Over the course of two months, we talked to nearly 50 marketing, nonprofit, and HR leaders about their top priorities and biggest challenges for 2022. One of the recurring themes? Reimagining employee experience.

With the Great Resignation, the Big Quit, the Great Reshuffle (whatever you want to call it) in full swing, companies know that superior employee experience goes way beyond virtual happy hours and unlimited PTO. It’s about really understanding our people, what motivates them, what fuels them, and what keeps them engaged — and then applying data, emerging technologies, and new frameworks and methodologies to support them, just as we would with our customers.

As we rethink employee experience, we need to think about not only how we cultivate it, but also how we leverage data to measure it.

At SQA Group, we decided to think differently about how we were measuring employee engagement. As a disbursed team working flexible schedules, it wasn’t about who was in their seats beyond the 9-5, or attendance at team-building activities. We leveraged our KPI Finder methodology on ourselves and realized that, among other things, something we really wanted to focus on was building trust.

But how do you build trust within a team? And how do you measure the impact of your efforts?

Well, trust can’t be built without psychological safety, so that’s where we started.

There is a common misconception that psychological safety is equivalent to a safe, trigger-free environment where everything is celebrated. This definition is wholly inaccurate. The term was coined by Harvard Business School professor, Dr. Amy Edmonson. In her 2014 TEDx Talk, Building a Psychologically Safe Workplace, she defines it as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”

In a recent episode of the Anxious Achiever, Edmonson talks about psychological safety as “the belief that you can be yourself. You can speak up, ask for help, disagree with an idea, admit a mistake and you won’t be rejected or punished in some way. It’s an environment where your focus is on the task or on other people. Not on yourself. Not on how do I look? How am I coming up cross? Am I okay? Will I get rejected? It’s the opposite of social anxiety.”

Psychological safety became the foundation of our employee engagement strategy. In the BetterUp article, Why Psychological Safety at Work Matters, Dr. Jacinta Jimenez explains some of the benefits of psychological safety:

  • Enhances employee engagement
  • Fosters an inclusive workplace culture
  • Inspires creativity and ideas
  • Improves employee well-being
  • Creates brand ambassadors
  • Reduces employee turnover
  • Boosts team performance

Earlier this month my colleague, Emily McHugh, discussed a new initiative we introduced within our organization to start building psychological safety: User Manuals (read more about that here). But why this approach?

Related Reading: Do We Measure Employee Engagement Right?

A User Manual is a “How to Work with Me” guide and can be used as an important step in the process of building trust within teams and across the organization. In the TalentCulture article by Jason Treu, The Secret to Building Great Teams: Create User Manuals, he describes them as “a detailed instruction road map on individual preferences for areas such as communication, trust, and pet peeves. It sets clear expectations on how to interact without trying to guess or infer what the other person means. It allows people to be authentic without being misunderstood.”

Effective communication and deep understanding of each team member becomes even more paramount in our hybrid or remote setting.

We started by having each employee answer a series of questions covering a range of topics such as communication, collaboration, values, and feedback. Some of the questions were:

        What motivates you? What about the work you do keeps you energized and fulfilled? 

        What is your collaboration style? Do you need time to think about a problem before discussing it?

        What do you most value in others?

        How do you best receive feedback?

We then broke into small groups for an in-depth discussion. Teams were encouraged to enter the conversation with genuine curiosity. Every week, we rotated groups focusing on a different theme each week, providing an opportunity to dive deeper.

While we’re collecting new data specifically related to User Manuals and measuring their impact on our organization, I also asked a couple members of our team to share some of their thoughts on benefits of the exercise.

Nicole Enos, Technology Solutions Specialist, said, “The user manuals have been a great way to dive into deeper conversations than what we normally wouldn’t on a day-to-day basis. Being new to the organization and working remotely, it can be difficult to connect with others. I have enjoyed reading people’s manuals and seeing the similarities and differences between each of my colleagues.  If I am wondering how someone likes to collaborate or what their working style is – I can now refer to their user manual. Also, breaking out into small groups and talking to people that I don’t work super closely with every day has been amazing. I love getting to know more about people, discovering their values and their ‘why’ and this has been a great way to do that!”

Kate Naranjo, Executive Solutions Partner, said that User Manuals “take the guesswork out of connecting with team members as a new employee. Knowing what everyone’s communication style and preferences are, allows me to initiate more impactful and productive conversations to better do the work we do.”

Of course, for any new initiative to have a lasting impact on an organization, it has to become part of the regular vocabulary. It takes consistent effort to make it a part of daily interaction among peers and managers alike. Only when you continually incorporate the activity, does it begin to make a lasting change.

How are you measuring employee engagement in your company? What does it mean for your employees to be engaged and how are you measuring the impact of your initiatives? Want to learn more?  Shoot us an email!