A Framework for Turning Insight Into Action
When you work on employee listening projects you know how critical taking action is. Research conducted by Qualtrics, a leader in experience management (XM) solutions, shows that when employees believe their organization listens to and acts on feedback, employees are more engaged. In fact, a recent study found that employees whose employer turns feedback into action “really well” are twice as engaged as those whose employer does not act on their feedback well.1
Newmeasures had the opportunity to partner with one client, a healthcare organization, to track the impact of action planning over a period of several years. By employing a well-executed action planning process with a focus on engagement drivers, this organization improved their engagement scores from 55% to 79% over an eight-year period. From a benchmarking perspective, we saw this organization move from the 6th percentile to the 86th!
While it is encouraging to see such success cases, we’ve also seen some clients struggle with action planning. In fact, according to a 2020 report from the Human Capital Institute, 66% of organizations collect feedback from employees but only 33% report taking meaningful action.2
To understand pain points, we conducted a voice of the customer study where we met with a dozen clients. The challenges we heard included:
- Employees feel action is not being taken
- Leaders aren’t seeing results improve fast enough
- No way to know if (or which) efforts lead to meaningful improvement
- Lack of executive support for actioning
- Leadership not holding managers accountable
- Leaders and managers only action plan because "HR makes me"
- Process of interpreting and acting on the data can be overwhelming to managers
One likely cause of these problems is that the whole process of action planning can be confusing and overwhelming. Should action planning be owned by HR or by line leaders? Should planning be top-down or bottom-up? Should opportunity areas be local or global?
When we talked with teams whose action planning was successful, we learned that part of their success came from starting small rather than trying to begin with a sophisticated process. In fact, about half of interviewees mentioned that their organization had been on an action planning “journey.” As a result of our study, we developed a framework to illustrate the action planning journey and help organizations know where to start.
The Action Planning Journey Framework
Most organizations evolve their action planning approach over time in a consistent pattern. We typically see progression through five stages with each building on the next.
When organizations are new to employee listening, they can see good results by starting with quick wins. At this stage, the executive leadership team chooses to make a change that can be implemented immediately. Examples might include making policy adjustments, like implementing casual Fridays or a gym stipend. While actions like these might seem small, they serve an important function in that they build trust by showing employees they have been heard and that action is being taken.
At stage 2, the senior leadership team prioritizes organization-wide opportunities and designates a person or team who will own taking action on each.
For example, one of our clients, a community health center, assigns opportunity areas to the leadership teams who are already working on elements of the strategy. The CEO told us, “A good action plan requires someone to own it, someone to drive it. We have steering committees for each of our business goal areas. The survey input and open-ended comments are divvied up to those accountable based on how the issues relates to our strategy.”
Another client in the banking industry recruits champions to review findings, conduct focus groups, and suggest 2-3 company-wide actions.
Stage 3 is sometimes referred to as the waterfall or cascade approach. At this stage, the senior leadership team prioritizes org-wide opportunities and leaders at all levels take action on those priorities.
One project leader told us “We focus globally and plan locally. We try to keep the firm focused on 1-2 key areas, so efforts are concerted, coordinated, and efficient. Leaders set their own goals to tie into the firm's priorities. That way we are not creating a bunch of new initiatives.”
Recently, we’ve seen many client organizations who want to improve with regard to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I). In addition to making changes at the company level, they also encourage each team leader to study their specific DE&I feedback in order to identify changes that will be the most important for their individual work group.
As organizations mature their employee listening programs, many choose to expand responsibility for interpreting feedback and identifying areas of improvement. At this stage, business unit, regional, and/or site leaders identify local-level priorities and own action planning.
In the most advanced version of this stage, every frontline manager is responsible for action planning based on their own team’s specific feedback. This can be a powerful approach because each leader is working on engagement at the level where they can have an impact.
The final stage in our journey framework occurs when employees take ownership for prioritizing opportunities and taking action. This often involves a work team committing to new habits that will improve the work experience for everyone. In other cases, employees volunteer to start resource groups or workstreams designed to address an improvement opportunity.
In this stage, each team or work group manager becomes a facilitator of the process. The key to success is ensuring every leader is trained in the skills of understanding employee feedback, facilitating constructive conversations with their team members, and tying engagement goals to the broader strategic goals of the organization.
The stages of the action planning journey illustrate a variety of different action planning approaches. Ideally organizations keep doing the activities from the early stages as they advance to later stages. This often means that organizations are blending approaches.
For example, one of our clients is a membership organization who has been running engagement surveys for about four years. According to their HR leader, “We look across the organization to identify the themes that are everywhere. We also recognize that engagement is local and that individual managers have a huge impact. Therefore, we usually have -2-3 things we are working on at the org level and then managers have their own 2-3.”
Don't Forget the Tech!
In the old days of employee listening, technology was used only to administer surveys. As HR industry expert Josh Bersin points out in his article, Is The Employee Survey Dead? Nope. It’s Becoming Smarter by The Minute, technology has evolved dramatically 3. Early improvements enabled multiple stakeholders to see raw results and then analyze data in real-time. In the next phase of evolution, technology enabled many facets of action planning to happen directly within the survey platform. Now we are starting to see listening platforms transition to becoming action platforms. For example, new advances enable anyone in the organization to crowdsource ideas for action.
PepsiCo crowdsourced ideas for their “Process Shredder” and got over a million comments and ideas for new business processes in the company in days, which then led the company to radically simplify the performance process and also start a crowdsourced new beverage product.
Where Do We Start?
At Newmeasures, we believe that action planning can’t be an afterthought. We advise our clients to begin planning for the action phase while they are designing their survey. In fact, we now make action planning strategy meetings part of our standard process.
We encourage our clients to look at actioning as a three-way partnership involving the survey team, the HR team, and business leaders. Our action planning strategy meetings bring these partners together to assess where the organization is in terms of employee listening maturity, the organization’s readiness for action, and the outcomes they have seen in the past. Together these partners then choose the approach or blend of approaches they will take when orchestrating the action planning process. Our team then helps clients select and activate the technology that best supports and enables the chosen approach.
Just Do Something!
At the end of the day, evolving your action planning strategy over time will lead to increased impact, but remember that is okay to start simple. The most important thing is that you act. When it comes to engagement survey follow-up, our mantra for leaders is: Just do something!
- Qualtrics 2020 Global Trends Report, Qualtrics, 2020
- The Culture-Centric Organization, Human Capital Institute, 2020
- Is The Employee Survey Dead? Nope. It’s Becoming Smarter by The Minute, Josh Bersin, 2020
Wendy Mack has been helping business and HR leaders transform their organizations for more than two decades. She is the author of numerous books and articles on the topics of leadership, learning, change, and communication. Connect with Wendy at https://www.linkedin.com/in/wendymack/.