October 28, 2017

People Engagement - smoke and mirrors

Original post from May 2013

We had an interesting People Engagement Focus group the other day. HR runs an annual Human Capital Assessment Survey that is web-based. Its quite boring, and and less than 50% of employees take the time to fill it out. This time, they did something different. About 10 of us were invited to a meeting with a Senior Executive (now called Managing Directors) and HR. They wanted to find out if we had any burning issues that needs addressing.

It was a 3 step process:

  • We were given four sticky notes. On each, we had to write any issue that we wanted to bring to HR's attention. One issue per sticky note, all anonymous. These were then stuck onto the glass wall. Issues that commonly came up were: no work/life balance, lack of training, etc. HR then went through all of them, and arranged them in lines, grouping similar related issues. E.g. all of the training related issues were in one line, while all the work/life balance in another line.
  • We were then given 4 color dots. These were to be used as voting coins. Each person got up and went up to the glass wall, and put a sticky dot on any issue that they wanted to vote up. You could use all 4 one one issue, or distribute in any way you wanted to. HR then went and counted the votes (sticky dots) per item group. E.g. training issues might have had 2 dots, while work/life balance had 20 dots. These were tallied up in Excel, and sorted by descending amount of votes. So the top voted issues were listed at the top.
  • Now we were given one more sticky page, and this time we had to write down a solution to a single issue. To quote "if you want to me fix one thing by the end of the financial year, tell me what I need to do to fix it"
    The Exec then replied to each of the 10 sticky notes, and we spoke about it in the group session.

As I drove home, I appreciated the technique that was used. They could have asked us to write down all the things that is wrong with the company, and then trying to address each of it in the group session - obviously you cant reach any substance this way - it will just turn into a shouting match. Rather, their technique focussed on narrowing down the issues to just four. Then by use voting on each, we would then highlight the most important. By doing this in a group session, the group would then be able to speak as one, as it were.
Then by sorting it by vote, we then just had a few issues listed on the screen, with the most important ones at the top. This even focusses it and funnels it more narrowly, ensuring that at the end, there are only a handfull of unique issues. This then becomes easier to action - HR go home feeling like champions, and we go home thinking they really care.

But I went home feeling....cheated. Like the math trick game, the outcome felt clearly pre-determined. Its like they knew what the issues were, and by letting us say it, we felt like it they understood us. It felt like it was all cleverly scripted, and we were all just acting it out.

I'm gonna use this on my kids!