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The ‘why’ and ‘how’ of employee listening

It’s time to move away from the traditional, often annual employee engagement survey, which only provides a snapshot in time, towards more agile and real-time feedback platforms.

Employee listening goes hand-in-hand with creating a positive employee experience, with the former providing the means to better understand what’s happening within a workforce, making more data-driven people decisions, and ultimately, creating a culture great talent wants to join and stay because of. But how many organisations have an informed understanding of their employee experience? And are they using this data to drive key initiatives relating to employee experience, such as wellbeing, diversity and inclusion, hybrid working, and retention?

Employee listening in a nutshell
Employee listening is all about gaining a solid understanding of how employees are feeling, developing, and responding to both everyday situations and times of sudden change – are they satisfied with the level of flexible working? Do they feel a sense of belonging at the organisation and in their team? Are they being given opportunities to develop and grow? Do they feel supported? How often are they recognised by their manager? Are they feeling anxious about anything? The list goes on.

The key is to keep listening on an ongoing basis – finding the right tools that can do this and which can analyse the results to deliver actionable insights for improving the employee experience. And at times of rapid change, the employee voice has never been more important. For instance, during the pandemic, organisations that prioritised the employee voice were able to use employee feedback to better understand how their people were coping, what employee wellbeing support was required, and how to shape future decisions on areas such as hybrid working.

So, what does a successful employee listening strategy look like?

Making employee listening work
It’s time to move away from the traditional, often annual employee engagement survey, which only provides a snapshot in time, towards more agile and real-time feedback platforms. When drawing-up a listening strategy, it’s important to consider the following:

Start with your “why?”
The most effective employee listening programmes are built on solid foundations.  At the moment, no good HR Director has a problem getting the ear of the CEO, given the great resignation and labour shortages.  By positioning your employee listening programme as a vehicle to help address these challenges or others, which are a bigger priority for your organisation, means you’re more likely to get buy-in from senior stakeholders – they’ll be more receptive to the insights you’ll generate, will role-model the right behaviours and create more ownership of departmental feedback.

What do we want to get feedback on?
Regardless of your organisation’s size, sector and culture, there will be some universal areas you’ll want to get feedback on, like leadership through to empowerment, and training and development. The key is tailoring 20 per cent of the questions so these are hyper relevant for your organisation and your “why”.  If a big challenge is employee turnover, confidentially ask employees about whether they plan to stay working at your organisation and if not, the reasons why.  You’ll quickly amass a treasure trove of insights including which stage of the employee lifecycle (tenure) attrition is the biggest risk, how this varies across your organisation and the underlying reasons why.  Valuable information you can then leverage to help reduction attrition.

Similarly, if you’ve embedded hybrid working, use your survey to understand how this is working from employees’ perspectives.   Whilst there are huge benefits, a key risk is keeping employees feeling emotionally connected to their colleagues and the company.  By regularly listening to your people, you can track this and make adjustments, like bringing teams together more regularly or working harder to reinforce your values.

What frequency is your organisation (and managers) ready for?
The best employee listening platforms allow you to get feedback normally on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis, or even a custom schedule, but it’s important to consider what your organisation is ready for.  If you’re used to an annual survey, switching to weekly could be too big a step.  Instead, a quarterly cadence may provide more time for managers to digest their feedback and act on this, whilst allowing you to track your employee experience in a more modern and agile way.

Another consideration is how easy is it to get feedback from your people.  If your employees are in blue collar roles without email, unless you have an employee app or other digital channels to reach them, it’s harder to get very regular feedback, so you may opt for a slightly less frequent cadence.

Can you get feedback across the employee life cycle?
In our recent State of Employee Engagement research, high performing organisations were more likely to complement their company-wide pulse surveys, with feedback across the employee life cycle, helping them to improve the employee experience during all stages of this. Although many more conduct exit surveys (61 per cent), the biggest impact on improving employee engagement was onboarding surveys – organisations running these were 14 per cent more likely to say engagement levels had improved in the last 12 months.

Which employee feedback software is best?
When choosing a software platform to support your employee listening strategy, it’s important to consider its flexibility, simplicity, and level of functionality. Pick a tool where you can set your optimal frequency, and one that has best practice questions that you can customise or use your own questions which relate back to your ‘why’. It’s also helpful if you can get feedback across the employee lifecycle, from onboarding through to exit and deploy polls, and quick surveys aimed at certain groups of employees, perhaps after a training course.

In terms of the survey experience, accessibility is key – it must be mobile friendly, easy for field staff/frontline workers to use, and any colleagues with visual impairments must be able to use it using a screen reader. Finally, in terms of the results, ensure the dashboards are simple and easy for busy managers to understand.  Look for how they summarise insights and where to focus on. For free text open questions, does it have AI powered text analytics to help you understand what employees are feeling without reading hundreds or thousands of comments?

How should feedback be actioned?
Before carrying-out any surveys, it needs to be decided who will have access to the feedback and what’s expected of them. How will leaders and HR use the insights to make improvements and inform strategy? And if managers are given access to the findings, do they understand the importance of employee feedback and what to do with it? Getting their buy-in will be necessary as well as running training sessions on how to use the software, interpret the findings, and make improvements.

Listen first, act later!
Today’s high-performing companies are tuned-in to their people. They have efficient feedback mechanisms in place that drive strategy, and they are always seeking a deeper understanding of their people while consciously shifting their culture to meet their ever-changing needs. By focusing on listening, they quickly identify issues that need addressing and gaps that need filling, putting them in a strong position to meet future challenges head-on. It’s this ‘listen first, act later’ mindset which sets them apart, and only those organisations that take this approach will truly excel.

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