We face a world of rapidly accelerating high-stake shifts in social change, technology, and business. As a result, more organizations have invested in people-focused engagement strategies to retain and develop their workforce through constant evolution. The modern strategy requires empathy around motivations, challenges, and diverse human experiences to be successful. In this blog, we look at empathy through Valorem Reply’s change management focus on the Future of Work and the Employee Experience to help organizations grow with change while continuing to show employees their value. Employees that feel appreciated, are recognized, given opportunities to enhance their skill set, and reap the benefits of the organization’s success are employees who continue to be successful.
If you’ve been tuned into discussions about future work trends, you’ll know firsthand that the word “empathy” has been in the spotlight for the last couple of years. During the week of September 13, 2020, the term “empathy” appeared in more Google searches than ever before, over two times more than the previous year. Defined as the ability to understand someone else’s feelings and experiences, this skill has been increasingly important in the world of work. The week of November 29, 2020, empathy hit a 15-year high for searches of business content on Google. Since then, summits and seminars for conscious culture and bringing empathy to the forefront of business have been steadily rising, indicating that business leaders are hungry enough for resources that they are investing more time, money, and thought into the topic than ever before. Even Google itself is putting empathy as a skill set necessary for leadership roles, discerning their team effectiveness by measuring the emotional intelligence of its leaders and whether their leaders are interested in other people’s problems.
One of the challenges facing the business world recently has been The Great Resignation. In current blogs and articles, the narrative is shifting slightly, now naming this trend The Great Realization. The Great Resignation is considered a symptom of the root cause, where employees are looking at the nature of their work. The nature of work includes employee experiences, company programs, how groups operate, work-life balance, the collaborative tech available, and much more. In 2021 47.8 million workers quit their jobs, an average of nearly 4 million each month. (SHRM, 2022) It was a reckoning for the world of business where companies who had invested in an empathetic people-focused strategy showed greater resilience in the face of this global trend.
Types of Empathy
We must understand empathy at its various levels before we can apply it to our business and change adoption practices. On your journey to being more emotionally intelligent, you must embrace what you don’t know. That is the crucial difference between empathy and sympathy, which have distinct meanings and are too often confused with one another. Sympathy involves understanding a situation from your perspective, while empathy is understanding a situation from someone else’s perspective. Even within empathy, there are different levels of understanding that can be applied to organizational and interpersonal challenges.
• Cognitive empathy is the most foundational form of empathy. It’s generally how we tell others to be empathetic; put yourself in their shoes.
• Emotional empathy expands upon this purely logical sense of understanding by finding a similar situation and bringing those feelings from your situation to the forefront.
• Compassionate empathy is not only understanding the other person’s situation and feelings but asking how you can help.
You can think of these types of empathy as a staircase to action; we understand others, we feel with others, and then we ask how can we help.
The Value of Empathy
Though task-oriented skills like monitoring, planning, controlling, and commanding performance or “making the numbers” are important, understanding, caring, and developing others are just as vital, if not more so, particularly in today’s workforce. (Gentry, Weber, & Sadri, 2011) Empathy is not just a trending word but rather a movement that is being woven into successful businesses. 84% of CEOs and 70% of employees believe empathy drives better business outcomes. (Business Solver, 2021) The marketing field has picked up on the value of connecting with consumers, making empathy a central theme in some of the most successful brand outreaches. Take, for example, Dove’s 2004 Real Beauty campaign. The campaign challenged conventional beauty standards and resonated with their audience. The idea was sparked from a survey of 3,000 women in 10 different countries, that found only two percent actually considered themselves beautiful. Dove saw an opportunity to address the common insecurities with empathy rather than continue the same marketing that the beauty industry pushed. They knew that showing how unrealistic some beauty standards are, showed empathy towards their consumers. The campaign was an enormous success jumping their sales from $2.5 to $4 billion in the first ten years of the campaign and gaining Dove several awards. This one campaign shows the impact of empathy on tangible business outcomes. By being people-centric and embedding empathy as a pillar in any change campaign, successful change can happen.
Change Management & Hybrid Work
We’ll examine a common scenario through the eyes of an average people manager: the hybrid work model. We’ll go over the scenario with a company that does not plan on embedding change management with empathetic communication and best practice into the change initiative and then one that does to illustrate different outcomes.
Hybrid Work Without Change Management
Let’s say you lead a varied team. Everyone is responding differently to the shift to hybrid work, with some of your reports indicating that they are uncertain about what the transition looks like and what it will mean for them. As their leader, you are communicating what you know to the best of your abilities. It is a daunting task for any manager, even with the proper resources. Some of your reports are able to come into the office on the same days, but some are not. One of the biggest challenges with the hybrid workforce is navigating communication between virtual and in-office colleagues. Remote employees’ common complaint is a lack of inclusion and engagement with those in the office. The organization has yet to put together best practices, but your team has worked together to create your own that continues to morph as the hybrid model rolls out. The hybrid workforce unfolds with resistance, confusion, and potentially retention issues because of a lack of change management integrated into this initiative and a lack of empathetic communication from the top down.
Now let’s look at a hybrid workforce rollout with change management incorporated from the very beginning.
Hybrid Work With Change Management
The organization has set up a project team that includes change management to help employees transition to hybrid work. A communication plan is set up to introduce information to employees, people managers, and other custom audiences based on the impact of the upcoming shift. Talking points are given to all people managers on the reasoning for the hybrid workforce, emphasizing the “why” behind the change — namely, how the change will remove any problems in the organization’s tools or processes that act as barriers to success. The change management team recognizes people managers as critical to the success of any change initiative. The research shows that most employees prefer to receive personal messages about changes directly from their managers, who are well-positioned to help employees move through their individual journeys. (Prosci Thought Leadership Articles, 2022) Now, when you have one-on-ones with your team, you have information to help manage the challenge of resistance and clear up any confusion. The change management and project team use an empathy-first approach and actively listen to your employees’ pain points. They assure them with communications and training that there is a plan of action for hybrid work to maintain engagement from all employees and ensure that everyone feels included, whether from home or the office. The project team has set up best practices for the return and has been transparent in their communications of this rollout. This results in employees understanding the why for the change, receiving empathetic communication, and the company having processes and regulations around this change. These pieces together create a successful hybrid rollout with employee satisfaction and retention.
It can be hard to focus on both the performance of a company and simultaneously on being an empathetic business. The changes you roll out should serve your people and the business in equal measure. (Seeley, 2021) One of the main challenges in change is the unknown, similar to how one must embrace the unknown in order to be empathetic. Whether a small change or a large one, like hybrid work, people are often afraid of what they do not know or understand. Change management delivers value by meeting people where they are today and using empathy to help build a common ground upon which a team can understand others’ perspectives, gain trust, and move forward together into the unknown. We know that people are at the core of every change and that the pain points we experience when adopting new things all stem from a lack of focus on the human experience. Because of this, change management has an empathetic mindset when putting people first.
Valorem Reply specializes in not just finding the right technology for your unique needs and environment, but also integrating the people and process change needed to ensure success and maximum return on digital investments. If you are considering new solutions or processes for your frontline staff and want to learn more about what a change management journey might look like for you, email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation with one of our change management experts.