The Challenge of Empathy

Before I get to my story, a quote from a 2017 Forbes article titled: “How Empathetic Are You, Really?”. On empathy, the author Liz Guthridge says:

“Being empathetic is similar to cooking. You may know the recipe for how to prepare empathy. But until you actually use the recipe a few times, taste the results, see how everyone reacts and adjust the recipe, you and your guests don’t know how satisfying and nourishing your efforts will be.”

Empathy continues to be a challenge in life and at work. For most people, empathy has conditions and limits. It goes something like this, “if I agree with what you are saying and how you say it pleases me; I will support the breathe with which you are speaking your truth”. If by chance, you share something that fundamentally debunks a point of view or has earth-shattering ramifications for a particular position someone holds, empathy is (more often than not) enqueue to meet an imminent death.

I have both written and spoken about some thorny subjects in the past year. I knew going into it that there would be people who praised me for my bravery and others who would chastise me for sharing my truth. When I speak up on issues, topics or instances that matter to me it is just that — it matters to me. That I have something to say about matters of societal and economic importance as someone who also happens to be an HR professional should not rub people the wrong way in 2018. Working in any industry (and more importantly HR) is not an opportunity to operate as if dumb, deaf and blind nor is it a sentence for being mute when it matters most.

Last month, I had the privilege of attending and speaking at Connections 2018, an annual user-centered event curated by Ultimate Software designed to engage, enlighten and empower their user community.  During my Women in Leadership panel, there were two women who questioned why a white man was moderating my panel and moreover why most of the event’s speakers were white males. Admittedly, it was an awkward moment and not one we had solved for in our discussions about managing questions as a panel. A part of me was overjoyed that someone saw the obvious inequity of the panel. The other part of me felt sorry for my moderator, Jason Lauritsen who I personally chose to be the moderator and is someone who I do believe is inherently good despite the gender and race he belongs to. Time stood still, but something had to be said.

Empathy in motion…

I shared the truth and posed a question. I shared that I had been asked to moderate and asked the two women how that made them feel? They perked up and said that would have been much better. In response, I said: “Really? Not for me. Why should I moderate a panel of all white women in 2018?” To which an Asian woman yelled out: “What is wrong with that?”. What I shared with the group is that I wanted the ability to speak my truth as a panelist, not as someone on the periphery of the discussion. I went for what I wanted and chose Jason as a moderator because I admire him as a person and because we cannot exclude men from the discussion of how women are treated in society and in the workplace.

I have my views and strong ones at that. Nonetheless, my views are always rooted in experiences and fact and never devoid of the ability to see how it may affect another human. My panel could have been one big feminist party where we talked about how the patriarchy needs to die and how Ultimate got their programming wrong and how patronizing it must be for me to be the only black woman on the panel. What would have been accomplished by this? Isn’t this part of the problem and what we have always done?

That question was a twist of fate that I ultimately thanked those two women for. It opened us all up to have a more authentic conversation than was possible with my carefully-curated script of questions. We moved on to share openly and listen to one another’s experiences. From that moment on, we weren’t just listening we were feeling every word uttered in that room. Isn’t that the hope and prayer for empathy and also the challenge in exercising it?

The truth we all need to embrace and settle with is we are all right and all wrong at the same time. Life is a continuous cycle of contradictions. For every view you hold, there is at least one instance to debunk the position you hold. Even in a world of contradictions, it still means that what I experience is true for me. My experiences and knowledge of the world cannot be diminished or diluted. You can challenge it, but it cannot be dismissed as a data point. Dismissal is the typical reaction to hearing things we don’t want to accept. Empathy means that even if your individual or collective truths tell you that anything I say is bogus it warrants further investigation or at a minimum your heartfelt consideration if you can muster it.

People are not naturally wired to say or do what is convenient for others to feel good about a situation. This is also a part of the problem we have at the moment. Stop looking for convenient truths and answers to serve your agenda. Instead, ask yourself if what you hear, see or read could have the slightest possibility of being true. If your answer is “yes” (and it should because anything is possible), then it requires extra effort to understand on your part.

We are recalibrating as a human race which means an industry founded upon human relations should be doing the same. I challenge professionals everywhere to do the following:

1) Say less. People are finding their voices again and feeling more and more empowered to speak out. This is not the time for you to debate them and take up space. Instead, say less and hold space for the most vulnerable in our workplaces and society to share their truths.

2) Stay curiousSome of you grew up in towns of 1000 with not a dose of cultural or ethnic difference to color your world, yet others of us have grown up in complex environments with a myriad of influences. In both regards, there is a need for more curiosity, fewer assumptions, less convenient truths and judgments. Be open to learning a new perspective.

