewards) is where genuine, sustainable engagement comes from. Businesses need to better understand what motivates their people, and respond accordingly, with processes and approaches that apply this insight. The RAMP model is based on Self Determination Theory, and is what we often follow to look at challenges through different lenses, and to empathise with different user groups. RAMP and stands for Relatedness, Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Relatedness taps into our innate desire to be connected to others, Autonomy, the need to have choice and freedom. Mastery is a need to improve, feel progress and achievement. Purpose can be described as the “reason” we do things. The changes and enhancements you make to processes, practices and culture, flow and contribute towards boosting employee motivation across these areas, as seen in the diagram above.

For example, consider the challenges around “returning to the office” post Covid-19. Ideation platforms can help employees voice solutions themselves and help them feel their concerns are considered. Onboarding systems with virtual tours of updated office or workspace that employees can interact with can begin re-introducing employees remotely, removing the element of “surprise” or confusion ahead of arriving, meaning people will feel equipped and ready for what they’ll be walking into. Both can be practices for the future, not just COVID-19.

Where do we go now?

Looking back again at the recent effects of COVID-19, the number one thing people have missed during different stages of isolation and lockdown is human interaction. This alone suggests we won’t be moving to a tech bubble. Remote employees have commented on how they’ve missed the spontaneous collaborative moments that come from being in the office, or the socialisation aspects that are hard to replicate purely on Zoom or Teams. Even though many have proven how remote working works, the workplace of the future will still include social and in person elements.

The one thing that will be consistent is that people will still be a major part of it, regardless of the economic landscape or advances in technology. The Future of Work may still be unwritten, but one certainty is that people will still be at the heart of it. People are not replaceable, and AI alone cannot power a business. The motivation, collaboration and creativity of people will. If people are organisations biggest asset, we need to ensure that they are made to feel like that if companies want to emerge from these uncertain times in a much stronger position.

Developing an online professional development plan can enable employees of all profiles and situations. And the key to successful and sustained growth lies in Behavioural Science. 

 

The traditional workplace has changed dramatically in the last decade, and seems to be on a path towards even more change. Flexible hours have replaced 9 to 5. Virtual learning is overtaking the two-day training course. Remote teams are on the rise. There is evidence everywhere of businesses investing to keep up with the expectations of the modern employee – greener, brighter, stimulating office spaces or vast e-learning platforms being two common examples. But what about updating internal processes to match with the new practices? Consider remote workers and their professional development. For many years, companies have established professional development plans for employees, but these approaches are almost never tailored to the needs of remote employees. Too often people fall into the trap of ‘out of sight, out of mind’, or they focus efforts entirely on ensuring productivity rather than considering the growth of individuals.

If one were to update the design of these programmes, with remote workers or freelancers or any of the emerging employee profiles in mind, it becomes highly valuable to incorporate approaches founded in Behavioural Sciences to better understand the person at the centre of the plan.

Behavioural Science is the empirical study of human behaviour. It emphasises how people are different and hence need to be understood differently, how context matters, and guides us towards adopting new positive behaviours. It can tell us what works and what doesn’t and can help us design solutions that generate a desired change.

Behavioural Science has also experienced radical transformation in recent years in its application and delivery. Through technology, we can now obtain a lot more information and understanding about individual characteristics, habits, motivations, drives (or behavioural phenotype) and subsequently optimise interventions. Behavioural design then translates the findings of the behavioural studies into effective products and services.

So, how to apply this theory to the scenario of online professional development plans, designed with remote workers in mind? Let’s take a look.

  1. Personalised Planning

Any broad or widely applicable plan has to offer options and choice to employees. Options allow individual employees to feel a sense of ownership or personalisation with their experience.  Furthermore, allowing free choice when goal setting will increase their drive and intrinsic motivation towards the end objective.

The theory indicates that goals should be accomplished through various actions, rather than only applying one rigid path to achieve a positive result. To begin with, it can be as simple as setting a goal like “improving skills related to my role” for an online professional development plan.

The idea is to not define achievement purely through office-based actions, instead to allow more self-determination and for employees to prove their progress in ways within their control. This way, they will feel like goals are within their reach.

