General Motors CEO Mary Barra did not need to ask her employees if they should pivot their assembly plants to make ventilators to help with the shortage. Unilever and Coca Cola did not need a poll to decide to pull their social media advertising budgets because of continued hate speech and misinformation on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. They just did it.
Welcome to the new world of business. It’s been building for years, but the convergence of the earth-shattering crises we face today across the globe simultaneously – the coronavirus pandemic, the economic shutdown, massive social justice protests, and climate change – has forced a nearly instantaneous shift.

Add the power of social media, the rise in employee activism (especially of Millennials with their market dominance and laser focus on values-driven business), and you see that employers across sectors must adapt. Now.

Employers must treat their employees well – during these current crises and beyond – and must step up to help and heal. It’s good for the bottom line too, as I wrote about in the early stages of the pandemic and economic crisis. The racial justice protests that have swept the streets and culture since only make it more critical to walk the talk – and to prove it.

How do you know what’s working? Who is leading who now?

The millions of employees laid off or working from home in the face of these crises are rethinking their careers and what they want from their employers. Remembering how millions of people changed career paths after 9-11, so too will millions likely do in this paradigm shift.

Even in high unemployment (which is likely to shrink substantially post-pandemic), employee retention and engagement matters. Today more than ever, retention relies on aligning values, transparency and measurable social responsibility.

How can you tell if you’re aligned? How can you tell what your employees care about?

Companies have been relying on Big Data for vectors of how well they are doing for decades. However, as Anne Bahr Thompson, branding guru and author of Do Good: Embracing Brand Citizenship to Fuel Both Purpose and Profit, told me on my podcast, “Big Data has become a game and corporations are forced to play it but they can also use it as a tool to find out where their strengths and weaknesses are….There’s much more risk in what employees do to the company’s reputation – there’s a pivot point to being a brand that people perceive as providing value.” Her firm’s Culture Q research found that employees, customers and all stakeholders “unequivocally are demanding more value, more…social good,” as she wrote in her book.

There are a variety of assessments, yes, Big Data tools, to help you tune in to employees. Based on behavioral science, machine learning and natural language processing, employers have been using these for decades to identify employees’ and potential employees’ “fit” and leadership potential. You’ve probably taken or heard of Meyers-Briggs and DISC, for example. Whether they reflect who you are is up for debate. I like them because they give more “objective” information about ourselves, increasing self-awareness, even if we disagree with parts of them.

A few other assessments I’ve taken are intriguing and useful for both leaders and employees as we navigate this rapid economic shift. The Reiss Motivational Profile has been helping professional sports teams and corporations identify top performers, potential top performers and how to drive peak performance. It focuses on what the founder, Dr. Steven Reiss defined as in his book as, “The 16 Basic Desires That Motivate Our Actions and Define Our Personalities.”

The Passion Profiler, discussed in the creator, Alaina Love’s book, The Purpose-Linked Organization, identifies the purpose you fill in an organization or the economy, which can be expressed in many different roles and careers. It’s “based on the notion that an individual’s purpose functions as the primary catalyst for igniting passion. Passion in turn, operates as the intrinsic attribute which informs and influences your overall approach to work, and indeed life,” according to the introduction to the profile analysis I received. (I interviewed Love on my podcast a while back.)

A new one relates “kindness” to employee performance and corporate culture

The Kind Quiz, by the young data analytics company Summery, focuses on how employees express “kindness,” its Founder and CEO, Erin Michelson told me in an interview recently (no direct relation).

“Kindness can be an amalgamation of lots of different behaviors,” and their methodology represents a combination of about 98,000 different kindness characteristics, she said.  To identify how their company and university culture aligns with their employees’ values, she told me they are using Summery’s Net Culture Score. It overlaps the employees’ Kind Quiz results with Summery’s analysis of “the aspirational values of an organization…(based on) publicly available data,” including earnings reports, job descriptions, sustainability reports and mission and values statements.

But… it’s what you do that matters.

Whether companies use assessments or leadership instincts, it’s clear that employees and all their stakeholders are listening and watching – and responding.

“Brands that have influence and contribute something meaningful, change how we do things, or even how we see the world,” Thompson wrote, “Those that engage us and invite us to collaborate with them involve us on an emotional level, are more likely to mirror our values and thereby cultivate more faithful relationships.”

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