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What We Will Learn From 2020

by Todd Horton on November 12, 2020

Very soon we will be hearing the end of year lookbacks just as we do every year.  I think this year will be unlike any other.  In my opinion I think there will be a happy undertone to it bordering on giddy once we turn the calendar to 2021. Still we learned a great deal about employee engagement in 2020 which should lead to great benefits in future years.   

When I am talking to HR leaders on behalf of KangoGift I am hearing  a lot of survival stories like one might expect.  But I’m also hearing a lot of stories along the vein of, I never thought, I’ve learned something and X will help us down the road. 

I’d like to focus on a few that I think we should remember that we learned during the past year.  The most common areas of changed based learning that will help us in 2020 are: 

  • The need to increase engagement and positive reinforcement are more critical than ever and will only continue to grow
  • Data is your friend use it wisely
  • Step back, breathe and look at the big picture 

Let’s look into these ideas in greater detail:

The need to increase engagement and positive reinforcement--I’ll state the obvious just to get it out of the way.  2020 was a storm no one could have seen coming or prepared for.  It took employee engagement to new, unforeseeable realms.  We all had to redesign the very concept of employee engagement thanks to COVID. 

A case in point.  I was talking to a KangoGift customer and they were telling me how positive reinforcement was more important than ever.  Of course I said and they looked and me and said very directly, “no, more than EVER!:  The total elimination of face time and the virtual lock down removed most of the release valves for stress in the workplace. When you add in the extra stress caused by children having remote learning you have the ingredients for a perfect storm of stress. 

One piece of advice I shared with them is the advantage of talking.  Just take some time to reach out to your team on a one-to-one basis to let them know you’re there and give them a chance to share what’s going on professionally and personally. Talking is back, personal connecting is back and offering the small, simple and heartfelt recognition is back. 

Data is your friend but you need to use it wisely--One thing that has not changed according to the HR leaders I speak with is that everyone loves metrics.  If you can’t measure it then measure it.  If you can measure it then measure it twice. 

What we learned in 2020 is that reasonable metrics, created by conversations with the manager and then integrated into larger HR roles, are necessary now to understand at a moment’s notice the pulse of the employees. 

As we all know 2020 provided a shock to the system unlike any other.  So many people, feeling so many strong feelings, that we need to not only be in front of it, we need to be able to in a proactive fashion to deal with it. Managers needed to get an idea about what was going to happen by being able to quickly measure what is going on. 

Of course you need to know what to ask and the way to ask that is by asking specific questions.  Many of the HR leaders I work with are telling me the general how you are feeling questions are not relevant at all.  You need to ask the questions that will tell you exactly what you want to know.  They may need to be specific to a role or to a project or something similar. Once you ask these specific questions you can bring a multitude of tools to get the answers and insights you want. 

Step back, breath and look at the big picture--Believe it or not there will come a time when you need to worry about keeping good employees.  That moment in case you’re wondering is right now. You need to let your managers know to step back, take that deep breath they probably haven’t taken since early March and look at the bigger picture. 

The leaders I speak with all agree that it is more important than ever to let employees understand what is going on, how they are contributing and where they are in relation to the larger picture. Of course that’s always important, but it’s much important given this year’s chaos and uncertainty.  We have worked with a focus on everything but the big picture so now let’s plan ahead so we don’t drive off the cliff. 

As we look back on 2020 there are dozens upon dozens of lessons we think we can learn.  Still I’d like to leave with three that I hear, in different ways, that I think we should leave with:

  • As we interact more virtually, make time to be as human as possible. Take some time to speak personally with your teammates and managers, make sure to connect with your team members on a personal basis. 
  • Use data to your advantage and use it to build a stronger relationship with your team.  There are so many tools you have at your disposal.  Make sure to use them 
  • Keep sight on the bigger picture and make sure your teams see it as well. We’ve been keeping our heads down and plodding ahead.  Now is the perfect time to move forward with a full understanding of how we’re going to make it and what our role in making it will be. 

I don’t want to say it’s almost over but it is time to step up, take a breath and look around.  Stop thinking week to week, project to project and think more big picture stuff.  The first step on the return to normal is to picture what normal will look like.  Make sure you’re in a position to do that. 

I am sure all of us have been traumatized by 2020 in one way or another.  But now we can start trying to learn from what it has to offer. The tools are there, the leadership is there, what’s now is to bring that final human element into the mix to ensure we’re moving forward on the right path. 

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