Simultaneously, some parameters need to be set for the employee’s benefit as well. The plan should be clear and supported by sufficient detail so that the employee quickly understands how to perform the necessary actions or behaviours in order to achieve the objective they’ve set. Behavioural Science theory explains that specifying the frequency, duration, intensity and context of an action makes it easier to achieve or replicate. For example, for the goal “improving skills related to my role,” an associated behaviour would be to take a 40-hour expert course. This behaviour in turn can be divided into smaller actions to make it easier to complete. So you can take what seems like a vague objective of proving you have improved your skillset, and break it down into tangible, provable actions like each working day between 3pm and 5pm for 4 weeks accessing your online development plan and completing different modules of your chosen expert course.

Within the plan, one can even apply gamified elements to reinforce commitment – such as including a button or box that will give employees a sense of accomplishment when they finally press or tick it. It sounds simple but can be highly effective. Research states that an explicit commitment (I want to tick off things on my list) increases the likelihood that users will complete their goal.

Behavioural Science, because of the name, can sound daunting when all you feel you need is a quick fix or an easy win

  1. Clear instructions & Multiple resources at your fingertips

As already mentioned, clear instructions or ticking boxes help to keep people on track. Especially when working remotely, as it enables employees to work through tasks and actions autonomously, knowing what they need to be getting on with.

Across professional development plans, previous studies have identified how employees frequently prefer to receive practical support from the company. This is when the company provides them with the resources and content required to carry out the actions necessary to achieve the objective they’ve chosen.

However, it’s important that companies strike the balance between providing information and resources, without oversaturating employees. Users of vast online courses often remark that they don’t know where to begin when there is so much information available to them. Rather than huge amounts of information, it’s more valuable to provide clear pathways employees can follow, especially for those sat in front of their desktops remotely.

  1. Social support

As well as having materials at their fingertips, being able to count on mentors or online advisors also makes it easier for employees to effectively and efficiently achieve their goal. Knowing they have a designated ‘someone’ they can turn to with questions regarding their progression helps employees feel comfortable within their plan. This is particularly useful for remote workers who are not able to simply turn around and ask a question to a colleague.

Employees also value the support of their teammates and co-workers during their development. Research supports the inclusion of virtual social areas for remote employees and their effectiveness for reinforcing recognition and feedback. With a timeline or wall element, similar to those on social media platforms, employees can post their achievements and colleagues can applaud their progress and celebrate those achievements. Rereading the wall’s history can help to raise self-esteem and increase the self-efficacy of remote working employees particularly when feeling overwhelmed or emotionally disconnected.

These online environments allow relationships between remote employees to be established and strengthened each day, reinforcing and creating a group identity. These contexts also facilitate the transmission of informal knowledge. Studies show that innovation and commitment flourish when employees have the ability to participate freely in “interest groups” or similar working teams.

Creating safe spaces to grow and fail is hugely important in any company – setting them online helps users feel removed from reality, and more likely to try and try again 

  1. Reinforcements and Self-Evaluation

Any professional development plan should include the employee receiving positive feedback from managers, because it avoids the employee feeling too scrutinised or controlled. Feedback should be balanced, and the purpose should be to reinforce the employee’s progress. If an employee is based from home or is remote to the team, feedback can sometimes be the main occasion the employee has contact with their manager or team, making the context of feedback even more valuable. Ensure feedback is given frequently, and in a range of contexts for remote employees in any development plan.

As part of those different opportunities for feedback, self-evaluation can also be included as encouragement that the employee records and monitors their own behaviours and progress.

It should be noted that multiple studies show how people react differently to self-monitoring. Some employees will stop participating because their motivation decreases when they perceive their results as negative. This can be avoided by ‘reframing.’ A behavioural technique that involves the correct interpretation and action the employee can take, alongside the negative result in the same message.

For example, “You got 5/10 and so you haven’t passed this module. It’s a shame, but this is definitely one of the more complicated modules in your development path, so maybe check out some of the reading links and come back soon and try again! We know you can do it!” This type of messaging prevents employees from associating their results with feelings of intense failure and demotivation. Creating a safe space to grow and fail is hugely important in any company, and it can be easily provided through the medium of digital solutions as they make the user feel somewhat removed from ‘reality’.

