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On Dec. 14, five human resources and operations experts discussed how to keep teams productive, motivated and happy during the challenge and change of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They offered insights about building a strong organizational culture when employees work from remote locations and measuring success in ways beyond paycheck size.

This event, moderated by Kimberly Svoboda, founder of Aspiration Catalyst, was one of the Exec Club’s Professional Services & Talent Development Forums.

“The Great Resignation is real and here, but what we’re really focused on is the future, the Great Revitalization, and what we can do to be poised to come out of the pandemic.”

—Andy Katzman, Vice President, People, Uptake

Leaders knew they would face challenges when workforces shifted to operating remotely. Companies adapted quickly because teams knew each other. Now, with turnover, cultural bonds are tougher to build and maintain.

“Being face-to-face, research says, creates about 25% more serendipitous interactions, and those serendipitous interactions tend to drive innovation and creation of new ideas. … So we’ve got to find different ways to approximate or replace that.”

—Kim Curley, Vice President, Workforce Readiness Consulting, NTT DATA Services

Engaging with employees begins with a commitment to communicate frequently about the work and mission. Employees need to feel a sense of purpose and understand where they fit in.

“In the absence of information, our brains go negative. So if we’re not communicating, then people often will go to the dark side. They’ll think the worst, and so it’s really important that we stay in front of them at all times.”

—Kimberly Svoboda, Founder, Aspiration Catalyst

“Employees have always wanted to feel included in everything. They always wanted to have a sense of purpose. They always wanted to feel trusted. They’ve always wanted clarity and transparency and they’ve always wanted opportunities to learn and collaborate. Now this is at the forefront of everything that we’re doing.”

—Andy Katzman, Vice President, People, Uptake

Developing the employee’s sense of purpose is a key responsibility. Research shows worker performance and productivity are linked to two motivations: intrinsic motivation (what an individual gets out of the job) and pro-social motivation (how an individual’s work benefits others). Both needs must be addressed.

“If we only have intrinsic motivation, or pro-social motivation, it’s not sufficient to drive the highest performance, persistence and productivity. …So it’s really important for leaders and companies to exist beyond just a revenue purpose. The workload could be the same workload, but if you feel driven by purpose, it feels like less of a workload because there’s enjoyment.”

—Felicia Joy, Executive Vice President and U.S. Head of Behavioral Science, Edelman

Edelman research shows that employees are now the group that contributes most to a company’s long-term success, even ahead of customers, clients and shareholders, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. This helps explain the Great Resignation: employees will vote with their feet if they don’t feel valued. One in five employees say they have left their job in the last six months or will in the next six months.

“Those who are leaving — those one in five — they want shared values and a better lifestyle more than higher pay.”

—Elena Grotto, Executive Vice President and Group Head of Business Transformation, Edelman

Ideas about how to care for employees have changed because of the pandemic. Work culture, life-work balance and mindfulness by leadership are now intertwined.

“At Uptake, every employee has an hour block on their calendar called the ‘re-power hour.’ That is your hour to walk your dog, take a nap, go to the gym. … I tell my team I’m not going to define work-life balance. You need to define what work-life balance means for you, and we will figure out how to get the work done together.”

—Andy Katzman, Vice President, People, Uptake

“(Something) I’ve been doing with my team and clients is a ‘walk and talk,’ because we get stuck on Zoom all day. So let’s do a walk and talk for our next one-on-one. Grab your dog, let’s go walk together.”

—Kimberly Svoboda, Founder, Aspiration Catalyst

Organizations can’t leave how their culture develops to chance.  They need to align the culture to their business strategy and then make sure the behaviors of leaders and employees reflect the values being promoted.

“Culture will happen automatically. If you want to actually manage culture in a strategic way, make it a strategic asset. Align it to the strategy you have, so first get clear about ‘What are we trying to accomplish as a business? What are our values as a business?’”

—Felicia Joy, Executive Vice President and U.S. Head of Behavioral Science, Edelman

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