How to Lead When the Pace of Change Feels Relentless

BY Emily Nonko | November 05, 2021

Corporate America has arguably navigated more change and disruption in the past year and a half than it had in the previous decade–and the need for radical adaptation isn’t going away. As Harvard Business Review reported recently, increasing volatility, complexity and rapid change is becoming the expected state of things. That means companies need new ways to lead, mobilize their employee base, make decisions, and create solutions. The stakes are high and adoption can’t happen fast enough at a time when workers are quitting their jobs in droves.

Even though the pace of change has stepped up, there are solid strategies to prepare workplaces for the long term. Leaders can help employees be ready to adapt, even if they don’t know exactly what’s ahead. And workers can thrive in uncertainty, as opposed to simply surviving it. To understand how, From Day One spoke with Sarah Sheehan, co-founder and president of the coaching company Bravely; Homa Bahrami, an expert on organizational flexibility and senior lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business; and Sabina Nawaz, a CEO coach and former Microsoft HR leader. Their advice:

Train Managers to Be Vulnerable  

“At the beginning of the pandemic, I can’t tell you how many conversations I had about this inability to separate the personal from the professional,” said Sheehan. As the months moved forward, Bravely saw a 700% increase on coaching sessions about stress and burnout.

Given what employees have been through, the experts all agreed that leadership must be vulnerable, honest, and empathetic–as opposed to stand-offish, strict, or all-knowing. Said Sheehan: “Companies should be leaning into training their managers with vulnerability, making sure they’re not just focused on productivity.” Bahrami warned against management trying to calm workers with wishful platitudes. “I see some leaders try to pretend that everything will be fine and things will go back to normal, but that isn’t the truth,” she said. “You can say, ‘I don’t know,’ or ‘We’re exploring this.’”

Provide Frequent Updates and Communication

While leaders need to be honest and admit they don’t know what the future holds, they can step up by providing regular updates along the way. “You can say, ‘I don’t know how the future may unfold, but we’ll have a live town hall during the last Friday of every month and will give you regular updates,’” suggested Bahrami. Memos will be less effective than live spaces where employees can ask questions, express concerns, and engage with leadership on what the company knows and what it doesn’t.

Tap Into the Collective Intelligence

Every employee has faced distinct challenges and gained insights from navigating the pandemic. The key is to tap into those personalized insights to help inform company decisions–a bottom-up approach. Bahrami suggested tapping into employees’ sentiments and collective experiences by asking what worked, and what didn’t, as they’ve navigated their own personal transitions.

Bravely, for example, utilizes individual coaching to tap into employees’ unique experiences and goals within their companies; that feedback gives leadership a more nuanced understanding of their employee base. “While data is never attached to you, it’ll be aggregated with other data to start to identify themes and trends that are happening within the organization,” Sheehan said.

Nawaz recommended the adaptive leadership style developed by Harvard’s Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky. “One of the ways to move to adaptive thinking is to move away from an expert-based model,” she said. “In organizations it’s natural to look to people in positions of authority to provide us with protection, order and direction, but we cannot provide that in times of uncertainty, so we should look to answers within the collective.”

Offer Coaching for All

Coaching has traditionally been reserved for executive leadership teams. But it’s an effective tool to help employees navigate change once coaching becomes an equitable, individualized resource across the company, said Sheehan. “Resources like training or mentorship are usually prescriptive, but what about those times an employee is suffering from imposter syndrome or feels nervous about going into a meeting with their boss and asking for what they need to be successful?” All-access coaching provides a more flexible resource that’s driven by the needs of the employee. “Employees feel like they have an action plan, they feel positive about their situation, they’re more likely to go forward and address their needs,” Sheehan said.

Atomize Employee Workload

Companies have long relied on long-term business forecasts and annual performance reviews to help shape the future. “That’s just old thinking,” said Nawaz. “In a crisis, we are doing things day by day.” She suggests that companies atomize work, planning, budgeting, forecasting–just about everything–to help employees digest their responsibilities in smaller chunks. Companies can place a premium on short-term learning to inform the next step, which Nawaz characterizes as a “more experimental mindset.” Experiments in small steps, in the short term, reduce the risk of making larger errors and having to undo entrenched thinking.

Create Space for Change 

Change is exhausting. And when unpredictability keeps popping up in employee’s schedules, it can leave a workforce that feels like it’s perpetually behind. In that vein, Nawaz recommends that companies encourage all employees, from leadership down, “to create and save buffer space for change,” she said. Leaders can work with team members to understand how much of their workday is interrupted by the unexpected. From those learnings, employees can set aside blocks of time–maybe one free hour, a few days a week–as a container to hold that unexpected work.