3) Exercise your empathy muscles. The road to becoming more empathetic is not linear. You will fail, you will be awkward, you will resist it at times. Still, you ought to try to be more empathetic and willing to endure all of that at the same time. I know it is a tall order, but what if it could shift budding interactions with people you admire or help someone you love feel more heard and understood? Trust me it is worth it.

For the livestream of my Women in Leadership panel click the link below:

Connections 2018 Women in Leadership Panel

Here is Jason’s account of the Women in Leadership Panel and lessons learned:

Gender at Work

May we all rise to the challenge of exercising more empathy.

Trust: Why It Matters and How Tech Can Help

Campaign/FTC disclosure: This is a sponsored guest blog post. I will receive compensation for this post. I only work with companies I feel have great products, services and offerings. In accordance with my blog disclosure statement, I will only work with and showcase products, events and/or companies I believe my readers will benefit from.  I am not formally employed by Ultimate Software. All thoughts and viewpoints are created and written by Adam Rogers of Ultimate Software. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Many Americans spend more time with their colleagues than they do with their families, so it’s not surprising that the strength of these relationships is important to job satisfaction. Trust, respect, and communication are vital aspects of a positive employee experience, but far too often, these critical factors are ignored or largely overlooked by organizations—perhaps partly due to the innate difficulty of tracking these metrics.

 

And how important is that trust, really?

 

Can I Trust You?

According to recent research, extremely. 9 out of 10 employees think trusting their direct managers is important to remaining satisfied at work, but less than half of employees actually do. An April SHRM study learned that respondents were not content with workplace trust levels, even when reporting high job satisfaction. And Rapt Media found more than a third of US employees feel like their companies don’t care about them at all—likely contributing to the 69% of respondents who said they’re either open to other opportunities or already seeking another job.

 

These statistics are concerning, raising red flags about productivity, retention, and everything in-between. Two-way trust is a crucial aspect of a stable, satisfying and successful work environment, but establishing and nurturing this within an organization can be difficult. Trust is certainly multi-faceted, at work as in life, but experts agree that communication is required, including transparency and responding to feedback. When implemented correctly, these communications tenets are valuable strategies.

 

In fact, 75% of workers said they would stay in an organization longer if their employer listened to—and addressed—their concerns. Can you imagine the financial impact of a 75% reduction in attrition?

 

Leveraging Technology to Cultivate Trust

To build a high-performing culture based on trust and communication, employers must effectively uncover their employees’ true feelings and respond appropriately. Many organizations currently rely on annual performance reviews, which can be quite valuable for assessing employee performance against pre-determined goals and objectives. But when it comes to obtaining quality feedback and insight into the employee experience, these infrequent evaluations almost always fall short.

 

Fortunately, technology has caught up with this significant need. Basic online templates evolved to sophisticated pulse surveys that can measure employee experience in real-time. In addition to yes/no queries and other quantitative tools, these innovative solutions can also decode open-ended surveys with exceptional accuracy. UltiPro Perception™, for example, uses advanced natural language processing and machine-learning algorithms to analyze text-based responses and identify key workplace themes, like trust, as well as the respondent’s underlying emotions.

 

This highly strategic tool can be effortlessly deployed at regular intervals to assess employee sentiment, either for the entire organization or filtered by location, position, manager, etc. Patterns emerge and business leaders receive real-time, actionable analysis and instant insights to improve trust, satisfaction, and retention within the organization.

 

These surveys allow leaders to measure how their employees feel about the hot-button topics frequently blamed for job dissatisfaction, such as family-friendly policies, growth opportunities, or job flexibility. Armed with data-based feedback about what matters most to their employees, executives have real power to evaluate and address pain points—building trust simultaneously.

 

For 46% of organizations surveyed in SHRM/Globoforce’s 2016 survey, employee retention was the #1 workforce management challenge. But it doesn’t have to be that way. By actively listening and responding to employees, it’s possible for organizations to solidify a culture of trust and communication—improving engagement, productivity, and retention in return.

 

Giving a voice to the voiceless with technology

Image courtesy of Ultimate Software.

Image courtesy of Ultimate Software.

Campaign/FTC disclosure: This is a sponsored product review. I will receive compensation for this post. I only work with companies I feel have great products, services and offerings. In accordance with my blog disclosure statement, I will only work with and showcase products, events and/or companies I believe my readers will benefit from.  I am not formally employed by Ultimate Software. All thoughts and viewpoints are created and written by me. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

In the HR industry, we spend a lot of time talking about the best ways to engage the people that work tirelessly for us. The thing that we often overlook in the engagement conversation is: “communication.” While that may seem broad, let’s explore a bit. How likely do you think your employees are to share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns at work? You may be thinking: “I have an open-door policy” or “we periodically send out employee surveys.” All of this is a great start, but I would argue that between your open-door policy, employee surveys, town halls, and overall company culture lays a tremendous gap between what you think you know and what your employees truly feel.

