A new year offers a fresh start – a chance to set intentions and align actions to make this your best year yet. In addition to reflecting on your personal goals for the year, this is also a great time to pause and revisit the purpose and outcomes of your employee listening program.
In 2022, I had the pleasure of working with a number of clients who wanted to be more strategic and intentional about employee listening. Like most people & culture teams, they had stepped up efforts to gather employee feedback in response to the disruption of the past few years. However, they recognized that more surveys and more data did not always yield true improvements in the employee experience. While increased listening was done with positive intent, their efforts were often reactive and disconnected. These forward-thinking clients understood that they needed to move beyond conducting multiple survey projects to developing a robust listening program. As a result, they have greatly enhanced the impact and value of their work.
In this post, I suggest five best practices you can emulate in 2023 to elevate your own listening program.
1 – Start with Strategy
For as long as Newmeasures has been in business (25+ years!) we have helped our clients connect their survey projects to their business goals and strategic priorities. This continues to be critical; however, we are also seeing how helpful it is to have a clearly articulated strategy for your Employee Listening program itself.
Developing a strategy to guide your listening program helps to address many of the common flaws with organizational listening shown in Figure 1.
Common Flaws with Organizational Listening
Content that is…
- uncoordinated and rarely strategic
- siloed and disconnected from organizational outcomes
A cadence that doesn’t…
- match the pace of organizational change
- match employee expectations
- close the loop
Figure 1: Common flaws with organizational listening
An effective program strategy includes:
- Your listening program’s purpose and vision
- A three-year roadmap that brings your vision to life
- Target metrics and outcomes to measure your program’s success
Developing an initial listening strategy that includes these three elements is usually something that can be accomplished in two to three 2-hour working sessions. Newmeasures clients have told us that their return on this investment of time has been exponential, citing outcomes such as:
- Clarity on why they are listening in the first place
- The ability to express how employee listening is part of the larger EXM (employee experience management) imperative and connected to the overall business strategy
- Increased executive buy-in and support
- Enhanced ability to manage the demands and requests coming from different leaders in the business
- A clear plan for how they will mature and enhance their listening program over time
- Confidence there will be tangible outcomes from the time, money, and effort spent on listening
2 – Listen Throughout the Employee Experience
A second best practice I suggest you consider is to listen more. Conducting a yearly survey to gather employee feedback is simply not enough. An effective listening program helps organizations manage and improve the employee experience by using the right methods to check in at the right times to generate insights and inform intentional actions that meet changing needs.
Many of our clients use some combination of the tools shown in Figure 2. While it may seem overwhelming to adopt all of these tools, remember that you can start simple and enhance over time. Ideally, you have a listening strategy in place that unites a handful of key measures and outcomes, which ultimately enables you to begin linking data across listening methods.
Figure 2: Key Tools for Employee Listening
3 – Listen at the Speed of Change
In addition to leveraging multiple tools for listening at different points in the employee journey, I encourage you to plan for spontaneous listening. In other words, consider building out a calendar for your listening program that includes planned surveys along with placeholders for “unplanned” surveys. You don’t need to specify the topic at this point, or even whether these will be quick pulses or more in-depth special topic surveys. By including a placeholder for these surveys, you will be able to quickly respond as listening needs emerge throughout the year.
In our experience, there are two major sources of real-time listening needs: disruptive needs and critical business decisions.
Responding to Disruptive Change
In times of great disruption, people’s needs and perceptions change rapidly. For example, we’ve seen drastic fluctuations in the work experience over the past three years, first due to the pandemic and the shift to working from home followed by the return to office and emergence of hybrid work. We’ve worked with several clients who were able to recognize disruption as it was happening and, because they had planned for unplanned, they were able to quickly deploy employee surveys to address specific needs and gather input.
“As companies roll out new remote- and hybrid-work norms, they will want to keep a regular pulse on what’s working for employees and what needs to be improved.”
Whether bringing employees back to the office, making the decision to allow employees to work remotely for the long-term, or navigating the ins and outs of hybrid work practices, most organizations are faced with understanding employee preferences and designing new work arrangements.
Newmeasures’ clients are partnering with us to gather employee input on what work arrangements best support retention, engagement, productivity, accountability, and belonging. Our newest ebook, How to Leverage Employee Listening when Navigating a Return to the Office, highlights what we found.
While research is still emerging, one conclusion we’ve reached is that there is no single right answer for all companies. The organizations that are successful are the ones who have actively involved employees understanding when, where, and how to best accomplish work and achieve cultural goals.
One of our clients, a firm in the financial services industry, leveraged this approach exceptionally well. Shortly after offices shut down in 2020, the firm leveraged their annual employee survey to ask questions about their effectiveness of working from home, employees’ return to work mindset and their preferred flexible working model. Leaders used employee feedback to design a new hybrid experience. In 2021, the success of the hybrid approach was measured and shown to be highly effective in 5 of 8 dimensions, effective in two dimensions, and moderately effective in one. The firm is now developing plans to address the dimensions with room for improvement.
Informing Business Decisions
In any organization, there will be strategic business decisions to be made throughout the year. I encourage you to continuously monitor these needs and ask yourself, “how can we use employee listening to inform this decision?” Doing so delivers two positive outcomes. First, inviting employee feedback sends the messages “We care about what you think and will make the effort to ask your opinion.” Second, the results from such listening efforts can help you and your leaders make data-based decisions.
“By balancing (employee) experience data against other financial, productivity and risk factors, companies can come to an objective, fact-based decision.”
4 – Act with Intent
We’ve written about the topic of taking action many times before and I’m sure I don’t need to convince you of its importance. I’m including it in my suggested resolutions for you because almost every client I work with recognizes that they have opportunities to evolve and enhance their approach to ensuring insights generate action and yet few know how to get started.
A theme I heard from many clients last year was wanting to be more intentional about taking action. Time and again, listening leaders told us they are frustrated because their executives and managers do care about feedback and do make changes to try to respond, but these efforts are either not recognized by employees or do not “move the needle” on employee engagement scores. Those who took the time to develop a listening program strategy universally mentioned wanting to get better at using data to make decisions. They articulated how they would go about prioritizing issues that are addressed and measuring the impact of those actions.
Which brings me to my last suggestion…
5 – Share the Data
According to HR Industry expert Josh Bersin: “Data is a powerful way to drive people to action, but only if they have access to it. Employee listening data cannot be considered proprietary to any one team, whether HR, people analytics, or even senior leadership. Widening access to data and establishing the expectation that people will look at it improves data literacy and creates a culture that values data-driven action in practice, not just in theory.”
We recognize that data transparency can be frightening for some organizations to even consider. We aren’t saying you should release all results to all people all at once without preparation. Our recommendation is to be deliberate about protecting anonymity and building psychological safety first. This often entails equipping leaders with the skills to interpret data, build trust, and facilitate conversations – all of which take time.
This is an example of why having an employee listening strategy that includes a 3-year roadmap is so critical. You may not achieve every resolution right off the bat. When it comes to employee listening, like most things that matter, it’s all about making progress and continuing to mature your program. Start 2023 strong by intentionally creating the foundation that will allow you to develop a culture of feedback and data driven action.