Embark on ‘Discovery Missions’

Many employees are trained to identify the problem, the solution, and then move forward. Times of upheaval offer opportunity for what Nawaz called “discovery missions.” She defines this as taking time to broaden your perspective of the issue, investigate the perceived problem, and discuss potential paths forward. “Again, we’re dealing with uncertainty–we don’t know what the answer is and we’re wasting a lot of time when we quickly determine what the issue is.”

Bahrami stressed the importance of offering employees options as they navigate the future: “Let the employees participate in selecting the option that suits them, and make sure managers are fair, equitable, and consistent as they develop the options.”

Frame Change as an Opportunity 

“Change can be perceived either as a benefit or as a threat, a positive or a negative,” as Bahrami put it. “During transformational times, people can look at the glass half full, not half empty.” She recalled the abrupt switch to online teaching during the lockdown, which offered an opportunity for educators to learn about new ways of teaching and engaging with students online, and develop new capabilities in the process.

If change is framed as an opportunity, and employees are empowered to succeed and be honest about their needs, it’s the beginning of a strong framework to navigate the unknowable.

Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner who sponsored this story, Bravely. You can read more here about the company's philosophy of coaching.

Emily Nonko is a Brooklyn, NY-based reporter who writes about real estate, architecture, urbanism and design. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, Curbed and other publications.


Sharing Their Truths: Working Parents Reveal the Benefits That Matter Most

Each year, HR leaders ask themselves: What benefits do my employees want? And what will provide me the most ROI? But many are left without answers.In a recent survey of 2,000 working parents conducted by Ovia Health, 62% said that their employers are not family friendly enough.The need for family friendly benefits is clear. Additionally, 94% said family benefits are a top priority and 73% said they would consider making a lateral move to another organization that offered better benefits and a family-friendly culture.In a From Day One webinar, Corrinne Hobbs, general manager and vice president, employer market organization at Ovia Health, discussed the results of the survey. Hobbs offered insight on current benefits offerings, where more support is needed, and what matters most to employees. Family Benefits That Match Today’s Culture“Women’s health benefits are one of the fastest growing segments within healthcare,” Hobbs said.  This is due to changing circumstances during and post-pandemic as more and more workers experienced shifting work-life balance due to hybrid schedules. It’s also due to the increasing range of types of families that need to be accounted for as lifestyles become more diverse. In this current marketplace, “employees have more control and more power than they have had in the past,” said moderator Siobhan O’Connor, chief content officer at Atria Institute. Therefore, it’s even more critical that employers make sure these specific needs are being served.While most companies do offer some family benefits, Hobbs says, there is often a disconnect between perceived needs and actual needs of employees. “There’s a strong push for employees to have better fertility benefits in their workplace. And 38% of respondents said that they’re looking for their employer to provide alternate family planning support,” Hobbs said. This is especially true with more and more single by choice or LGBTQIA+ parents in the workforce, and an overall trend of people waiting until later in life to have children. Unfortunately, many workplaces do not offer benefits to cover the costs of these services, which can be exorbitant.Siobhan O'Connor of Atria Institute interviewed Corrinne Hobbs of Ovia Health during the webinar on family-friendly benefits (photo by From Day One)Incorporating these benefits helps build an overall inclusive corporate culture and can be a way to help retain senior level female employees. Additionally, 83% of respondents said that perimenopausal or menopausal symptoms affect their ability to work, but only 1% receive benefits to help with those symptoms, says Hobbs. In order to “make sure that whatever you’re providing is equitable and inclusive all around,” a diverse range of age and gender must also be factors incorporated into a comprehensive benefits plan.Providing Better Family BenefitsWith family benefits top of mind for employees, Hobbs says there is a clear way forward for organizations looking to provide better care. The most important, according to respondents, is family leave. Hobbs advises: “Make sure that it’s paid, that it’s for at least four months, that it’s inclusive to both parents and that you don’t have to dip into your sick leave or your PTO before taking leave. That is a stress factor for many.” And employers must account for alternate pathways to parenthood, such as adoption, which might entail different costs or timeframes, she says.Hobbs says employers should not only plan for parental leave, but also for parental return. One way to do this is by setting up a return-to-work program to make it easier for parents to re-enter the workforce, noting that it’s a smarter investment than having to endure the cost of hiring someone new. Gradual part-time schedules can ease the burden on stressed parents, as can accommodating PTO policies, flex time, and hybrid or work from home options.Additionally, managers need to be prepped on how to work with returning parents. “A manager training program to ensure a family friendly workplace and ensure that people are able to bring their full selves to work without fear of repercussions is critical,” Hobbs said. ERG support groups can also provide a sense of community support within the workplace.Incorporating Digital Healthcare and AdvocacyOvia Health uses predictive analytics to power millions of members’ care and engagement with their health. Such apps can help provide crucial education about health symptoms, Hobbs says. For example, 85% of respondents said they don’t know much about menopause and how it may affect their performance. Ovia can help fill that gap through online resources, and also provide peer support groups. “We have a community wall where people with uteruses can talk about symptoms together and really feel a sense of community and commonality with others who are going through some of the [same] things,” Hobbs said. Finally, Ovia can also match employees with proper treatment.Using health assessments and surveys, Ovia gets to know its users and can provide highly personalized information to current, expecting, or potential parents. Health alerts will pop up based on users’ reported symptoms, and the app even provides proactive healthcare outreach to guide users through any bumps on their fertility journey.“Digital solutions offer round the clock access, education, and opportunities to really delve deeper into topics,” Hobbs said. “And they also come with advocacy, helping you navigate and understand these complex situations.” The app accounts for a wide variety of families and lifestyles, helping employers provide better care to a diverse workforce. “We have 50+ personalized clinical pathways and programs to support women and families, and then we personalize the experience for each member based on the dynamic health assessments and digital symptom report,” Hobbs said, describing the data-driven service as “person-centered care.”Hobbs says that while women have increasingly reached the upper echelons of the corporate world in recent years, women’s participation in the labor market is currently at a 33-year low. Having a family-friendly workplace can help ensure talented women stay on. “It costs upwards of $75,000 to replace an employee,” Hobbs said. By offering a diverse suite of benefits companies can retain top talent, encourage a more diverse workforce, and save money in the process.Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, Ovia Health, for sponsoring this webinar. Katie Chambers is a freelance writer and award-winning communications executive with a lifelong commitment to supporting artists and advocating for inclusion. Her work has been seen in HuffPost and several printed essay collections, among others, and she has appeared on Cheddar News, iWomanTV, and CBS New York.

