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How to lead with data in times of crisis

Organisational transformation is often fraught. But when crisis necessitates it - due to market changes, shifts in leadership, or, indeed a pandemic - having data that can guide large-scale changes and ensure responsive, evidence-based strategies is pivotal. 

At the start of the 2020 pandemic, lastminute.com went from 1,150 bookings and circa 50 cancellations a day, to zero bookings and 1,200 cancellations in 24 hours. Change was essential not only to mitigate business and customer risk, but to support employees across 40 countries. 

Redeployment and shifts to business operations occurred immediately, which meant leading with people-data was key to supporting talent and enabling business continuity.

However, traditional engagement data was not going to cut it. When employees’ connection to an organisation and job performance is often tied up in how they feel, leading through a crisis requires data that looks more closely at staff’s emotional state.

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Leading with emotions data

Focusing on the emotional state and wellbeing of employees is essential to assess people’s true needs and to create compelling stories that support exec buy-in to new strategies.

Gaining data on these typically intangible elements can turn feelings into quantifiable evidence that leaders can use to justify change among workforces.

Particularly for lastminute.com, focusing on wellbeing and emotions was vital to protect staff’s health and satisfaction when fears over job losses and isolation were high.

To do so, together with employee engagement provider Inpulse, we created staff surveys that uncovered the organisation’s emotional landscape and insights into employee health.


Using data to tailor strategies

Once companies have this data, tailoring strategies to the emotional and physical needs of workforces becomes more focused. Are your employees feeling anxious or sad, for example? Each emotion gives insight into action to better engage staff during times of upheaval.

In lastminute.com’s case, after gaining context around employee sentiments, a broad communication programme was initiated through weekly company-wide meetings in which employees - both furloughed and non-furloughed - had the opportunity to attend Q&A sessions with the CEO. This boosted inclusion, helping staff touch base and rebuild connections remotely.

Employee-driven campaigns were also initiated to sustain workforce wellbeing. Employees came together through online yoga sessions, running groups and forums to support mental, physical and social connections. 


Gaining a long-term view

Ultimately, analysing data cannot be a one-off occurrence. Long-term views are necessary to track shifts over time, assess the success of decision-making and guide future changes.

When our own strategies were guided by data during the pandemic, the percentage of the workforce experiencing positive emotions rose from 54% in 2020 to 62% in 2021 (compared to an industry average of 60%).

Employee wellbeing scores also maintained high levels of 75% in 2020 and 2021, while the number of employees feeling anxious dropped from 28% to 15%.

Using people data in this way allows for the continual transformation of business culture and a commitment to talent, ensuring we can navigate crises together.


Stuart Bagnell is chief of culture at lastminute.com