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The one question your employees most want you to ask

Karen Mangia and Mack Fogelson Profile picture for user Karen Mangia and Mack Fogelson December 20, 2021
In the final part of this series from Salesforce, Karen Mangia and Mack Fogelson look at the future of work from the perspective of culture and choice - and the ultimate questions that lead to innovation.

Asking questions concept question marks © BlenderTimer - Pixabay
(© BlenderTimer - Pixabay)

Have you ever noticed how often we equate success with more? Whether that's more products, more profits, more activities or more accomplishments, we buy into the belief that we have to do more to have more to be more. And that will sum to success.

And then along comes the Great Resignation.

Behind the headlines is the heart of the story. Employees are sending their employers an urgent message that the "more" that's on offer — even if that's more pay, more PTO or more perks — isn't summing up to success for them.

Motivating employees to perform at their best is indeed about more. The question great organizations and great leaders are asking right now is:

More… of what?

The ultimate Employee Experience program — the one that results in high performing, engaged, loyal employees — is based on the answer to that simple, yet profound question.

More. Of. What matters.

Do you know what matters most to your employees? There's never been a greater need for understanding the answer to that question so that we don't lose sight of the humans — the employees — that we, as leaders, are here to serve.

We started our series — innovating into the future of work — with an exploration of the 4Ws Framework as a blueprint to guide your new organizational design. Then we discovered the master craftsmanship of relational leaders and how they create more inclusive organizations. Now, we'll reveal the tools every organization needs now to construct a future of work that works for both employers and employees.

I hear you.

A crisis forces us to pause. To prioritize. To rethink our surroundings and solutions so that we can find a way forward. How can we do that in a way that's going to lead us back to professional and organizational health so that we don't just survive — we thrive?


Listen to the people who can help you most. The people you lead and influence. The people across the organization with a different lens. The people with less authority, access, and privilege.

Pause. Turn down the noise. And tune in to the voices that will help us all progress into a more equitable, engaged future.

What data and diverse perspectives might you be missing? What's stopping you and your colleagues from getting what you need to succeed?

Healing and moving forward begins with listening — listening to your employees. Listening to the voices that are saying exactly what you need to hear — even if the messages are not what you hope to hear.

Everyone wants to feel seen and heard. Your employees want to know how to find success - hopefully inside of your organization. Coming out of a crisis — like a global pandemic — demands a new course of action. A plan for action that begins with revisiting the way you treat your employees.

What's your plan for listening and engaging your employees in a distributed environment? Is your employee listening program telling you what you need to know or what you need to hear?

Ownership is trust

The key for leadership success is understanding the role that culture plays in a distributed organization. "Culture is not perks," Laurel Farrer, remote work strategist remarks. "It's not a process. It's not proximity. Culture is personality. People are able to connect with that corporate personality, just as we click with individual personalities."

And you don't have to be in the same room with somebody in order to connect with them.

Most companies don't know what a connected culture looks like. As a result, many managers are scrambling to find their way. Trust is one of the first things that gets dismissed. Consider employers who install employee spyware or who require hourly check-ins as a starting point.

What might change in your relationships with your employees if your curiosity surfaced through conversations rather than through control tactics?

Employers need visibility into employees' output. That's not going to change. But how you empower that output is key to your entire organization's success.

How do managers learn to measure and trust in a distributed work world? Has your company had that conversation?

The effective distributed work culture needs crystal clear expectations about the outcomes every employee is expected to deliver. Clear outcomes that translate into observable, measurable behaviors and clear ownership. And inherent within ownership is trust.

We all feel greater ownership of what we help to create. And it is the responsibility of both the employer and the employee to create these conditions together. To set clear priorities and reasonable expectations. To distribute and redistribute workload. To reduce distractions and alleviate unnecessary stress. To allow for flexibility, autonomy, and choice. When we build this environment, we build the trust that allows us to do our best work.

How could you engage your employees to revisit expected outcomes? How could you redraw lines of ownership as a tool to signal greater trust?

The gift of choice

Consider the story of General Mills. The cereal maker was in a predicament in the fall of 2020. The pandemic was in full swing, and pulse surveys of the employees showed noticeable signs of fatigue. People were working overtime, forgetting about vacations, and morale was low. Human Resources monitored the situation, and the situation wasn't good. Leadership stepped in with a special offer: an extra day off.

That would increase well-being, right? That day off would help a burned-out workforce to recharge, right? Wrong.

The uptake on the paid time off (PTO) was low. After all, the leaders reasoned, maybe people saw taking time off as a lack of dedication, or something that they just couldn't do to their team. So the leaders cooked up something new. They decided to add one critical ingredient to the recipe.

In January 2021, General Mills rolled out the Gift of Choice program to their employees. The Gift of Choice provided what was missing — options.

Employees could now choose between a cash bonus, paid time off, or a donation to a favorite charity. 39% of respondents chose the dollars. But get this — when offered a choice, the number one choice was paid time off. Unbelievable! And yet, it's true: 59% of respondents took a day to decompress. The vast majority did what none would do — until they were offered a choice.

Providing choices is what opens up possibilities. Give people options and a chance to decide for themselves and see what kinds of results you can derive. The key is those options must be viewed as positive and favorable by your employees. The brain psychology at work here? Being offered an unexpected set of choices you view as unexpected, enticing, and favorable. And understanding those choices begins with deep listening.

Always look in the direction of mutual benefit. Because if someone has to suffer in order for you to win, you're not really winning.

How could choices lead to new chances in your organization? What options lead to flexibility, autonomy, and choice?

When it comes to the future of work, one size fits none. The organizational design that's built to last is constructed with deep listening, outcomes linked to ownership and trust, and the opportunity to find agency for yourself inside of choices.

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