Employee engagement and retention have been top of mind for leaders in recent years, particularly as the pandemic shifted where and when work is performed. With the ever-changing job market, retaining employees and maintaining high engagement is becoming more and more challenging. A leading multinational consumer packaged goods company with $15 billion in annual revenue experienced incredible success with year-over-year growth by revenue and was looking to stay ahead by identifying patterns of overwork and burnout after noticing early warning signs.
The issue of overwork and over-collaboration are more common than ever as organizations are navigating “return to office” and hybrid working policies, especially a globally dispersed organization with complex operating models such as this company with tens of thousands of employees based around the globe. Its leaders knew that employee wellbeing has a direct impact on team effectiveness, and wanted to better understand what the company’s network could reveal about its patterns of communication, siloes, and propensity for collaboration.
In order to address this issue and ensure its workforce goals were tied to its business strategy, the organization increased its focus on leveraging employee networks to improve ways of working and ultimately drive innovation.
The company had a complex structure, with multiple acquired companies and regional divisions operating independently. This structure led to inefficiencies, increased pressure, and a lack of innovation, so it recognized that despite financial success, employee burnout and attrition were threatening sustained growth. It was crucial to first better understand the challenge at hand and then identify a solution that would enable them to retain talented employees and improve overall employee engagement and well-being. The organization understood the value of employee networks and wanted to leverage them effectively, but it lacked the necessary insights and strategies to do so.
McChrystal Group was brought in to work directly with a division of the company that is geographically distributed across five major global regions and includes functions along the entire supply chain, from raw material sourcing to manufacturing, sales, R&D and supply.
The division was struggling with lower-than-desired retention metrics of its junior workforce, high rates of burnout, and meeting overload (i.e. over collaboration). When compounded, those issues began to overwhelm the leadership and spurred the need for targeted, intentional organizational change. The company partnered with McChrystal Group to support its efforts to modernize its workforce with an in-depth analysis of its enterprise data to conduct an organizational analysis.
The company has long been considered a forward-thinking and modern workplace and wanted to further incorporate digital technologies to evolve and transform its workforce, focusing on the balance between employee productivity and well-being. To accomplish this, McChrystal Group was first able to gain a comprehensive understanding of the workforce by utilizing People Metrics and Attrition (PeMa) data. Leveraging Microsoft Viva Insights, McChrystal Group analyzed collaboration patterns of 8,000 employees from January 2022 to March 2023 and conducted an Organizational Network Analysis (ONA), providing a clear understanding of employee networks and their impact on retention.
Through Viva Insights and its passive data extractions that stem from calendaring, messaging, plus meeting and interaction logs, our team focused on three key areas to support the division in its effort to better understand and shift its workplace trends:
Addressing Collaborative Overload: We identified a culture of over-collaboration, particularly at the top of the organization, where leaders spent excessive time working together and meeting with no discernable impact on productivity. This unfocused and reactive collaboration hindered effective execution and innovation, leading to attrition, especially at the director level. Among leaders specifically, our analysis found:
- Directors in the organization represented a crucial pain point for the company, with about 25% turnover among those employees
- Certain units were culturally inclined to collaborate too much, and the volume of collaboration (meetings, emails, messages) was generating undue workload that increased burnout risk
- Company leadership consistently took on excessive collaborative loads, with a trickle-down to lower levels
- Almost 60% of all directors collaborated more than 30 hours per week, an early warning indicator of over-collaboration and burnout
- Individuals with strong ties to leadership tended to have higher work and communication load than their peers without such ties
Rethinking the Role of Meetings: The division’s existing infrastructure for collaboration, primarily through meetings, lacked standardization and resulted in redundancy and inefficiency. We found the division used meetings as a means to do work, so they had a below-average number of recurring meetings and a high volume of one-off meetings and excessive co-attendance, which further contributed to unproductive work practices. We found that teams participating in recurring, long meetings with more than 10 people indicated inconsistent knowledge management and ineffective decision making in the organization.
Employees used to find it difficult to carve out time for challenging work that required deep focus as they had only small chunks of time between meetings to focus on their tasks. Incoming emails and chats were also constant distractors.
With the stated goal of maintaining and protecting productivity and space for work to be done, we guided the company in establishing meeting rules and standards for declining a meeting or declaring meeting-free periods and running regular checks with their people to see where they can improve.
Integration of New Joiners: The client faced high turnover rates among employees who had been with the company for three years or less. Our analysis revealed that the size of an individual's network within the organization significantly influenced their job satisfaction and productivity. We identified the need for a faster integration process for new joiners and emphasized the importance of building effective networks within the organization. Specifically, our analysis discovered:
- A 26% turnover rate among new associates with three years or less of tenure
- There was a strong positive correlation between the size of employees' internal networks and their overall performance ratings, indicating the value of having “go-to” colleagues for information gathering, context, mentorship, and decision making
- It took double the industry average for employees to reach peak performance, on average 2 to 3 years for employees to reach the critical internal network sizes associated with higher performance evaluations
Our findings revealed two key focus areas for improving employee retention, particularly among new joiners. First, we identified the importance of network size and rate of network growth. Our data show that network size is directly related to retention. By expanding their networks, employees feel more connected with the organization and become better equipped to prioritize their projects, resulting in improved job satisfaction and a higher likelihood of staying with the company.
Our data shows that employees with stronger networks are 38% more likely to be able to prioritize their projects, and employees who receive appropriate notice are twice as likely to intend to stay with their company.
Based on the insights gained from the analysis, we co-developed a strategy alongside the organization to foster effective networks that would then lead to enhanced retention rates. For managers and leaders, the metrics and accompanying strategy provide visibility and clarity into broad work patterns and trends to make sense of how the organization is functioning.
Prioritize Actionable Problems: Our data-driven insights helped the client identify the most critical issues affecting their business, such as over-collaboration, inefficient meeting practices, and poor integration of new employees. This prioritization allowed them to focus their efforts on key problem areas where they achieve tangible results and change.
Develop Action Plans: Using stakeholder mapping and action planning techniques, we collaborated with the client to create tailored action plans for each identified problem area. These plans aimed to optimize operating cadence, standardize meetings, leverage technology tools like Viva Goals and dashboards, and enhance onboarding processes.
Gain Leadership Buy-In: By presenting our findings to the senior leadership team, we obtained their commitment to addressing the identified challenges. The leadership team recognized the need for change and agreed to pilot the recommended solutions in specific teams, such as the supply chain and North American divisions.
With a new structure of how to effectively use meetings as a tool to operate efficiently in a global and hybrid working environment, team members are given time back on their schedule where they can focus and actually get work done. New joiners are able to integrate into their teams more seamlessly and quickly as leaders have focused on network size as the key predictor of the ability to prioritize their work, so they are strategic in placing the proper number of connections and collaborators in their network.
As the company continues to embrace a more flexible hybrid work environment for team members around the globe, its infrastructure and approach to do so continues to evolve to ensure innovation can thrive. Collaboration can fuel innovation when done right, and asynchronous communication and information sharing suit this company as opposed to an abundance of meetings. With the support of McChrystal Group and leveraging the power of enterprise-wide data through Viva Insights, the company better understands its work trends and habits and has plans in place to reduce meetings and over-collaboration, in turn resulting in decreased burnout and attrition.