Want to raise employee morale? Treat every day as an experiment

According to research from Deloitte, 78% of today’s business leaders report employee engagement and retention of talent as one of their top concerns.

Given that each organization has its own unique challenges and contingencies, there is no silver bullet and off-the-shelf solution to improving employee engagement overnight. What I suggest below is that managers can play an especially vital role in experimenting with new ideas and strategies, taking note of the results and pivoting when necessary.

Some people think that experiments are best left to scientists with large grants and expensive lab equipment.

These people are wrong. Experimentation is inherent in our DNA.

I learned from my dad that change and experimentation are constants and important. You have to keep trying new things. — Robson Walton (son of Sam Walton)

As a social scientist, I work with data for the majority of my day. So much so that it’s almost second nature for me to think of how I’d pull together data to answer a question that I hear on the news or am asked in conversation.

But, you don’t need to be an academic or scientist to run data experiments.

Every person, and especially every manager, has a laboratory right in front of them to experiment and test ideas that can help accelerate the organization forward.

Unfortunately, many organizations get stuck in a routine and change is hard to come by. And, managers have an especially important role in fighting this aversion to failure.

This is not new stuff. There are mountains of posts, even on Medium.com, about the power in changing habits and cultivating discipline in your routine. But, there’s a lot of empowerment when we realize how this applies to an organizational setting.

What’s Experimentation Look Like In Practice?

Let’s start with an example. I’ve had the opportunity to cultivate with PayScale.com, a frontier data science company that specializes in valuing human capital.

If you don’t know whether you’re paid fairly, go to their website and fill out a salary profile. Leveraging Adam Grant’s “give and take” model, you enter in information about your work and educational experience and PayScale uses their fancy algorithms to predict how much the marketplace values your skills.

PayScale had a clever idea of starting to ask questions about workplace practices among a subset of their salary profile takers in 2014. Do you feel you’re being paid in a fair and transparent way? How would you rate your development and training opportunities? And so on.

What began as an experiment for them turned into a wonderful academic collaboration that contributes towards thought leadership and better value for their clients. I partnered with them and proposed using their data to estimate how much employees are willing to pay for improvements in organizational practices (“corporate culture”).

While the details of my results merit a separate post, there are two key insights here.

First, PayScale had the intuition to deviate from their business-as-usual survey form and add in new questions that would shed light on what the workplace is like for thousands of employees. Adding these questions was essentially zero marginal cost for them.

Second, PayScale recognized the value in the information and how it can be used to increase value for their clients. Knowing how employees value different amenities allows them to offer more personalized consulting services to their clients.

Lessons Learned

What can you take away from this simple experience? Well, what are you going to do differently tomorrow?

  • Assess your landscape: Make a list of specific items in your organization that need improvement and star those that you serve as a touch point over. That is, on what issues do you have some direct influence over in your day-to-day responsibilities?
  • Dream: Devote 10 minutes just towards asking questions about each of the starred items. Why are they the way they are?
  • Plan: What small experiments can you run that would allow you to test your hypothesis about the origin of the problem in your stated organizational areas for improvement?
  • Partner: Identify other employees and/or managers in the organization who share a similar concern or worldview, and work with them to iterate on the hypothesis and enact small positive changes.

Following these simple steps as a guide post will not only help solve the problems you’ve identified, but also make you a more creative thinker and leader. As Anthony Moore has said, “the process is infinitely more valuable and important than the result.”

That’s because the result can be replicated, but the experience cannot.

The process is infinitely more valuable and important than the result. — Anthony Moore

Ultimately, change begins with you.

Even if your organization objectively has a lot of areas for improvement, those cannot be addressed until your heart is in a place of genuine service towards the organization and your colleagues.

While there are many places you can start, perhaps you can begin simply by greeting each person by name when you run into them in the morning. The point is simply that each day presents a new opportunity to experiment with new ideas so that we can add more value to our organization and the people we work and spend time with.