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The power of conversation: filling in the blanks

If you base your decisions largely on “people dashboards”, you could be missing crucial information and opportunities to impact those with the strongest feelings.

4 Mar 2020 | 12 min read

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If knowledge is power, then nowadays it’s assumed that power lies with big data. The buzzword for the past few years, businesses big and small are cottoning on and adopting big data initiatives – and for good reason.

Now, big data is being used to give you the low-down on your workforce. Employee performance, staff benefits, absenteeism, the list goes on. And sure, this information can offer a sneak peek into staff satisfaction and engagement, but it can’t give you the whole story - it’s just an outline of the plot. To delve deeper into every chapter, including those unexpected twists and turns, you need to go beyond big data.

Take an average big firm (more than 50k employees). Reviewing employee feedback on Glassdoor, they will have many comments on the business’ work/life balance; some will consider it to be the best company benefit… others, a reason to leave. The “average” score could cancel both extremes out. Why the paradox? Because without a focus on the individual experience, you have no insight into how to move forward and address the problem.

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If you base your decisions largely on “people dashboards”, you could be missing crucial information and opportunities to impact those with the strongest feelings. Big data’s great for revealing overall trends but it can’t let you know what individuals are thinking at that moment and, more importantly, why? Those missing pages in the story are made up of the individual conversations between employees and managers, between colleagues, across your whole workforce. That’s what you need to be included in to complete and explain the story.

So, how can you use real dialogue to plug those knowledge gaps?

Get the ball rolling 

Say, like the firm mentioned above, you’ve analysed the information available and it’s raised a red flag. What should you do? In the first instance, simply ask. Conversations don’t just come out of nowhere, someone needs to start it – why not make that person you? But, make sure that this doesn’t come across as confrontational or that you’re asking leading questions.

If, for example, you’ve witnessed a rising trend in people being off sick, try asking everyone how they’re feeling about their workload and the current work environment. Even those who are not yet taking time off may have some issues or points they want to raise that they felt they couldn’t normally do otherwise.  

It could be that some people are feeling less engaged due to issues that run deeper. Recent research shows that British workers are still uncomfortable disclosing mental health issues or burnout, as nearly a quarter (23 percent) admit they would rather take an unexplained sick day than discuss their issues with their employers.

It’s OK to not know

There’s often a misconception in the workplace that managers need to constantly prove and demonstrate their knowledge. This can lead to outcomes already being decided in your mind before you’ve even walked into that meeting. 

Don’t be afraid to admit ‘you don’t know’ and certainly don’t make assumptions. These conversations are supposed to help surface what is really going on, not to confirm what you already think. 

Though some storylines can be predictable, you don’t know what could be bubbling underneath. You don’t want to be oblivious or ignore it, or assume you know the answer. Remember, it’s a dialogue, so speak with, not to.

Listen up!

So, hopefully you now know how your staff really feel. What next? That’s it, right? Wrong.

For us, the best stories are the ones that move you, make you think, change your behaviour or even, take action. So, act on those employee conversations, address the issues raised, feedback to staff and make changes. Don’t just sit on it. Knowledge is only power if you use it.

More importantly, don’t stop there. Ensure those conversations continue, providing employees with the means to ask questions and speak up about issues, no matter who they are or what’s worrying them. That’s the whole ethos behind Rungway.

It’s time to get the real story and to help your employees share theirs.


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