Why the gap?

Understanding employee voice requires that you understand the various inputs and ways in which employees communicate. Encouraging your employees to speak up is admirable, but not nearly enough. If asked, many employees will describe a sense of fear around offering up ideas, thoughts, and concerns, whether solicited or unsolicited. While this sentiment is often based on unfounded perceptions of the consequences of communicating freely, it is just as often rooted in experiences where feedback led to negative outcomes such as low performance ratings, indifferent behavior by management, isolation, and even termination as illustrated in an HBR article, “Can Your Employees Really Speak Freely.”

Case and point, employees are fearful of speaking up. In turn, that fear presents a challenge for organizations that are desperate to thwart turnover and other organizational maladies to better retain their workforce. According to a 2016 survey by Xerox, 53% of employers cite retention of top talent as an “organizational priority” for 2017. In order to retain your people, you need to have some insight into their ideas, intentions, and behaviors. The pathway to rounding-up that information isn’t exactly a simple science without some heavy lifting by technology. The reason for this is: Much of your intelligence around what motivates your employees is likely lying dormant as unstructured data fueled by performance evaluations, pulse surveys, exit interviews, internal communication tools, etc.

While all of this information is lying dormant, organizations are left vulnerable and in a state of inaction. Without visibility for situations and actions brewing under your nose, many organizations will continue to wonder why they can’t get ahead where employee engagement and retention is concerned.

Luckily for the HR industry, one of my favorite HR Technology companies, Ultimate Software, has gotten into the data game specifically to assist companies illuminating the true feelings and emotions behind employee responses.

Ultimate Software has a new solution called UltiPro Perception™. They were kind enough to allow me to ask them some questions about their solution and how it can help you. Here’s the scoop:

Help me understand how UltiPro Perception captures employee sentiment.

UltiPro Perception uses advanced Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML) algorithms to analyze open-ended responses within employee surveys. The solution’s sophisticated technology interprets text-based feedback to uncover the feelings and emotions behind employees’ responses. Leaders and managers can then assess the overall sentiment for individual employees, teams, or the organization as a whole. The solution also looks for repeated keywords to identify more than 70 workplace themes or topics, and over 100 emotions beneath the surface of employee answers.

Why is UltiPro Perception better than any other tool out there using sentiment analysis?

UltiPro Perception is uniquely built to analyze unstructured data and uncover not only what employees are saying, but also how they feel, about things like work environment, culture, and leadership. UltiPro provides managers with easy-to-understand, actionable insights that will have a true impact on improving employee retention and engagement.

Another key differentiator is that UltiPro Perception is part of UltiPro’s comprehensive HCM suite. Organizations can easily collect feedback from the right groups of employees based on location, supervisor, tenure, and more—essentially any data element within UltiPro. Most competitive tools have no or limited HRIS/HCM integration and lack enterprise-level requirements such as configurability options and proper role-based security. Other employee survey solutions typically require costly, manual processes or they rely solely on quantitative analytics, and therefore can’t give organizations a true understanding of employee sentiment before it’s too late to take meaningful action.

How does UltiPro Perception arm managers and organizations in being able to manage the Talent Management life cycle better (i.e. Recruitment through Succession)?

UltiPro Perception offers built-in survey templates to gather feedback throughout the employee lifecycle—from candidate, to new hire, engagement, post-learning, exit, and more. Surveys can be configured to automatically be sent once a specific work event occurs, such as a promotion or performance review.

Key driver analysis provides real-time, actionable metrics to help guide managers towards the most effective next steps. Combining these results with UltiPro’s predictive analytics tools and Leadership Actions, managers have powerful resources to support, coach, and retain their employees.

Regarding data and reporting, how simple is UltiPro Perception for HR practitioners new to sentiment analysis?

With UltiPro Perception, data collection, management, analysis, and the delivery of insights are all automated, with both standard and configurable reports available. Report-quality insights are delivered in plain English—no training required. UltiPro Perception’s easy-to-read, interactive reports are delivered immediately upon closing surveys, including the analysis of free-text responses. Reports are distributed based on the employee directory and can be tailored to individual managers or areas of the organization.

What are the long-term and short-term wins new customers can expect using this tool?

Short term—Organizations can immediately get a sense of how their employees currently feel about their work environment, leadership, and more. UltiPro Perception can uncover the organization’s strengths and key areas for improvement.

Long term—Organizations can utilize UltiPro’s workforce intelligence solutions, including UltiPro Perception, to uncover people challenges, predict outcomes, and recommend actions to drive better business results. Additionally, leaders can use historical benchmarking to assess how engagement scores are changing over time, in order to identify trends or patterns and determine long-term strategies to improve workplace culture and make better business and people decisions.

When will UltiPro Perception be available?

UltiPro Perception is currently available for purchase.