  1. Signs of action and habit formation

Whenever a person is asked to carry out behaviours or take action, we must recognise each of the steps they take towards achieving their goal. Behavioural Science emphasises the importance of reinforcing both the steps taken towards the milestone and the time when the user completes the objective. With the help of technology, this reinforcement can reach remote working employees in real time.

Behavioural Change research often advises the introduction of prompts and stimuli that encourage action. For example, automatic prompts or notifications can be effective because they remind us to perform the behaviour at the right time and the reasoning behind it. Similarly, by performing the behaviour repeatedly, it ends up creating a habit. However, Behavioural Science illustrates that habit brings habituation, which can cause the employee to become bored and abandon the experience. Maintaining long-term engagement and commitment requires the online professional development plan to include gradual tasks and changing or growing challenges. It’s very important to start with tasks that are easy to perform, making them increasingly difficult, yet achievable, until the result is ultimately reached.

 

With all these behavioural strategies and techniques, we can design a professional development plan (suitable to the needs of remote working employees or similar profiles) without it needing to be labour intensive or adapted several times across the company. Scientifically informed, it can offer multiple growth opportunities to those employees which will therefore result in enhanced company productivity. Behavioural Science, because of the name, can sound daunting when all you feel you need is a quick fix or an easy win. But really, it comes down to understanding the audience, the people you’re trying to connect to or gain something from. We’ve come a long way from expecting employees to carry out actions or behaviours “because I said so”. Consider the power behind “because I want to”. So, if offices are changing, if what we consider an employee is changing, along with schedules, routines, a day’s work – maybe we need to update how we support and structure all of that as well.


Delivering EVP through employer branded experiences

So, you have begun your own company-wide introspection to define your Employee Value Proposition (EVP), or have already defined it, now it’s time to think about delivery, or in other words, how to articulate and bring your EVP to life in employee experience terms.

As a reminder, the EVP is the employment offering between employer and employee, the employer’s commitment to help satisfy what employees need and want from their work, in exchange for their daily efforts and energy towards the organisation’s goals.  While all organisations have an EVP, not all intentionally define, shape and formalise it into strategy.

More importantly – and a key differentiating factor – not many organisations go as far as articulating and delivering their EVP into actual, lived ‘people experiences’. Experiences that are differentiated by your EVP, unique to your organisation, and articulate your company identity, goals, mission, values and norms.

These people experiences range across the employee life-cycle touch points (attraction, recruiting, onboarding, performing, developing) to those key job tasks, activities and processes instrumental to your organisations’ success. These key events can serve more than their original functional purpose. They are times where employees, partners, prospects, clients and customers all interact with your organisational brand and value proposition. This means that people are forever appraising/re-appraising whether their experiences of you are aligned to your EVP commitments, and in turn, will determine whether they reciprocate value (e.g. employees giving discretionary effort.)

Being able to manage and articulate your employer brand ensures you are in the best position to attract, engage and retain the people needed – it’s about standing out from your competition and communicating a consistent EVP in experiential terms. For example, this could be about providing a rich, realistic preview into your organisational norms during employee attraction, to training and ongoing reinforcement for how staff should handle customer communications during service disruptions. It is these kinds of opportunities that can really be utilised to differentiate your organisation from the competition.

Taking the familiar employee life-cycle, here are some example ideas to illustrate how you can articulate and bring an EVP to life:

Attract

  • Create ‘day in the life of’ role-play scenarios or simulations, played out through a working day narrative with the prospect in control, can provide realistic job or company previews. Not only do they support job-role fit & encourage self-selection in prospects not aligned to your company EVP & role, they are creative opportunities to articulate your identity, values and norms.

Recruit

  • Two personal selection methods, situational-judgement tests and assessment centres, can provide an opportunity to communicate your EVP to candidates. Situational scenarios and assessment centre exercises designed with familiar contexts in which assessed competencies are performed in, offer another opportunity to reinforce organisation EVP and brand to candidates.

Onboard

  • Preboarding and onboarding of new starters need to provide role clarity, socialisation, organisational knowledge and reduce any shock factors.
  • Technology can allow onboarding to begin before day 1, allowing new starters to connect with new and existing employees, to learn and assimilate company & role specific knowledge, to experiencing case studies in narrative-driven experiences. If designed well, these can support new starters time-to-proficiency.

