Sandra Bouckaert of Bouckaert Deep Democracy Mediation & Coaching is an executive coach; she helps organizational teams & leadership teams in the profit and non-profit sector with collaboration issues often related to conflict, decision-making and communication. Sandra uses the Deep Democracy method and also teaches this method in training courses. She is an expert in dialogue and democratic and conflict skills with any group size, offline and online.
Sandra: “In 2018, I developed the Let’s Connect online dialogue. I used the dialogue mainly for teams within my client base, but then, during the height of the pandemic in 2020, I further developed the dialogue and services to make it available to more people within more (and also larger) organizations. In this scaled-up form, Deep Democracy becomes accessible to more employees than just the management team. Companies with 250 to 20,000 employees can purchase annual Let’s Connect subscriptions to apply the online dialogue method multiple times for specific issues that play within their organization. That works very well. We design the dialogues with them, in co-creation, work out topics and questions, and link the results back, with any follow-up actions that we will supervise.”
Deep Democracy: the minority’s voice is heard
Sandra continues: “When I start working with a client, I conduct an intake interview and then give my recommendations to tackle the issue. My advice is always custom-made. For example, a large entrepreneurial organization with more than 2000 members, and an employee base of more than 200,000 people, requested me to improve the quality of the decision-making process, and specifically to improve the negotiations for the collective bargaining agreements. This branche organization – FME – had previously used live panels and surveys, but found that to be insufficient. That’s why the online dialogue is so important. We worked on this together with the Academy for Organizational Culture.”
Fast lead time and short lines of communication
“The entire process, from intake to reporting of the second dialogue, went very smoothly. Within three weeks, we had conducted two dialogues (with two rounds each).
CircleLytics provides the underlying platform for the Let’s Connect proposition. The platform is fast to deploy and delivers real-time results. These are delivered right after the second round and include the sentiments and support of the participants. As a team, we were able to deliver a lot of commitment and flexibility. It soon became clear that we were going to use two separate dialogues, one after the other. The content of the issue is very complex, and I had little experience with this topic. It is great to see that the consultant and chief negotiator quickly understood how the Let’s Connect dialogue worked.
In this respect, the dialogue reflects the people’s desires: they prefer to give their opinions in their own time, without being distracted. After that, they are extremely curious about what others have had to say. The two rounds provide time for reflection without social pressure; they allow your insight to develop by getting to know other perspectives. Minority opinions will have an equal opportunity to be seen and make the difference. It is a scalable form of Deep Democracy. Of course, it is important to find out which question you should be asking and how, to arrive at the right answers that you can use. That is something we are good at; in co-creation with the client, we provide quick solutions.”
Sandra continues: “This enables us to quickly start the dialogues. Each round in both dialogues consisted of three questions – the essence of the issues – that asked about job positions. The questions also included some scale questions. The combination of a closed and open answer in one question yields great results. For example: “To what extent do you agree with this statement […….] and above all: can you explain why?” Being able to learn from each other’s motivations in the second round and to distill the leading themes supports and accelerates the decision-making. The process works best when you first slow down and ensure that each (minority) point of view is given an opportunity. After that, the process really speeds up.”
A good preparation
“I recorded a short video message, to warm up the stakeholders and explain clearly what we were going to do. In this video, I told the participating organizations what the Let’s Connect dialogue means and how it differs from a regular survey (because they used those, alongside the dialogue, in the past). I also explained how participants proceed through the dialogue step by step. The scoring in the second round is self-evident but because it is new, it is best to explain the process. The innovative thing here is that in the second round of the dialogue, people can respond to the answers given in the first round. We also touched on that moment of reflection. We have compiled information texts, an article has been published internally, and the introduction mail for the dialogue was also carefully worded: it should be recruiting, to-the-point, with a tone-of-voice that suits the target group and conveys the message that their opinions are valuable.”
Valuable and impactful results
The next step was to send the first dialogue out to 1300 people. The response was 29%. The client was enthusiastic about this response and about the substantive yield. The response was statistically very valid and representative. There were some new insights, and the client would not have wanted to miss out on these results for their negotiations about the collective bargaining agreements.
“In our reports, we show the most valued (top 5) and least valued (bottom 5) opinions. We used the analysis to examine the platform’s full potential, such as other themes or abnormal or special insights.
There was uniformity about specific points within the different profiles. If there is discord among the participants, the online dialogue will clearly show this. In most cases, the gap between the different opinions will become smaller in the second round. We also see that participants let go of their opinions and become convinced by the new views of others. The reports of these dialogues also show how the different subgroups (business sizes) have reacted, responded to each other’s opinions and inspired each other. The most and least valued opinions are immediately visible in an online dialogue.
The chief negotiator included all proceeds from the dialogues in determining and substantiating proposals that would be introduced by FME in the collective bargaining negotiations on behalf of the members. This time with built-up support that was brought about by this new form of co-creation with its own members.
The participants found that the online tool was fast and very pleasant to use. They liked being able to express their opinions and said that seeing the comments of others encouraged them to reflect on themselves, which improved their involvement.”
The value of the online dialogue
Sandra: “Let’s Connect’s online dialogues can be used not only in business organizations but also in healthcare, knowledge organizations, government, education, the financial sector and in training. The experience with Let’s Connect within these organizations is that employers want committed employees who feel at home and can use their talents.
The Let’s Connect online dialogue increases employee engagement because people are not gathering frequently in physical meetings at the moment, especially in larger numbers. People are not just working from home; they had already been working remotely, from different departments and different locations, sometimes even different countries. This means that their contact with other-minded people was already limited. Working online, not limited by time or location, allows people to reflect on the opinions of others and reach decisions together.
As soon as you allow and appreciate minority thinking, by using the dialogue, you increase not only the cognitive and creative capacity of the entire organization or the support of decisions and the reflection on those decisions; the quality of the decision-making process also improves. Minority voices want to be heard, and if there is no reaction to their response, they will retreat or even demonstrate sabotaging behavior. Online, without time constraints or social pressure, people with minority opinions can be convinced to change. They will do so frequently because they learn from other perspectives, sometimes from the majority. It is remarkable to notice that the majority also does so and can even rally behind minority views. Through dialogue, they learn from each other. It deepens their understanding of the content and accelerates and strengthens the decision-making.”
Maurice Rojer, programmamanager Collective Labour Agreements at FME: “Before I decided to use Let’s Connect, I doubted whether it would be deployable in the short term. But I have found that the consultants and the online solution are extremely flexible and very customer-oriented. What we have achieved with the online dialogue is more involvement in the preparation of the input for the collective bargaining negotiations. The dialogue has provided early insight and support, which was of the essence in the negotiations. Let’s Connect was also helpful in getting a feel for what we already suspected was going on. What I liked the most was the deeper insight into members’ opinions and interests on the dialogue topics”.
And further, FME states: ” If we had not entered into this, we would have had much less sense of support for certain points of view and solutions. I would definitely recommend Let’s Connect to organizations dealing with complex collective labor agreement bargaining processes and decision-making processes. These collective agreements contain many different and often conflicting interests, while you still have to represent the collective as a whole. Let’s Connect enriches the insight with regard to support (and rejection) and feasibility of points of view and interests. We are very pleased that we consulted you (in good time) and entered into this partnership”.
If you want to learn more about Deep Democracy at-any-scale and what the Let’s Connect approach and dialogue can mean for your people and organization, please contact Sandra Bouckaert and her team.