What is your employee listening strategy?
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Excerpt taken from The 7 Intuitive Laws of Employee Loyalty
“To be listened to is, generally speaking, a nearly unique experience for most people. It is enormously stimulating. It is small wonder that people who have been demanding all their lives to be heard so often fall speechless when confronted with one who gravely agrees to lend an ear. Man clamors for the freedom to express himself and for knowing that he counts. But once offered these conditions, he becomes frightened”.— Robert C. Murphy
Believe it or not, your organization needs an employee listening strategy.
What do I mean by this?
Many organizations administer an annual employee engagement survey and then stop there. By doing just that, they miss the opportunity to truly listen to what their employees like or dislike about the organization, their manager, their role and more.
This also undermines the most valuable reason for listening: Action!
Here are some things to consider when crafting an employee listening strategy:
Why are you listening?
For organizations that administer employee engagement surveys annually, they often do not know why they are doing it. Is it just to say that your employees have a voice? Is it to tell employees that you “listen” to them frequently?
Why are you listening?
Is your employees’ happiness and satisfaction the end, or is there an underlying reason your organization wants to ask your employees questions annually?
Knowing the “why” behind any employee listening program is crucial, because then everything else can fall in line.
How will you listen?
There are a myriad of ways to gather the voice of your employees. The most popular of which is the annual survey. While annual surveys are great for organizational benchmarking and gauging your employees’ overall relationship with your organization, there are many ways to get unfiltered and trustworthy feedback from your employees:
Pulse surveys are real-time surveys that are short and provide immediate feedback to managers and the organization. They are excellent tools to drive more employee engagement and create a culture of transparency.
Whether we are talking about team meetings, or one-on-one meetings, managers have a unique opportunity to clear away the barriers to true employee listening. These meetings should remain the safe place for parties to ask questions and provide feedback. When managers listen to their team members, it promotes trust and honesty.
The perfect combination for a successful relationship.
All employee meetings
I do not believe that “All-hands” employee meetings are the more credible way to gather a big picture of employee sentiment. Nonetheless, it is a great way to share information and get an initial pulse of opinion. I like to call this the “allergic reaction” that the information sharing may or may not create. Once you are able to gauge that initial response, you can plan for more pointed feedback methods to follow.
As someone who has Empathy and Relator as my two top strengths, I really enjoy and am quite successful gathering unfiltered feedback via focus groups. I usually recommend a good cross-section of employees. I do not include supervisors in these groups unless I am meeting with that group in particular, because I find that employees cannot loosen up and open up with management present.
This is one of the most effective ways to gather raw feedback, particularly if they trust the interviewer and know that their feedback will remain anonymous. This is where the rubber meets the road with employee listening, because I have found that employees rarely hold back.
Employee Happiness Audits
In many cases, human resources or some other internal resource may be the ones gathering this feedback. Unfortunately, more often than not, employees don’t trust those internal stakeholders for a variety of reasons. In this case, it may make total sense to bring in an outside consultant to use some of the methods above to gather unfiltered feedback. This may seem counter-intuitive to some, but often the outside consultant is perceived as non-affiliated or non-interested, and thus, automatically garners more trust. You will know what will work for your organization when the time arrives.
What will you do after you have listened?
So, what will you do with the feedback once you gather it?
What is your plan of action?
Yes. One key reason you are asking the questions you are asking should be so that you can respond to your employees’ specific needs and suggestions.
The absolute worse thing you could do is to gather feedback and then just sit on it and do or say nothing at all about it again. This will be the fastest way to breakdown trust between the organization and the people who keep it moving forward.
You may also never “hear” from them again.
Here are a few things to consider in this regard:
Who decides what gets fixed?
Have you established some type of governing body that can review the feedback or employee suggestions and decide what gets fixed or acted upon? Please do not just keep all of the feedback housed with the senior leadership team and expect that they will have time to make needed improvements.
Should they be a part of the deciding team? Yes, but there are other key influencers that should be a part of the process as well.
Who is accountable to act?
So, once you have decided who will be a part of the reviewing body, you will also need to know who is responsible to act on the feedback?
Would it be beneficial to have the leaders directly responsible for the area or teams providing the specific feedback to be the ones to lead the improvement efforts? Alternatively, should you appoint non-interested persons to lead the improvement efforts? These questions and more are things to consider when considering who is accountable to follow-thru on the feedback
How do you track improvements?
This can be easy or this can be hard. Much of the difference rests on the internal tools that are available to “close the loop” and track efforts that are taken to act on the feedback.
No matter what tools are available, someone has to facilitate the creation of action plans and measure the success of improvement efforts above organization. If you leave this part of the listening strategy to chance, you might as well never ask the question. It is in the acting upon the listening that trust is built and culture is curated.
Heather R. Younger, J.D. is the best-selling author of, The 7 Intuitive Laws of Employee Loyalty and founder of Customer Fanatix, an organizational development firm whose mission is to inspire leaders to use their employees’ voices to create more loyalty and engagement. Heather does this through corporate workshops, executive coaching, personalized consulting and her speaking engagements. If you want to learn more about setting up your own employee listening strategy, you can contact Heather at her website at customerfanatix.com, or at email@example.com.