Not only is consumer confidence and trust rather low these days, we’re also serving customers in a new, distanced way. The usual reliance on facial expressions and body language to make a connection with a customer and build trust is often no longer available. And given the generalized anxiety that comes with a global pandemic, feelings of trust can be especially hard to come by these days.
A growing body of research on language use in service interactions can help. Please join our speakers, authors of “Speaking to Customers in Uncertain Times,” as they show how very specific word choices and language strategies can make all the difference in connecting with customers. They’ll give practical advice on “speaking terms” that lead to customer trust.
About the Authors
Grant Packard (@grantpackard) is an associate professor of marketing at the Schulich School of Business at York University. Sarah G. Moore is an associate professor of marketing and the Eric Geddes Professor of Business at the University of Alberta School of Business. Brent McFerran is the W.J. VanDusen Associate Professor of Marketing at the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University. Ally MacDonald (@allymacdonald) is a senior editor at MIT Sloan Management Review. She moderated the session.
1. H. Omer and N. Alon, “The Continuity Principle: A Unified Approach to Disaster and Trauma,” American Journal of Community Psychology 22, no. 2 (April 1994): 273-287.
2. A. Tversky and D. Kahneman, “Availability: A Heuristic for Judging Frequency and Probability,” Cognitive Psychology 5, no. 2 (September 1973): 207-232.
3. D. Kahneman and A. Tversky, “Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision Under Risk,” Econometrica 47, no. 2 (March 1979): 263-291; and A. Tversky and D. Kahneman, “The Framing of Decisions and the Psychology of Choice,” Science 211, no. 4481 (January 1981): 453-458.
4. Elsbeth Johnson has termed this the Drama Delusion, and it particularly affects leaders in larger and older companies. See E. Johnson, “The Four Delusions of Leadership,” Dialogue Review, May 15, 2020, https://dialoguereview.com.
5. “Virtual Health: Now You Can Get Medical Care From Your Home,” Hartford HealthCare, April 16, 2020.
6. N. El Hennawy, “COVID-19: Telehealth Businesses Set to Grow During Pandemic,” Zawya, June 9, 2020, www.zawya.com.
7. E. Johnson, “Step Up, Step Back: How to Really Deliver Strategic Change in Your Organization” (London: Bloomsbury Business, 2020).
8. L. Eisenstadt, “How Broad Institute Converted a Clinical Processing Lab Into a Large-Scale COVID-19 Testing Facility in a Matter of Days,” Broad Institute, March 27, 2020, www.broadinstitute.org.
9. R.L. Martin, “The Big Lie of Strategic Planning,” Harvard Business Review 92, no. 1-2 (January-February 2014): 78-84; and D. Sull, S. Turconi, C. Sull, et al., “Turning Strategy Into Results,” MIT Sloan Management Review 59, no. 3 (spring 2018): 9-20.
10. D. Rock, H. Grant, and J. Grey, “Diverse Teams Feel Less Comfortable — and That’s Why They Perform Better,” Harvard Business Review, Sept. 22, 2016, https://hbr.org.
11. P. Stokes, “Crossing Disciplines: A Constraint-Based Model of the Creative/Innovative Process,” The Journal of Product Innovation Management 31, no. 2 (October 2013): 247-258.
12. Johnson, “Step Up, Step Back.”
13. I.A. Hamilton, “Bill Gates Is Funding New Factories for Seven Potential Coronavirus Vaccines,” Business Insider, April 3, 2020, www.businessinsider.com.
14. “The Grand Challenge,” Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, accessed Aug. 27, 2020, www.darpa.mil.
