The Cultivate Employee Empowerment Summit last week was a great success! We had a stellar lineup of HR and People Analytics leaders from companies like Google, SAP, Partners for Wellbeing, Varo Bank and Uber presenting on the future of employee empowerment, security and privacy issues in HR and PA, how to build resilient remote teams, sustainability, inclusion and more. Plus the fantastic DJ Kara spinning awesome tunes on every break!

If you missed the event, here are some of the major takeaways and themes from the sessions. Over the days and weeks to come, we’ll be releasing videos of specific speaker sessions and additional blog posts digging into some of the fantastic issues our speakers discussed, so keep an eye on our blog and social media channels.

1. Empowerment Matters. All of the speakers were universally passionate about the role employee empowerment plays in three areas: growth, resilience and behavior. Companies that embrace empowerment as a vital part of company culture, including new approaches and technology, will be more successful, both in the immediate response to Covid-19 and beyond.

2. Listening to Employee Voices Requires Fixing Safety and Futility. According to Dr. Ethan Burris, Professor Of Management at the University of Texas at Austin, employees working on the front lines and interacting with customers and partners often have great ideas for how to improve business processes, but they don’t often have the power to make real change. Unfortunately, data shows that most employees don’t share their voice (or ideas) because they worry about safety of their job or feel like speaking up is futile (that their idea won’t be acted on).

If you want employee voice to matter at your organization, you need to solve for safety and futility. Organizations are tackling this challenge in a variety of ways, but there’s no standard recipe for success yet. Some examples of approaches include listening strategies, analyzing digital behaviors using tools like the Cultivate platform to understand how managers communicate, and looking at data from internal message boards and HR comments. How organizations take all of this information, make it work together and learn from it will affect how well they can benefit from employee voice.

3. Intent Matters When Using AI/ML Technology for User Privacy and Data. As Ali Shah, Head of Technology Policy, UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), said, “The law is telling you to not be creepy.” When looking at artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions that process employee data, many organizations are so cautious about running afoul of privacy regulations that they slow down innovation. But the technology itself won’t automatically violate data privacy laws – outcome and intent matter too. If your use of employee data is for the benefit and empowerment of the employee, then there’s usually a path to success. You will likely still need to justify how it’s going to work and how you’ve engaged employees in every stage of the decision making process (read the UK’s guidelines on how to comply with GDPR and data protection laws here). On the other hand, if your use of personal data benefits the company or is used to make inferences that affect individuals (for example, who to fire, who to promote, or how to calculate bonuses), regulators will likely set a very high bar.

Ali suggested asking the following questions about analyzing personal data with AI/ML solutions: how might we assess if this data processing is in the best interest of the employee? How might we assess if this data and any inferences we generate will be used for other purposes? How might we include the consent of the employee recognizing the power imbalance between employee and employer, and how might we understand how the solution would affect different types of employee – consider race, gender etc. Regulators don’t want to stop new technology approaches, they want to ensure the approach helps employees or customers first.

4. The Goal is Not Perfection. When leading and empowering, perfection is not the goal. Being caring, empathetic and flexible are far more important. Individuals can only go so far with empowerment and growth before they hit the organizational wall; leaders need to make changes to encourage and support empowerment. Cathy Benko, Former Vice Chairman & Managing Principal at Deloitte and Dr. Brian Glaser, Head of the Google School for Leaders & Talent Management, argued that people leaders can do this in a few different ways:

  • Think about how to create connection and a feeling of belonging to counteract many employee’s feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  • Work on how to lead in complexity and make decisions when presented with first-ever situations for which there is no playbook.
  • Consider pace and psychological well being. Some are suggesting leaders should learn concepts from cognitive behavioral therapy (but this can be challenging because traditionally corporate systems are at odds with hyper-personalization).
  • Give employees more space to deal with personal issues, focus more on outcomes and less on how the work gets done.

5. When trying to empower employees remotely, fail fast and be creative. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the first few months were about employees’ safety and wellbeing. Then the focus shifted to productivity, and then shifted again to how to maintain productivity in a sustainable way while working from home for long periods of time (or forever). As organizations figure out how to listen to, inspire and support their teams, they should try new things and fail fast. Some examples might include weekly CEO videos, dedicated Slack channels or video conference rooms, unique after-hours activities like art sessions or comedy events, mental health programs like BetterHelp, or open flow sessions for abstract topic learning.

6. C-Suite is Actively Dealing with the Matter of Wellbeing. The pandemic has brought the issue of employee wellbeing into the boardroom. Wellbeing is more complicated than most people realize; one common definition is being “happy, healthy and prosperous” and includes fulfillment, human connections, financial wellness, community wellbeing and mind-body health. Successful outcomes are only happening for organizations that understand the actual needs of their employees and act to improve them. When trying to contribute to the wellbeing of your employees, be intentional and make changes and new programs into a sustained ritual.

Thanks to everyone who attended! If you missed the event, you can watch the videos here.



Cultivate is a digital leadership platform that leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to provide in-the-moment feedback and tools to enterprise employees. Our mission is to help build stronger workplace relationships, and empower people leaders and employees to be more effective, engaged, and balanced.