Human beings adapt to good events much faster than bad events. A bad experience can stick long in the memory. A bad meal can put you off a certain food for life. We can happily accept praise but be kept up at night by a passing criticism. This negativity bias is, unfortunately, hard-wired into us and can often sit at odds with the rose-coloured positivity bias we have when looking at our own actions. Leaders, then, need to suspend their own assumptions to better understand the lived experience of their employees. “This means being willing to surface the negative and have more honest conversations,” says Julie Chakraverty, Founder & CEO of Rungway. “You need to offer a genuine invitation for them to share what’s under the surface and really listen to the personal experience beneath.” Surfacing the negative, while a potential step-change for many, can play an important role in energising the workforce, generating many of the benefits long associated with high levels of engagement.
When The National Lottery provider, Camelot, named Andy Duncan as CEO in 2014 amid huge internal disruption, he encouraged employees to get used to feeling uncomfortable because ‘the best things can happen when people feel awkward.’ By introducing new initiatives including company-wide, quarterly All Together meetings in which leadership shared more information and took employee questions, Camelot saw employee engagement grow by 10 percent. “Transparency helps build trust, which enables you to have more honest, open conversations,’’ says Matt Stephens, Founder & CEO of employee engagement consultancy, Inpulse. “It can be a really virtuous circle. The problem is that many leaders don’t actually know the art of how to have honest, open conversations. They need to work on being active listeners, ask more open questions, and in that way will hold people in engaging conversations.” “Those that are leading in a very human-centred way are more likely to be more open with important information and sharing challenges with the workforce,” adds Ben Whitter, Founder & CEO at HEX Organisation and named among HR’s most influential individuals in 2021. “Doing so enables the co-creation of solutions, ideas, and outcomes with employees - and that’s a superpower. In order to become more, you need to share more.” Transparency - or, honesty - then goes hand-in hand with a positive employee experience. Very often, employees from diverse backgrounds are less likely to raise challenging questions, so the more comfortable senior executives feel sharing, the more trust will grow, and the stronger these positive relationships will become. This is reflected on the Rungway platform, where we can see that men post 88 per cent more questions challenging their company, compared to women.
“We live in a world where you can’t see the whites of everybody’s eyes all the time, so employees have to rely on other indicators to show them that they can trust the organisation,” says Hari Miller, Director of Corporate Communication and Events at St. James’s Place Wealth Management. “If you trust people enough within your organisation to be transparent with them, then levels of engagement and advocacy will go up.” Empathy is vital for transparent, two-way conversations that deal with difficult subjects. Yet, it too is susceptible to inherent personal biases. Leaders should make an effort to be accountable to their employees, working harder to surface the negative with all employees, even if it may be uncomfortable. “Rungway is a leveller. We give users the option of anonymity, which de-personalises the issue,” says Ms.Chakraverty. “This allows the negative to be surfaced in a way that isn’t personal, but professional. It’s constructive. And it’s really efficient because organisations can utilise prior conversations and create an advice bank of questions and answers to provide long-term, pre-emptive support for sensitive subjects.”
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