15. T. Amabile and S.J. Kramer, “The Power of Small Wins,” Harvard Business Review 89, no. 5 (May 2011): 70-80.
Remote working is no short-term arrangement that will dissipate when society reopens — it’s here to stay. A fundamental paradigm shift solidified the moment that Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey encouraged employees to work from home forever. Influential companies, including Google, Facebook, and Square, followed suit — and as these early adopters move, so do the rest. A notable 88% of organizations worldwide now either encourage or require their employees to work from home, and they reap significant benefits from the arrangement. Freed from tedious and stressful commutes, employees have more time to work: Up to 400 additional hours per year per employee could be reallocated to their workdays, resulting in productivity improvements across 77% of the workforce.
Coupled with this productivity rise, however, is an alarming surge in monitoring to scrutinize employee activity. Workers have long been aware of managers tracking the content of their emails, social media accounts, meeting records, time sheets, and workspace utilization, but with working from home now widespread, the stakes are a lot higher.
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Once COVID-19 prompted unprecedented numbers of people to work from home, thousands of companies, including PwC, started panic-buying spy software dubbed “tattleware.” Sneek, for example, takes webcam pictures of employees as regularly as every minute and uploads them for senior leaders to scrutinize. Another system, InterGuard, takes pictures as often as every five seconds, all because bosses in the office-free world increasingly desire evidence — including screenshots, login times, and keystrokes — to ensure that their workforces are productive. Such scrutiny isn’t isolated to one sector, and white-collar workers aren’t the only quantified workforce. Long-haul truckers, for example, are being prescribed devices that monitor their location and vehicle speeds, supposedly to help schedule their sleeping and driving periods.1
This may sound like an Orwellian Big Brother arrangement, but it is in fact legal for organizations to scrutinize their workforces in this way, as long as they disclose that they’re doing it. Managers claim that these measures provide a valuable library of information to help them understand and improve organizational productivity.
However, many workers disagree, harboring concerns about privacy and security. Although designed to ensure productivity, surveillance tools may actually reduce it for those workers who don’t feel trusted by their employers.
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About the Authors
Ben Laker (@drbenlaker) is a professor of leadership at Henley Business School at the University of Reading. Will Godley (@willgodley) is a broadcast journalist who contributes to the BBC, Forbes, and Sky News. Charmi Patel is an associate professor of international human resource management at Henley Business School. David Cobb (@david_c_cobb) is a Bloomsbury author who serves as CEO of Oceanova Group.
1. K.E.C. Levy, “The Contexts of Control: Information, Power, and Truck-Driving Work,” The Information Society 31, no. 2 (2015): 160-174.
The much-vaunted 2019 public listing of Saudi Aramco set a record for the world’s biggest initial public offering. But it was likely a disappointing affair for its architect, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman: The stock saw only tepid demand outside the region. That it failed to gain the level of global enthusiasm and support he had been seeking was due in no small part to investor wariness of Aramco’s close ties to the Saudi regime and the country’s appalling record on human rights.
For example, the brutal killing in October 2018 of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Turkey prompted dozens of high-profile business leaders to withdraw that year from the country’s flagship investment summit, nicknamed “Davos in the Desert.” CEOs from JPMorgan Chase, BlackRock, Google, Uber, Siemens, and Glencore, as well as then International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde and World Bank president Jim Yong Kim, all boycotted the event. In recent years, the Saudi government has also been more broadly condemned for its harsh crackdowns on dissidents, activists, and independent clerics; its exploitation of migrant workers; and its unlawful airstrikes in Yemen.
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The extent to which corporations should react to human rights abuses by governments in their host and home countries has become one of the most dynamic and interdisciplinary discussions in the field of corporate responsibility. Corporations are increasingly expected to become more proactive in protecting human rights as private and public responsibilities blur and companies become more conscious of the expectations of a more socially aware investor base and workforce. And we believe that speaking out against human rights violations is the right thing to do on its own merits.
But once a company decides to take a stand, what can it do? Are the only options to carry on with business as usual or cut ties with a country completely?
