From dissonance to resonance

Many modern organizations still fall flat on employee engagement and struggle with poor retention rates. HRDC spoke to Ultimate Software’s Cecile Alper-Leroux to find out what companies need to do differently

From dissonance to resonance

Cecile Alper-Leroux’s book, From Dissonance to Resonance: Bringing Your People and Organization into Sync, is available now

MOST COMPANIES today have submitted to the tech revolution and have invested heavily in their software and digital capabilities – but have they done the same with their people strategy? Organizational leaders need to understand that employee expectations have changed significantly over the past decade; those that fail to grasp this face the impending reality of having a disengaged, disenfranchised workforce.

According to Cecile Alper-Leroux, vice-president of human capital management innovation at Ultimate Software, one mistake many organizations still make today is surveying employees only once a year or every two years.

Another mistake is not taking stock of how much younger generations have influenced every aspect of the modern workplace. “I’m a gen x-er and my husband is barely a baby boomer, but now we want the same benefits, perks and workplace options as millennials, and we want them because we see them at work,” Alper-Leroux says. “Just because I didn’t ask for those things when I was growing up doesn’t mean I’m not interested in them today.”

Organizations are out of sync with the expectations and desires of the 21st-century workforce in several ways, Alper-Leroux says. 

One is the way they define leadership. The traditional view is that leadership lies in a person’s presence or appearance. However, more modern thinking suggests that true leadership lies in motivating people to come together to meet shared objectives; a leader in 2019 needs more than presence to engender trust and loyalty among workers. 

Organizations are also out of sync in terms of having women in leadership positions. A recent study found that women tend to possess 17 out of 20 modern leadership qualities, but only 20% of leaders in most organizations today are women.

Another way some organizations are out of sync is through their one-size-fits-all approach to employee engagement. Hosting a team karaoke event, for instance, could alienate introverts, who may find the experience a total nightmare. For individuals on the autism spectrum, being in a meeting might also be a stressful scenario. But having a different preference doesn’t mean they aren’t valuable team members. When developing an engagement plan, Alper-Leroux says, organizational leaders should always take into account their employees’ differences. 

These examples are the manifestations of what she describes as dissonance in the workplace, something she explores in great detail in her recently published book, From Dissonance to Resonance: Bringing Your People and Organization into Sync. The book is based on Alper-Leroux’s conversations with HR professionals, employees, people attending presentations and even her children about how things are changing.

“The answers I got in the conversations – I felt it was something that others would probably benefit from,” she says. “That’s why I felt like I needed to turn these conversations into a narrative, and then eventually it pushed my thinking into coming up with possible solutions also.”

Ambitious leaders shouldn’t allow the slow flow of dissonance to prevail in their companies, but instead should implement practices that support employee resonance. When there is resonance in the workplace, people feel they can be themselves and speak without any repercussions. 

“You know when you had a good meeting or conversation with someone? It just feels comfortable, you’re motivated, you want to be able to do more, and you can innovate without fear,” Alper-Leroux explains. “Resonance in the workplace manifests itself that way, and it comes from being able to be yourself, being able to speak and be heard. The result is greater than the sum of what an individual could do and an organization could produce.” 

When employees feel a sense of resonance with their work and their employers, they will also experience safety and security. Employees’ top priority is to be able to control their destiny in the workplace, Alper-Leroux says, but few people feel they can achieve that. Aside from a feeling of safety, resonance will also make employees feel that they’re supported in preparing for the future of work.

“There’s a lot of fear because of automation taking over their job, but if an organization is resonant, then the organization is working collaboratively with employees to prepare them for the future of work,” Alper-Leroux says.

Having true resonance in the workplace is not only beneficial to employees; the organization will also benefit. They will have more loyal customers (because employees are taking care of them) and happier employees, which creates an environment that attracts top talent.

To create the building blocks of resonance, the first thing organizational leaders need to do is listen to their employees. “Listening to employees means not just asking them a question and getting a response that they think you want; there has to be a level of ‘there won’t be repercussions; we’re going to listen and take action,’” Alper-Leroux explains.

The next step is to build transparency into the organization’s communication strategy. Alper-Leroux stresses that organizations need to be transparent, realistic and authentic about what they are willing to do. She says it doesn’t have to involve “boiling the ocean” or take the entire organization; rather, “a few champions” can help create a movement within the organization. 


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