What is the approximate cost of the product?

UltiPro solutions are priced on a per employee, per month basis and costs various depending on a variety of factors, including company size.

Is there training or train-the-trainer opportunities available for organizations that need more?

Ultimate’s activation team guides all new customers through setup and configuration and Ultimate’s experts will also guide customers through executing and analyzing their first survey. UltiPro Perception is simple to configure and use, but if customers would like additional assistance Ultimate’s Services team will provide additional support to ensure customers are getting the most out of UltiPro Perception’s powerful survey and analytics capabilities. Ultimate also offers free learning resources for all organizations and their employees, including on-demand online training, webcasts, and more. Through Ultimate’s unique “People First” approach to customer service, all Ultimate’s customers have instant access to customer service experts, including a dedicated account manager and phone and online support.

You may be asking how you give a voice to the voiceless utilizing technology like UltiPro Perception. Here’s how you begin:

  • Audit your company culture to uncover both intended and unintended practices that may deter employees from openly sharing their feelings and thoughts.
  • Continue to find ways to include employees and their input in all aspects of your company’s operations
  • Ensure that there are simple and varied ways for your employees to connect and communicate with you.
  • Utilize sentiment analysis and machine learning technologies like UltiPro Perception to help you properly synthesize the valuable feedback you collect from your employees on a regular basis.
  • Make sure you are prepared to act upon the information you receive and make sure all levels of management do the same. It isn’t just about acquiring a solution like UltiPro Perception to help uncover this information. You actually have to be willing to make the necessary changes as needed to ensure your employees feel heard.

Organizations can no longer afford to ignore all of the data points available to them. Employees are communicating in a myriad of ways all the time. It’s time we start to listen to them.

Get a sneak peek of Perception via UltiPro’s product tour .

Also, Ultimate Software will be hosting a free webcast on April 25th for you to learn more about this product. To register, click here.

Are You Making Sensible HR Technology Choices?

Image courtesy of Flickr.com

Technology is evolving rapidly. HR Technology is a subsection of this innovation, and is also evolving rapidly in its own right. In addition to rapid expansion, HR Technology appears to be lucrative as well. According to a 2014 Forbes Article by Josh Bersin, the HR Technology market is a $15 billion dollar market. With that kind of money backing this industry, there are endless options and opportunities for both for HR Tech companies and potential buyers.

With more and more leaders shifting their focus to talent management strategies, having the right technology working for you is an operational imperative. The trouble with having all of these choices and options at our fingertips is it is overwhelming. From experts to reports, whitepapers and admittedly bloggers like me- it can be confusing to digest all of the tips, tricks and advice that is out there.

The purchase of HR Technology is one of the larger investments we make in HR. In many organizations, the request to purchase technology is enough to make your CFO gasp and that is even with the proper justification backing the request. If you’re going to invest money in new technology to facilitate your operations; it would make sense to do your homework on the market to ensure you are making the right investment.

You may be thinking ” well that’s obvious, Janine”. My experience has taught me that companies are not as dedicated to a proper selection and implementation process as you may think. More often than not, the purchase of HR Technology is lead by good intentions, distorted by unrealistic expectations and compromised by flawed decisions. One of the things that drives me mad about organizations is: when they choose a provider based on market presence or some other arbitrary factor without holistically considering other important factors like: customer satisfaction, customer retention, their specific niche, and how the technology will improve or facilitate operations etc. Instead, they end up making the wrong decision or poorly implementing a good system, because they were unclear about their requirements. Additionally, they forget to spend a fair amount of time thinking about the inherent limitations and opportunities involved with the purchase.  The criteria I mention are just a few of the many things that should be considered when looking to purchase HR Technology.  As an HR practitioner and potential buyer, half your battle is understanding how important it is to give yourself and your team adequate time to evaluate your HR Technology of choice before purchasing.

Now for some help…

Recently, I was fortunate enough to receive the G2 Crowd Grid for Recruiting Software from my friends at Ultimate Software. While it should not be your sole data point for deciding what to choose- it is certainly a step in the right direction towards making sensible HR Technology purchases. Perusing this report, you will find scores for satisfaction, market presence, number of ratings etc. You can even compare HR Tech providers to see how they stack up when it comes to implementations, contract terms and pricing.

If you are in the market for a new ATS or other HR Technology-this report is worth reviewing. You may even be surprised to find out who is leading the HR Technology landscape at the moment- I know I was. I will hint that some of my favorite Recruiting Technology providers are finally receiving the kudos they deserve.

You can get a glimpse of the report below. The grid as pictured below shows how Recruiting Technology providers stack up when it comes to ‘satisfaction’.

 

For the a free, full report and the ability to run your own analysis of Recruiting Technology providers, click here.

Have an HR Technology Implementation question? Set up a 15 minute Talent Strategy call with me here.

 

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