Continuing with business as usual in countries where human rights are systematically abused raises obvious questions of company complicity with these human rights violations. As in other cases of passively standing by, the government engaging in the abuse might even feel encouraged when businesses fail to act decisively by either intervening or leaving the country altogether. But cutting ties with the country can be problematic as well. Lost revenues can cost both the company and people in that country: Employees lose jobs, much-needed services and products become unavailable, and the company abdicates potential influence in the country and over the perpetrators.
As business ethicists, we have developed conceptual and normative frameworks for how companies can deal with human rights issues. In our work and research with international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and with multinational companies that confront these questions, we have found a number of tactics — between the two extremes of standing by or cutting ties — that organizations can take to effectively address human rights abuses without abandoning all involvement (and revenue) in the region.
In 2010, for example, Microsoft became aware that Russian enforcement officers were using suspicion of software piracy as an excuse to raid the offices of NGOs critical of the government. Instead of ignoring the problem or removing its products from the Russian market entirely, Microsoft issued a blanket software license to nonprofit groups outside the U.S., effectively negating software piracy as an excuse for the Russian government’s nefarious actions.
When contemplating how to act in such a case, companies should first decide whether to work alone or in collaboration with other organizations. While Microsoft was able to act quickly on its own, smaller companies may find it more effective (if slower) to work collectively with other companies or in multistakeholder initiatives that can also involve NGOs and governments.
Once companies decide on the adoption of an individual or collective approach, they then need to decide whether addressing the issue directly or taking an indirect approach to influence the overall institutional context will gain greater or more sustained success. Six tactics fall under these direct and indirect strategies.
Inform. Provide background analyses, develop position papers, testify as expert witnesses, or even directly lobby for human rights.
After Khashoggi’s murder by the Saudi state, the CEO of German conglomerate Siemens publicly condemned the human rights violation, even making a reference to German history to illustrate what atrocities could happen if nobody spoke up.
In 2018, in collaboration with the Danish Institute for Human Rights, Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage company, further developed its human rights training program for employees, focusing on understanding human rights, human rights challenges, and practical solutions. The company claims that it has already trained 100,000 of its employees and aims to have all of its staff members trained by the end of 2020. Nestlé made the program public in the hope of inspiring other companies to follow suit.
Finance. Provide (or withdraw) financial support for politicians, interest groups, and companies. This includes measures such as divestment or cutting financial ties with nonaligned stakeholders.
The Norwegian pension fund GPFG (Government Pension Fund Global), for instance, has added a number of Israeli businesses to its list of excluded companies, arguing that they indirectly benefit from the breach of international law and human rights violations occurring through the occupation of Palestinian territories.
Reject.Refuse to participate in business meetings and summits, as several companies did with the 2018 Saudi Davos in the Desert summit.
Take on institutional development. Use company resources to provide and enhance human rights education, support the establishment or enforcement of well-ordered social and political institutions, encourage transparency, and safeguard a free press. This is an area in which partnering with other organizations can be particularly effective.
For example, in an attempt to modernize one country’s legal system and fight corruption, Norwegian oil company Statoil (now known as Equinor) committed to support a human rights training program for Venezuelan judges.
Sign on to standards. Sign up (and comply with) nonmandatory charters and commitments such as the United Nations Global Compact or the International Organization for Standardization’s ISO 26000. This tactic is particularly effective for industry associations and companies that are leaders in their field. These commitments might not amount to much in and of themselves, but they can translate into meaningful action under the pressure resulting from scrutiny by critical stakeholders such as NGOs, employees, or customers.
Raise standards. Develop new standards that supplement hard law. This can be one of the most effective tactics that organizations practice. By working collectively with other companies or stakeholders, companies can create ethical frameworks that define corporate behavior in regard to human rights violations.
