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Beyond Employee Surveys: Develop an Organizational Listening Strategy

Consider the current events we are experiencing: the #metoo movement, blatant and egregious corporate and executive misbehavior across many industries and sectors, and the need for inclusive and psychologically safe workplaces. 

It’s clear that organizations must do much more when it comes to listening and acting on what employees have to say. 

And, employees do have a lot to say—there are tens of millions of comments about employee experiences on Glassdoor, for example—that can raise the alarm when needed, help organizations deliver on their purpose and customer promises, and generally tell leaders how to manage talent better.  

Listening to employees is more important than ever, and this requires new thinking. HR experts—including i4cp’s team—have pointed out the risks of relying on the traditional employee engagement survey, with its unrealistic cadence (would you only gather feedback from your customers once a year?). Add to that slow-acting response, which impacts credibility and feeds employee skepticism, easily quantifiable (but impersonal) Likert scale questions, and weak ability to truly hear the employee voice. 

At the same time, new technologies such as machine intelligence are revolutionizing survey data collection and analysis.  

Organizations need a listening strategy that goes far beyond the traditional employee survey. This strategy expands feedback channels to include census surveys, pulses, always-on and passive listening, social media input, feedback tuned to key events in the employee life cycle, key workforce personas, and more.  

The most effective way to develop an employee listening strategy that fits with your organization’s goals, culture, and values is to convene a strategy design work session. The work session should bring together HR and business leaders charged to reach consensus on a new and more effective employee listening strategy and implementation plan for the organization. 

We suggest an agenda for a listening strategy planning session to look like this:  

1. Understand the Current State: Where We Are Today with Listening?

Group input by planning team members to discuss the current state of the organization’s employee survey/listening strategy and practices, share aspirations for the future, and ensure alignment and linkage to business needs.

2. Listening Program Best Practices Overview

Share the latest in listening strategy approaches, survey techniques, methods and practices. This presentation should include ideas, research and examples from experienced survey, communication and technology practitioners, including illustrations of ways sentiment analysis platforms are used as one element of a robust listening strategy. The process of creating a new listening strategy greatly benefits from providing a broad exposure to available listening options and exploring examples of how others have successfully implemented their chosen approaches.

3. Answers to Design Questions

Use the bulk of the planning session time to focus on key listening strategy design questions:

  • Goals - What are our listening program goals?
  • Methods - What methods will we use for communication, data-collection and response?
  • Benefits - What’s in it for the organization to make these changes? What’s in it for employees?
  • Plan - What will our high-level implementation scenario look like?
  • Measures - How will we measure the effectiveness of our approach?
  • Resources - What resources will we need?
  • Readiness - How ready are we to implement? What are the barriers to changing our approach and how will we mitigate them?
  • Next steps - What are our next steps to get started?  

Developing a robust and contemporary listening strategy has many benefits. It can help organizations stay in touch with employee sentiment, avoid damage to their reputation and brand, carry out operations more effectively, and provide a more attractive and fulfilling employee experience.  

With the stakes so high, organizations can’t afford to rely on an incomplete and dated approach to gathering, analyzing and acting on employee ideas and feedback.  

Patrick Murray is i4cp’s Vice President of Employee Surveys & Assessments.