Last year at this time, chaos reigned and it felt like the only thing we could be certain of was that uncertainty would remain a fact of life.

As we look ahead to 2022, the outlook is still a little cloudy but we do have a clear view of the challenges ahead: the supply chain, unbelievably difficult hiring conditions, struggling people, and unprecedented employee turnover.

More than ever, this is a time when clarity is needed.

Whilst it’s impossible to forecast when the chip shortage will abate and the supply chain will unsnarl, it is entirely possible to understand – with certainty – where your employees stand.

Think about it. Building your forecast and strategy for the coming year is ferociously difficult – and in some respects, it’s barely an educated guess.

Wouldn’t it be useful to know if your team was standing shoulder to shoulder with you, ready for (and energised by) your strategy and the challenges ahead?

This is why I’m encouraging those who have delayed surveying their teams for one reason or another to do so as part of their preparation for the new year. Doing so allows you to turn unknown variables into rock-solid data you can use to better inform your plans.

Employees have been up against it all year 

Employee burnout has been rising over the course of the year, and it’s not abating, which really should be no surprise. Employees have been up against it all year.

At the beginning of the year, fear and isolation were prevalent, and people struggled to take care of themselves and their families, as well as their jobs. Mid-year, as economies opened back up, new challenges arose when rebounding demand ran headlong into the hamstrung supply chain and the beginnings of The Great Resignation.

Who took the brunt of the pressure to find solutions, meet numbers and soothe angry customers?

Your employees. They’ve been up against it all year, and it’s affecting them.

What are they not telling you? 

It’s stunning how quickly peoples’ sentiments can change and engagement can ebb. We see regular swings in the quarterly data we review. Even small things, such as a misstep by a manager or a team member who feels slighted, can drag down a team’s score. Larger shocks, such as a struggling departmental leader or a merger that’s a poor fit, can have exponentially larger negative effects on the larger team.

The pandemic has been a true black swan, a global economic and societal shock, and its knock-on effects are a gaggle of sooty little cygnets that are still out there, paddling around and causing additional ripples.

Don’t underestimate the ripple effect of the last year. Case in point: my own team.

A short survey I ran recently as a test surfaced issues I had no idea were present, and my team are, as you may imagine, no strangers to surveys. They’re not shy about feedback, either, and I’m so glad I surveyed them when I did and had the chance to follow up.

Even in the most open and engaged environments, anonymity plays an important role, ensuring leaders have access to their peoples’ candid and immeasurably valuable feedback. Our anonymous platform creates a safe space for employees to share their ideas and input.

Reconnecting your team isn’t hard

I know the last year (and the one before it) has been unrelenting. And I know that for many, the business has taken priority over the people, and the situation is becoming messy.

You can start to rebuild connections between your people and the business, and shore up culture and motivation, without incurring a load of new work. The key is to work in increments, which is precisely how we’ve structured our engagement framework.

Here’s how it works. 

Step 1: Survey your team and find out where they stand. Consider adding custom questions to address circumstances unique to your business or industry.

Step 2: Review the data and feedback. Notice what the team is telling you that you didn’t know. Removing uncertainty is one of the most important benefits of this exercise.

Step 3: Plan incremental changes. Select two or three things to act upon over the next 90 days. Set yourself up for success – this is a good time to pluck the low-hanging fruit. (And if improved leadership communication happens to be something you selected – here are some tips.)

Step 4: Communicate and commit. Share the high-level results with your team, including your engagement score, and if you wish, some noteworthy employee feedback. Tell them the areas the leadership team will be focusing upon over the next 90 days, and tell them you’ll send an update midway through.

Step 5: Take action and follow up. When you act upon team feedback, you will build trust and gratitude. Be sure to keep the team apprised of progress.

Step 6: Survey and repeat. As your leadership team and employees go through the process of doing the survey and acting upon the feedback, a number of things will happen:

  • Your team will become measurably more engaged
  • The quality of their feedback will improve, now they know it’s being considered and acted upon,
  • The business will benefit from the continuous improvements you’re making.

In case you’re thinking, ‘Hey, I thought he said this would be easy,’ please allow me to leave you with a few thoughts. First, the minimal effort is well worth the copious insights you will glean. Second, incremental changes are not difficult to make, and as those changes accrue, they can result in huge benefits to the business. Third and last, this is a time for courageous leadership if there ever was one, and that starts with a bloody good look in the mirror. As the saying goes, pain weighs ounces, regret weighs tonnes. Save yourself from costly regret and instead, listen to your employees, and see what they’re not telling you (yet.)