Still, some situations call for more radical action, and the best decision could be discontinuing business in the relevant country. For example, Chase and other banks, alongside many other companies, refused to do business with apartheid South Africa. More recently, Google partially withdrew from China after refusing to provide the government with access to user data or regime-critical emails. Choosing this most drastic option has potentially severe consequences for both the company and the host country. Companies and their leaders should not make this decision lightly or on their own. After all, business managers are not experts in social issues, let alone in human rights. Responsible managers should include multiple stakeholders in the decision process — in this extreme instance and more generally — to determine which tactics to apply and whether to cut ties altogether.
The tactics we’ve described here are not limited to human rights issues and can be modified in response to other pressing concerns as well. These social and ecological agendas have evolved significantly in recent years, leading to today’s broad recognition that corporations can be a vehicle for the promotion and protection of human rights and environmental justice.
Choosing which approach and strategy to use will depend on the context and the impact your company wants to make. Instead of carrying on with business as usual in the face of clear evidence of human rights abuses — or in the context of the evolving climate crisis — business leaders can do something more positive and, in taking deliberate action, become a force for good.
We’re all suffering through difficult times that we did not anticipate and challenges that we were not prepared for. In the face of all that’s going on in the world, how do we survive? How do we push through the muck of current events and continue showing up for the people who need us most?
The answer to many of these questions lies in our capacity for resilience: the ability to bend in the face of a challenge and then bounce back. It is a reactive human condition that enables you to keep moving through life. Many of us live under the assumption that a healthy life is one in which we’re successfully balancing work, parenting, chores, hobbies, and relationships. But balance is a poor metaphor for health. Life is about motion. Life is movement. Everything healthy in nature is in motion. Thus, resilience describes our ability to continue moving, despite whatever life throws in our path. The question for us, of course, is what causes us to be able to bounce back and keep moving, what ingredients in our lives give us this strength, and how do we access them?
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Some aspects of resilience are trait-based; that is, some people will naturally have more resilience than others. (You only need to have two children to know the truth of this.) In this sense, resilience is like happiness: It appears that each of us has our own set point. If you have a high happiness set point, your happiness may wane and dip on bad days, but you will generally be happier than someone with a lower set point. Similarly, each person has his or her own resilience set point. If yours is relatively low, you will have a harder time bouncing back from challenges than, say, Aron Ralston, who got trapped while hiking in Utah and famously amputated his own arm to free himself.
How can you create for yourself — and for those you love and lead — a greater capacity for resilience, regardless of your initial set point? To answer this question, my team at the ADP Research Institute conducted three separate studies.
The first study experimented with many different sets of statements and asked respondents to rate how strongly they agreed or disagreed with each one. This helped us determine which statements had the strongest relationship to resilience-like outcomes such as increased engagement, reduced voluntary turnover, and fewer accidents on the job. From this study, we identified 10 statements that proved to be the most reliable for measuring resilience.
Second, we did a confirmatory analysis with a different sample of respondents to understand how these questions worked together and to validate the model we created from the first survey. Finally, we deployed our survey instrument to 26,000 people around the world to understand both the different levels and patterns of resilience in different countries. You can find the full results from the Workplace Resilience Study on the ADP Research Institute’s website.
In this article, we share the 10 most powerful resilience statements, what these questions reveal about the sources of resilience, and what can be done to create more of it.
The 10 Resilience Statements
Ten statements survived this rigorous analysis. Of course, we’re not suggesting that these are the only statements that measure resilience. But we do know that these statements, worded in precisely this way, prove reliable in measuring thoughts and feelings associated with resilience, and that as a group they demonstrate acceptable levels of content and construct validity. More research will need to be undertaken to establish their predictive validity.
Right off the bat, it’s clear that these statements all share two characteristics. First, each one contains only a single thought; survey statements containing multiple thoughts confuse respondents and generate “noisy” data. Second, these statements ask respondents to rate only their own feelings and experiences rather than somebody else’s attributes or qualities. This is because we humans are hopelessly unreliable raters of other people, capable of reporting only on our own subjective experiences.