Perform

  • Feedback and recognition mechanisms, powered by technology, allowing managers and peers to applause and recognise values-based behaviours can reinforce EVP-based behavioural norms.
  • The use of quick ‘pulse’ crowd-suggestion, voting and feedback mechanisms can provide feedback opportunities for employees, customers to clients. This data can provide insights into whether your EVP commitments are being delivered consistently across your employee and customer interaction points.

Develop

  • Games-based learning and simulation games can be designed specifically around learning objectives and within highly-contextual, employer-branded experiences. These simulations can serve to promote the relevance of training to employees and encourage its transfer back into working environments.

 

If you’re interested in doing something to impact and support your organisation’s EVP, why not get in touch and see what we could create for you? info@motivait.net 

Onboarding is nothing new. If you have worked at any medium or large company you are likely to have been through it, but it was probably called induction. For many, it is a few days of icebreakers and PowerPoint slides explaining the company in more detail, various important departments and other information needed to get going.

If you are a gamer, you would know this better as the tutorial level at the beginning of the game.

In both cases, the end goal is the same, get a new person being productive as efficiently and effectively as possible.

The big difference is the delivery mechanisms used.

First Impressions Count

An employee’s first look at the “real” company happens during onboarding. This is the first exposure to other people they are likely to be working with, to the true corporate culture and to some of the more practical aspects of their new day to day life. It is also the company’s first opportunity to make them feel at home and like a valued new member of the team. Sure, they will know something about the company, they would have had interviews, done research, possibly gone through assessment centres, but this is different. It is a time where a company can ask itself the question “What do we want our employees to think of us?” If you want them to think of you as a company driven by a culture of “death by PowerPoint”, it might be best to stop reading now.

Onboarding does not stop in the first few days after the induction, though many may feel this way. A study for the Academy of Management journal found that the first 90 days of a person’s new job were essential for creating social connections and bonds to the company. If they felt supported during this time, then they felt more positive towards the company.

What Makes Good Onboarding Experiences

Baek and Bramwell of Cornell University conducted research into how you measure the effectiveness of onboarding. They concluded that one of the best measures of an effective onboarding experience was time to proficiency. They defined this as the time it took a new hire to reach full productivity within the context of their role.

For this to happen, a new employee needs to have a structured onboarding experience, with specifically defined outcomes, and an experience that is hopefully engaging to them. At the end of their onboarding employees need to have achieved four clear objectives for the best chance of ongoing success (Bauer et al):

  1. Role Clarity; employees understand their role, expectations with it, how to perform in order to achieve expected results
  2. Self-efficacy; employees feel confident in their ability to perform and contribute
  3. Social integration – employees feel connected, valued & trusted
  4. Knowledge of organisational culture; employees understanding and adjusting to company politics, social norms such as language, goals, values and history.

How We Approach Onboarding

Bill Paris, Motivait’s go-to guy on HR and Employee Engagement Solutions, is of the firm belief that onboarding into a new company starts from the day a new employee signs on the dotted line. The time before they step foot on company property is ripe for helping them start to understand some of the basics about their new employer. Much of what would traditionally be done in a conference room over a few days, can be achieved online during the weeks they are waiting to start the new role.

Games and gamification are already being utilised in the attraction phases of recruitment, with games being created to simulate everything from a day in the life of a new employee to testing an employee’s soft skills.

Following that trend into the employment phase of an employee’s journey, we can make use of gamification to create unique and engaging experiences that keep them informed and interested up to and during their first few months of employment.

Creating these kinds of experiences takes time and expertise, balancing the needs and culture of the company with needs of the new employee.

We consider these weeks and months as a quest, creating a structure around what they need to learn and understand early on. Each stage or level of the quest represents new knowledge and experiences that will help them to learn. Focusing on intrinsic motivation, we choose mechanics that support the player’s with social connectedness, education and goals to focus on, all in an environment that promotes exploration and discovery at their own pace. To this we this we add mini-games and interactive learning materials all tied together with interesting narratives and storylines. This gives the players reasons to want to continue rather than just knowing they have to continue.

Good onboarding can lead to higher rates of retention in companies, some statistics quoting as much as 69% higher retention after 3 years for companies with great programmes! It gives employees the opportunity to feel at home and become productive faster. Don’t waste this key opportunity to create a more engaged workforce by relying on traditional or even default methods, simply because “That’s how it’s always been done”.