How did the project emerge?
After several years of higher-than-usual turnover and noticing that more recent hires made up most of the exodus, GDS Associates invited me to speak on the topic of generations.
As a result of the talk, the board and partner leadership team realized they needed to shift their culture to proactively appeal to their employees.
The first step they agreed to pursue was to implement their first-ever employee engagement survey.
GDS Associates is a 25-year old engineering consulting firm, serving the energy industry. Though headquartered in Atlanta, GA, they operate in multiple offices across the country, each tailored to their unique local needs and services.
The challenges they faced with pursuing Employee Engagement work:
- What to do with the feedback/focus on billable time – leaders not wanting to spend the time on culture building activities; risk of greater harm and mistrust if nothing would be done with the feedback
- Leadership collective with high individual partner autonomy origin story – each partner creates their own culture in their own department because each grew their business on their own; low “one GDS” culture at the outset
- Presumption that this is for the millennials and a millennial problem
Went far beyond the standard engagement data analysis provided by the survey company
Augmented HR, by adding analysis and insight capability they didn’t have
Unanticipated surprise regarding groups at-risk for turnover
Because it was data-driven, Launched a series transformative and exceptional cultural change work
GDS Associates hired DecisionWise to provide and deploy the engagement survey.
My role was to:
- Help design the survey and ensure those factors most important to younger generations were adequately evaluated in the question set
- Create and Conduct a data analysis strategy to determine who, from a demographic perspective, is contributing to any negative results, and why, what unmet opportunities those groups see for the organization
- Make sense and develop an overall narrative of core recommendations for GDS Associates’ next steps
- Introduce and enroll the board, the 25-partner leadership team, and the organization in the results and recommendations
Since all complex work is emergent, the outputs of this first step led to additional initiatives that we worked together on to grow GDS culture & engagement across three years:
- A Focus Group with Managers – This initiative deeply dove into the engagement needs of a crucial at-risk population – the level right before partners – that the survey showed were highly at risk for turnover
- A Second Employee Engagement Survey – Two years later we worked together to analyze the second round of the survey, tracking improvement and continuing to highlight opportunities
Part 1: First-Ever Employee Engagement Survey
If you’ve ever worked through an employee engagement process, you know that deploying the survey is only the first step and that the primary work lies in unearthing the insights from the dashboard results.
Typically, HR teams spend a majority of their time working with the vendor to craft the surv
ey and the communications to ensure the organization engages with the survey. Then, they rely on the vendor to provide the analysis.
Unfortunately, the analysis most often received is generic…and, after sharing generalities like the top 5 engaging and disengaging factors of the organization, ends up on the pro
verbial shelf, a report to be kept for posterity’s sake. It’s no surprise that simply communicating these type of generic results out doesn’t make employees feel like their feedback mattered.
The partner leading this project and the HR lead made a great decision, driven by the need for this to work to have meaning. They knew they needed better analysis than what the vendor could provide, and they wanted it from someone who knew their organization and their strategy.
My goal from the beginning was to tie everything back to what GDS ultimately wanted: to stop their turnover problem and more than that, create the possibility of an organization that attracts and retains future talent. Having a clear strategic anchor drove the work across the board:
- When working, I first made sure to understand the strategy and vision – even though it wasn’twritten down, but held in the board members and leadership team
- When working with DecisionWise, I used my expertise on generations to include specific question topics and phrases that target millennial/Gen z engagement and retention factors
- When reviewing the dashboard, I did a deep dive into all the demographics to build a clear narrative on who is most
at risk and who is contributing to the attrition potential. I did not go in with assumptions and only look at where we thought problem areas might be, I built a comprehensive plan and highlighted all and any areas of concern – even if unexpected.
- For those groups, I highlighted the initial direction for improvement but also clearly indicated what to investigate in those areas. I reviewed open ended comments to identify what needs more investigation
Part 2: In-Depth Manager Focus Group
Though new hires were at risk for attrition, the leadership team was especially concerned with the equally at-risk manager population. These were talented employees who had been cultivated over ten to twenty years and represented potential for the partner level.
Understanding why managers were at risk and more importantly, what GDS needed to change to retain this talent was a key imperative.
To do so, I designed a full-day summit with managers. My design philosophy included:
- Everything is an intervention – the act of inviting these managers together who never get together face to face would impact their engagement and show that GDS leadership is serious about making a difference
- Managers are co-creators of the culture – I didn’t go into it treating it like these are problem employees to be fixed. Rather, I wanted to enroll them as collaborators and creators of the GDS they — and others — would want to be a part of
- A strong belief in the wisdom of these individuals – That they would be able to elevate concrete insights in a short time that I could use to convince and compel the leadership of the changes needed to be made.
The end result was a powerful community-building and insight-elevating day with independent, small group, and big group activities and discussion.
Important and clearer ideas supported the initial themes seen in the survey and essential detail was added to the knowledge pool.
Part 3: Second Employee Engagement Survey
2 years later we returned for a second engagement survey and found incredible improvements and also reinforcements of the areas that were still unaddressed, continuing the buy-in to change GDS’ culture.
Again, in a typical employee engagement survey process, you tend to understand engagement in a point of time. Sure there are comparisons to previous years – but all of the juicy details, the underlying narrative is missing.
GDS reached out again to engage both in the more comprehensive analysis, but also to understand the narrative from the first survey to the second and what that meant for the culture strategy moving forward.
In this analysis, I shared:
- WHY investing in culture was worth it – we looked at the significant improvements GDS had made and strides through the initiatives they had implemented. Many skip this essential step and zero in on what’s still wrong. But leadership teams need a boost and need to know what they are doing is working – so does the organization.
- TAILORED RECOMMENDATIONS on what next – My expertise here transcended the static “point in time” and broad stroke vendor analysis. I focused on blending both grassroots employee needs and top down strategic vision to identify the most winning tactical initiatives to pursue next.
[Improvement results from second survey]