At a deeper level, though, these statements pinpoint three sources of resilience. Statements 1 through 4 address employees’ own actions and mindsets, statements 5 through 7 address the actions of their team leader, and statements 8 through 10 address the actions of their organization’s senior leaders. It is this ecosystem of your own feelings, combined with how your team leader and your senior leaders behave, that creates your overall sense of resilience.
The statements also lead us to specific prescriptions for what senior leaders, team leaders, and individuals can do to increase their own and their organization’s levels of resilience, which we’ll explore from senior leadership down to individual contributors.
If you are a senior leader looking to build resilience in your teams (and teams of teams) within your organization, you’ll want to focus on two things: vivid foresight, as in statement 8, and visible follow-through, as in statements 9 and 10.
Vivid foresight. We — your employees — don’t expect senior leaders to predict the future, but we do need you to show us that you’re able to look around the corner and see a few things that you’re certain of. Situations and circumstances change, yet some things we can be sure of nonetheless. So, please, dear senior leaders, rally us around those certainties. Tell us who we will still be serving once we round that corner. Remind us what our competitive advantages will be in the near-term future. Reanchor the values that will hold true no matter what. The more vividly you can rally these certainties — in the form of stories you tell us, or heroes you point to, or examples from your own life — the more resilient we will be.
Visible follow-through. We don’t need grand pronouncements from you. We’re aware that during extraordinary times such as these, you can’t possibly know whether you’ll be able to deliver on these grand promises. Instead, find a few things you can absolutely commit to doing — what the organization will do for its customers in the near term, or what new piece of tech will be provided for a particular group of employees — and do them. Then shine a spotlight on them and show us how your commitments led to action. These small commitments may relate to only a small subset of employees rather than all employees, but it doesn’t matter who’s on the receiving end of these commitments of yours. What does matter is that we see you frequently making small commitments and then delivering on them. Do this again and again, and over time our trust in you will grow, and so will our sense of resilience — a little every day and a lot over time.
As a team leader, what exactly can you do to build resilience on your team? The three specifics we found can be distilled into two needs: anticipatory communication (statement 5) and psychological safety (statements 6 and 7).
Anticipatory communication. A significant body of research reveals that the single most powerful ritual shared by the most effective team leaders is a short weekly check-in with each person on the team. This check-in is a one-on-one conversation during which the team leader asks two simple questions: “What are your priorities this coming week?” and “How can I help?” No matter what their industry or level, those teams whose leaders discipline themselves to stick to this weekly check-in routine display significantly higher levels of performance and engagement and lower levels of voluntary turnover.
These weekly check-ins help each team member stay focused on the right priorities, which clearly drives engagement, but they also are an excellent way for a team leader to build resilience in the team. In each brief check-in, the conversation will naturally surface some details about the week to come. The two of you, while discussing priorities, can identify plans or processes that might need to change, gather the resources needed to get work done, and anticipate challenges that impact plans. In so doing, you will inevitably find yourself sharing things that the team member needs to know — before they even know they need to know it. And thus their resilience will grow.
Frequency of short interactions is the best response to times of dynamic change. These frequent interactions ensure that the two of you — team leader and team member — are engaging with, talking about, and making decisions in response to the real world as it actually is now, no matter how quickly it might be changing.
Psychological safety. At the start of this research, a link between risk and resilience was by no means inevitable or expected. But in statement 7, “I am encouraged to take risks,” you’ll see that one’s willingness to accept and even encourage risk-taking is a significant factor in how resilient one can feel. During difficult times, we all have to come up with new ways of getting work done. With a team leader who gives us the freedom to try new methods of collaborating, of working, of making things happen — when we feel that psychological safety — we feel more resilient.
To grow resilience on your team, be sure to emphasize that you fully expect team members to come up with new ways of doing things. Underscore that although some of these approaches will be more successful than others, you will always support people’s efforts to innovate and reinvent.
Lastly, what can you do to ensure that you, yourself, are as resilient as possible?