Katie Chambers | April 10, 2024

How to Measure Employee Engagement and Spot Disengagement

When we think about engagement, we think about all of the different ways that we track engagement consciously and subconsciously. In some ways, we track engagement by just realizing things, like who’s on camera during meetings online, who has a green dot next to their name, and who has a yellow dot next to their name. These are all of the different ways to subconsciously track engagement, but there are biases in each observation because context is key. Just because a person is off camera doesn’t mean they’re less engaged. They might be in a crowded spot or have a background that’s distracting, so they’ve elected to be off-camera. Or maybe their WiFi just isn’t as strong as it needs to be on that particular day.Regardless of the industry or nature of business, maintaining a high level of team productivity is crucial, and disengagement can be a significant obstacle. Learning to recognize the signs of employee disengagement early is key to preventing its negative impact. In a recent From Day One webinar led by ActivTrak colleagues, Gabriella Mauch, VP of Productivity Lab, and Javier Aldrete, SVP of product, the speakers discussed how boosting self-awareness and manager coaching can help address disengagement before employees check out.Gabriela Mauch, pictured, led the webinar alongside colleague Javier Aldrete (company photo)We’re making all these subconscious assumptions about engagement because we know that engagement leads to great results, says Mauch. But disengagement, on the flip side, leads to harmful attrition. As such, it’s important that we find better ways to track engagement so that we can drive to a healthy work environment. Mauch shares that only 23% of employees are fully engaged in their work, leaving over 75% of employees at risk of disengagement. This can cost organizations a significant amount of money, both from an attrition standpoint, a knowledge management standpoint, and the productivity they’re not necessarily getting out of their business. The benefit of addressing employee disengagement is the ability to get a better return on workforce investments. Organizations can see up to 40% improvement in employee churn and burnout rates, plus an opportunity to gain 15% to 25% in productivity when disengagement is addressed effectively, says Mauch. “So often, disengagement and quiet quitting is a function of that individual not being properly aligned to their work, not being properly coached by their manager, or not being properly guided by their leadership team,” said Mauch. It’s  important to learn how to use insights to better inform leaders, managers, and individuals to be more thoughtful about productivity and more engaged in the work being done. As such, it’s important to have measurable indicators into our work environment. This means understanding when we have individuals performing with low focus, low working hours, and perhaps very passive participation. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the individual doesn't want to be working. Instead, there’s an opportunity to coach and guide the employee to work the right way, on the right things, at the right time. Mauch encourages employers to be thoughtful about employee behavior as a helpful indicator of engagement. This means observing things like people coming into the office, badging in, and leaving two hours later merely to show their faces. This could be because while they are expected to be in office, they might actually be more productive at home. The final thing to note is whether or not employees are making the impact you expect them to be making. Here are some questions to ask: Are they putting in the productivity that you would expect? Are you getting the output that you expect to earn, and are you ultimately getting the revenue that you would expect? By collecting insights on an ongoing basis, you can gain a level of understanding of engagement on an ongoing basis. Additionally, leaders need to identify the factors that are contributing to employee disengagement and quiet quitting in their particular context, as well as invest in measures to improve them.Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, ActivTrak, for sponsoring this webinar. Keren's love for words saw her transition from a corporate employee into a freelance writer during the pandemic. When she is not at her desk whipping up compelling narratives and sipping on endless cups of coffee, you can find her curled up with a book, playing with her dog, or pottering about in the garden.

