There’s No Crying in Baseball: 5 Steps to Increase Empathy in Your Organization

November 19, 2021 | 1496 Views

There’s No Crying in Baseball: 5 Steps to Increase Empathy in Your Organization

Matthew Brown

Chief People & Culture Officer | Schoox

The Employee Experience drives their Engagement. Engagement drives their Performance. Empathy is the cornerstone of Engagement. So, increasing Empathy in your organization is critical to moving the needle on the Employee Experience to achieve results.

Let’s understand each in turn, because Experience and Engagement are not interchangeable.

Employee Experience: The combined sum of experiences an employee has during the recruitment, employment, and post-employment phases of a job. This includes every single touchpoint that happens, including interactions with others and the policies, procedures, and processes one faces. It also includes the culture of the organization, the total rewards (pay, benefits), the physical environment, and the job itself.

The employee experience starts after the very first time they know who you are. A child comes into your restaurant, and their perception of you begins. A potential new hire does an online search and sees employee reviews, and their perception of you begins.

Engagement: The basic psychological needs that must be met in order to perform work well. In other words, making sure one has the tools and equipment to do the job to the best of their abilities. This definition might surprise you, but this is what Engagement is at its core.

Empathy: The understanding of what motivates employees, what they perceive as their purpose, and how they find meaning in their work. A decade ago, empathy basically meant to *be nice* and to show an active interest in the person, but it has evolved.

Designing the Employee Experience

Shifting our approach to Design Thinking is one of the ways we can intentionally craft the Employee Experience. Design Thinking is a process that focuses on the people we are creating for, and leads us to put the human being back in the center of everything.

Components of Design Thinking
1.    Empathy
2.    Problem Definition
3.    Ideation
4.    Prototyping
5.    Testing

At the core of Design Thinking is Empathy - getting actionable and knowing your questions, and asking those questions differently. Only when we do this, can we cycle through the other steps and make it an iterative process.

Building Empathy

In order to have Empathy, you have to have a high level of trust and a culture of vulnerability and acceptance within teams.

Components of Empathy
What do they…
Think & Feel
See & Hear
Say & Do
And…what are their Pains & Gains

5 Steps to Increase Empathy

1. Start With Surveys

Feedback creates continuous action. Believe me when I tell you that when you ask the right questions, your priorities change. Here are some types of surveys to employ:

• Learning Interest Survey – This is where you ask “What matters to you?” When we did this in our organization, on the first pass we got things like…”I am a salesperson, so I need sales training.” So we pushed it back out again, this time capitalizing the word YOU, and got back a bit more. Then, we pushed it back out a third time, asking “If work were not a limiting factor, what matters to you.” And, we started hearing things like “Gardening is how I recharge.”  From there, we understood what actually motivated them and invited them to have access to this at work by licensing personal development content. We launched a microlearning system that saw 96% adoption, and caused an explosion of consumption in all areas of work- and life-skill content. We are now formalizing this into a “DEAL (Drop Everything And Learn) Hour,” where they can spend one hour per week to drop everything and learn.  
• Employee Engagement Survey – This is where you can explore trust across departments.
• Employee Sentiment Survey – This is where you can take a weekly pulse in 30 seconds or less. A heat map, if you will, of how you are performing from a company culture perspective.

The one thing you cannot neglect is that when you ask questions, you have to be transparent and do follow-up communication. Employees need to know you heard and brought it to life.

2. Develop & Employ a Competencies Framework

What access as an L&D professional do you have to the company-provided job skills and competencies? Over 75% of the time, I hear, “I think he/she/they might have something??!!” This is one of the ways training can lead by example – understanding the skills necessary to be successful in our jobs, and creating a consistent initiative launch sequence and feedback loop about the behaviors we are trying to model.

3. Create Career Paths

This is where you set expectations for career progression. Realize that “up” may not matter. “Sideways” may not matter. What matters is the purpose and meaning. Create non-traditional pathways based on what is important to people from your surveys. Build internal Growth Profiles or Career Paths in alignment with employee feedback, skills, and the Competencies Frameworks.

4. Amass and Organize Content

Sure, we have to build content, but it is not just us building content alone anymore. Challenge yourself to look outside your organization and interpret the core concepts of off-the-shelf training into your organization. Likewise, don’t be afraid to tap into the hidden nuggets of knowledge of employees in your organization. When I worked for Chili’s we discovered a bartender who created a beautiful and professional video for an internal contest, and we were able to tap into that talent/skill to broaden our capabilities as a learning team while offering a way for the employee to bring that skill to work.

Using your robust content library, align it with continuous and personalized formal and informal L&D paths.

5. Solve for Technology

It may surprise you that Empathy is greatly affected by technology, however, a lot of negative Employee Experience issues are perpetuated by technology. For instance, if employees have 10 or more systems to log into, they’re surely frustrated and engagement goes down. Think about the entire ecosystem.

During the pandemic, we found that the Learning Management System (LMS) was one system that did not go away because it had purpose. Could your LMS drive the strategy behind your ecosystem? Perhaps your LMS could become the hub.

How many of us can say HR, L&D, and IT get along beautifully (functionally) in our organizations? Training leaders can and should be actively involved in driving these relationships, and making sure alignment is a top priority.

Bringing it Home to Training

“There’s no crying in baseball.” – Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), A League of Their Own
“But when we do, things get real, and things can change.” – Matthew Brown

Those who are unengaged are coming to our training with closed hearts and closed minds. It is up to us to ignite their passion and drive up engagement so they WANT to learn.

L&D has an unparalleled amount of influence because we have relationships with every employee. We can create a performance movement by helping our managers embrace the principles of Empathy.


End Note: Supporting Research

A recent Gallup survey told us that that only 30% of employees feel supported in their jobs, and only 40% feel that they have the opportunity to do their best every day.

An April 2021 a Harvard Business Review article said that to be successful, managers must lead with empathy. Gartner connected the dots between that study and theirs by finding that 85% of HR leaders in mid-sized companies said it was crucial show empathy. They then went further in documenting that managers who showed a high level of empathy have three times the impact on employees’ performance.

If 2020 taught us anything, it is that we have to introduce empathy into the workplace to move the needle on Engagement and the Employee Experience.


BONUS: Check out this 45 second clip of Matthew Brown describing the main takeaway with Conference Communications Director, Michele Lange, at CHART 100 Atlanta.

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