Agency. Statement 1, “I have all the freedom I need to decide how to get my work done,” includes a clear sentiment of agency. This pandemic has emphasized that we are more responsible than ever for making our own choices. We are all tasked with figuring out how to get work done amid this stress and strain — not to mention the many distracting implications of working from home. But the more choices you have about what work to get done and when to do it, the more resilient you will feel.
For example, having a stress and recovery pattern — often a ritual that defines the end of the workday — is essential to feeling resilient, but without a physical separation between home and the workplace, many of us have forsaken our stress-recovery patterns. If you are no longer going into an office to do your work, the natural break of home versus work no longer exists and is replaced instead with one long blur of work-family-home activity.
Although the blurred line between home and work can add layers of stress upon both domains, it can also free us to make our own choices about when to work. That choice is our agency. When we have that choice around our own stress-recovery pattern, we become more resilient. To build more resilience, then, become conscious of which decisions are under your control and determine the choices you can make. For many of us, the pandemic has shattered our rituals of stress and recovery — but this new reality also means that we have more choices about when, where, and how we do our work. We may not be able to share a morning coffee with coworkers or chat with our kid’s teacher at school drop-off, but we can, and we must, create new rituals that fit us during this time. We can walk around our neighborhood during lunchtime each day, start reading The Lord of the Rings out loud every night with our 14-year-old son, or learn to roller-skate at the local park.
Compartmentalization. The next skill you can build to increase your resilience lies with statements 2 and 4: “No matter what else is going on around me, I can stay focused on getting my work done” and “I always believe that things are going to work out for the best.” Those statements reflect how well you are able to compartmentalize.
Compartmentalization is an important cognitive discipline to maintain the sense that things will work out for the best, especially when many things in your life are not going well. The most resilient people seem to realize that life encompasses a number of different lanes, as in a swimming pool. Each swim lane — family, work, physical well-being — is important. Resilient people recognize that although they may be struggling in one swim lane, they’re still coasting along in others. To build resilience, when one thing is going poorly in a single aspect of your life, don’t let it undermine everything else that you have going for you.
Strengths in work. In statement 3, “In the last week, I have felt excited to work every day,” it’s clear that resilience is in part related to your ability to derive strength from your job. Although it may seem counterintuitive, you can actually gain more resilience through work than in spite of it. We each draw strength, love, and joy from very different activities, contexts, and people — one person might get a kick out of closing a sale, while another shies away from asking for the close; one person might love finding patterns in data, while another might be bored by data, lighting up only when it’s time to take action; one person gets a jolt from checking tasks off a list, while another shines only when responding to the emotional state of each teammate. Each of us draws strength from different activities. The most resilient people are able to look at the work that they do and determine which parts of it bring them strength.
Do you know which parts of your job bring you strength? Now would be an excellent time to dig in and learn. When you know which parts of your work strengthen you, pay attention to them. Focus on the activities and situations that bring you joy, because you’re going to need those reservoirs of strengths. Your job in life is to understand and increase the activities that bring you joy in work. You don’t need to fill your day with them — research by the Mayo Clinic suggests that spending merely 20% of your day on activities that you love can have strongly positive effects on your resilience — but you do need to identify which activities you enjoy and cultivate them as a part of your personal resilience ecosystem.1 Stay focused on the activities that strengthen you, and consciously draw their energy into your working life. Getting distracted is the enemy of resilience.
In these times, we could all use a bit (or a lot) more resilience. It is my sincerest hope that this research will help you to understand what causes and impacts it, what your team leader and senior leaders are accountable for, and most important, what you can do to cultivate resilience within yourself.
About the Author
Marcus Buckingham (@mwbuckingham) is a New York Times bestselling author, a global researcher, and head of ADP Research Institute — People + Performance.
1. K.D. Olson, “Physician Burnout — A Leading Indicator of Health System Performance?” Mayo Clinic Proceedings 92, no. 11 (November 2017): 1608-1611.