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Level Up: Employee Engagement in the New Era

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When talking about historical events, we used to define timelines and situations as BC and AD. Since Covid arrived, our focus has shifted to the BP and AP eras (Before Pandemic and After Pandemic), and in the strategic HR market, this is certainly the case! As medical breakthroughs keep on coming, we’re slowly inching our way towards the After Pandemic era. So what is this moment in time starting to look like for company employees everywhere?

Our CEO Dimitri Boylan sat down with Molson Coors’ Chief People and Diversity Officer, Katie Pearce, in the context of Evanta’s Virtual CHRO Town Hall conversation. With a particular focus on the challenges these new eras have brought, both Dimitri and Katie shared some valuable insights on how companies have been tirelessly working to adapt, with a special focus on trying to boost employee engagement in the middle of a global pandemic.

Employee Engagement Through Onboarding

It all starts with the onboarding experience. A virtual working environment poses a challenge when trying to develop an onboarding plan that can somehow incorporate the social element without actually being in person. Can it be done?

Dimitri put a special focus on the subtleties of onboarding (i.e. in-person conversations at the coffee machine), which he says should not just be a checklist anymore. He suggests that when building bigger experiences and looking at the different dimensions, having a list of what’s important for each group and level of an organization can help companies be more aware of where to focus their efforts and leverage technology wisely.

Katie, based on what they’ve implemented in Molson Coors, highlighted that changes in onboarding plans can include building cohorts of people that’ll be able to have interactions throughout the onboarding process and shortening sessions into bite-sized chunks that adapt to the more realistic expectation of the attention span people now have.

Being in front of a computer all day leads to a decrease in attention spans. The so-called “zoom fatigue” element as well as daily life components such as kids, deliveries and even loud neighbors, can make employees lose focus fairly quickly. If you want to keep your new hires engaged and not overwhelm and tire them, keep it brief.

New hires are still excited to be joining the team, even though they’re doing so remotely. To keep that enthusiasm up, companies need to integrate the social and more informal elements previously present in the old in-person models, adapted to the current remote environment. That could be sending welcome packages, organizing virtual coffee breaks with their respective teammates and even having an impromptu appearance by the CEO.

As an example, Katie describes what they’ve done to adapt previous in-person onboarding events into a virtual onboarding experience that boosts employee engagement. Before, Molson Coors used to organize “from grain to glass” tours around the factory so new hires would be able to see each stage of beer brewing and have a holistic image of the entire process. Nowadays, one part of the virtual experience includes sending new hires a package with all the necessary ingredients to brew their own beer from home!

Maintaining the social elements of onboarding can help companies promote employee engagement and learn more about their new hires, their background and in turn, have a wide view of where the company is and where it’s going.

The Feedback Factor

Keep in mind every person that makes up the company is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all plan. According to Katie, for an onboarding strategy to work (and any company-wide plan for that matter), it’s necessary to collect employee feedback. That way, you can maximize your employee engagement efforts by learning first-hand from the people who go through these processes just exactly what’s great and what needs tweaking.

Employee feedback should always be generated through ongoing check-ins, maintaining a connection with the employees month to month, boosting engagement and not just letting them fend for themselves once the official onboarding process is done.

Employee Engagement Through Internal Mobility

With the impossibility of being able to hire externally in the face of hiring freezes and the rise of the gig economy, companies turned to growing their internal mobility strategies. As Dimitri said: It’s not just an internal career site; it’s gone beyond that. Based on what he’s seen happening in different organizations, he suggests companies need to take into account these issues:

  • Who should be moving
  • The politics involved in those moves
  • The workflows behind the approval mechanisms

Adding to this list, Katie has seen that leaders themselves have started conversations with individuals working in their teams and are now planning according to:

  • Growth behaviors
  • Succession mapping
  • Opportunities available for offer

Dimitri also mentioned that companies have started to interact with a new generation in the workforce that prioritizes internal mobility in their career paths and expects everything on the go. This is a cycle in which millennials and Gen Z have started working at organizations fresh out of school and full of new ideas that can’t always be met in their working environment, creating resistance and leading to turnover.

Like with onboarding, deploying an internal mobility plan requires conversation between everyone involved. Managers should be aware of an employee’s desire to move to a different area and everything should be set in place to allow for that, as well as to allow for said employee’s return if it doesn’t work out.

Basically, according to Dimitri, with the right workforce, liquidity and policy, companies can start building their internal mobility strategies. This can also include corporate alumni that they may want back. And how can companies find out who these former employees are and why they want them back? Dimitri suggested that, if you have a good performance management plan put in place, you’ll know who you want back and they’ll be able to hit the ground running once they return.

When deciding to move talent around, Katie mentions secondments have worked well for Molson Coors. Their program, which allows employees to move to a different area of the organization for a specific amount of time, gives them an opportunity to understand a new part of the business and the roles and opportunities it presents.

Complementing this kind of internal mobility program with a learning and development strategy that prepares employees for internal opportunities that they might want to take advantage of is a win-win for everyone involved. For employees, it’s a framework that allows them to advance in their own career paths and for organizations, they gain the benefits of an increasingly skilled workforce.

The Skills Factor

In order to know which employees are fit to fill internal vacancies, taking a look at skills in the workforce and how to acquire them is necessary nowadays.

In the context of skills, Dimitri highlighted the role AI can play in taking their strategy to the next level. AI is exceptional at making connections and relationships between huge amounts of data, which allows for predictions. Applying it to a skills matching strategy allows companies to better understand their skills gap and where to concentrate their efforts, without having to deal with the time it takes for any human to peruse through considerable amounts of information.

Another valuable point that Dimitri made is that companies need to add focus to their skills strategy. You don’t just want lots of skills, but rather a set of specific skills. And you need to have a clear remit so you can correctly leverage the technology that’ll help you find them. Driven by a company’s momentum, direction and the right technology, skills profiles can then shift in the way a company needs so they can be competitive.

An automatic benefit of generating a skills profile is the diversity aspect. Dimitri explained that this is because companies start to prioritize skills instead of personal preferences or opinions which can lead to bias.

To Conclude…

The pandemic has officially shut down the old model of workforce planning with a three to five-year timeline in mind. Instead, these plans are now deployed in months or less and the learning curve happens on the job. In order to succeed and sustain employee engagement, companies must be flexible and have the capability to adapt. It’s either sink or swim.

There’d be no employee engagement without a focus on employee feedback. Listening to employees about their journeys and experiences will help companies see the gaps they need to work on as well as tailor plans that fit employees’ needs and not just the company.

Isolation is a direct consequence companies, and HR in particular, have to also focus on. If you want your employees engaged, lending an ear and a helping hand is not just valuable, it’s necessary. Spending the entire day in their houses facing a computer screen certainly takes a toll on employees’ mental health. The time is now for HR to be more responsive to each individual in the company. After all, employees are much more than just pieces of a company’s puzzle: they’re humans.

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