Keren Dinkin | April 09, 2024

The Gender Penalty: Addressing Workplace Inequity

Studies show that despite recent movements for equal pay, no significant gender pay gap has been made in the last two decades. Women are still earning less than men, with some variance as high as 22%.But the discrimination extends far beyond just the pay gap: from childbirth to menopause, women are also discriminated against for their life choices and in some cases, life stages, with  42% of working women reporting facing gender discrimination at their workplace.In a From Day One webinar, Lydia Dishman, senior editor of growth and engagement at Fast Company, moderated a discussion among women in roles of leadership on how to achieve equality in the workplace.Studies show that women are 41% more likely to experience toxic workplace culture than men, underlining the need for a culture revamp in companies.According to recent research, one in three working parents stated they lacked access to a reliable workplace lactation location. The disparity shows that offering solutions is far more than checking off boxes, Teresa Hopke, CEO of Talking Talent said.“Having a pumping room is a checkbox. So even if we check the box and we get the right rooms and accommodations for people, that’s not going to move the needle in the way that we need to in terms of the systemic change that needs to take place,” Hopke said.For change, both workers and leaders need to be actively working to create the shift that they need, Hopke says.Speakers from Talking Talent and KPMG joined moderated Lydia Dishman in a discussion about the role of gender in the workplace (photo by From Day One)“There is some hard work that organizations need to do to create the right culture with the right mindsets, behaviors, conditions, and structures that will support women as they advance through their careers,” Hopke said. “There is also work that women need to do to articulate their needs and not suffer in silence when the load gets too hard.”When asked about allyship, seventy-seven percent of white employees consider themselves allies to women of color. However, far fewer replied to actively participating in allyship, with only 39 percent stating they confront discrimination when they see it, and 21 percent stating they advocate for new opportunities for women of color.“If you are not taking any of those ally actions regularly, you’re not moving things forward in a positive way,” Marcee Harris Schwartz, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion at KPMG, said. “We have to think about how we activate allyship whether that’s taking someone under your wing who comes from a different background or experiences so that it has an impact.”When asked about biases at work, 83% of employees stated that the biases they experienced were subtle and indirect. In one work case, Renu Sachdeva, head of client solutions at Talking Talent, found this to be true.“We asked leaders to pick people to actively sponsor who belonged to these identity groups. And when the results came back in, we found a majority of them had selected white women, the next most selected group was men of color, and the least selected group was women of color,” Sachdeva said.The findings weren’t surprising, Sachdeva says. Research has found that white people demonstrate a clear bias for other white people, affecting workplace processes from hiring to promotion. Challenging biases is key to moving allyship in the right direction, Sachdeva said.“If you’re talking about the majority, corporate America is usually white men in most organizations, so the highest level of comfort tends to be with white women because there’s a relational aspect to it,” Sachdeva said. “But with intentionality, we need to consciously choose to connect with [different] people to mentor, sponsor or be an ally to because that’s usually the group that gets the most overlooked and left behind.”Editor’s note: From Day One thanks our partner, Talking Talent, for sponsoring this webinar.Wanly Chen is a writer and poet based in New York City.

Wanly Chen | April 08, 2024