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How (And Why) To Develop An Employee Listening Strategy

by Carolyn Nevitte, HR Director at People Insight

In Human Resources, we talk a lot about the relationship between manager and employee. In particular, a lot of focus is paid to feedback — how managers can best deliver feedback to employees, how to encourage employees to be receptive to this feedback and how often these feedback discussions should be held. While this is — of course — important, the flip-side of the coin is one that deserves an equal amount of focus.

Employee insights and opinions about their company, its traditions and its culture are invaluable. It is only through inviting employee feedback and acting upon it that we can make real, meaningful change within our organisations. But how many businesses have truly considered their employee listening strategy? 

Here, we discuss what an employee listening strategy is, why such an approach is so important in terms of employee engagement and productivity. We’ll also cover top tips on how to develop and implement an employee listening strategy that aligns with your company’s purpose and culture.

What Is an Employee Listening Strategy?

Simply put, an employee listening strategy is an integrated approach to understanding the employee experience. With an employee listening strategy, we aim to involve employees, solicit their feedback and use these ideas to improve the organisation, while supporting the company’s mission and objectives. 

It’s more than a one off, half-hearted survey where not much happens as a result. It’s a culture, a set of behaviours and tactics that mean our people feel listened to, involved and appreciated.

This likely sounds straightforward. Yet, so many organisations either don’t have an effective employee listening strategy in place, or they make basic errors with their plans that result in wasted time and effort.

Why Is a Listening Strategy Important in an Organisation?

So why are listening strategies needed in a modern organisation? What are the benefits of listening strategies to business?

As we all know, organisational change is inevitable. Internal and external factors can prompt it  and it can be managed well or improperly. But companies who refuse to change simply can’t flourish or compete against other dynamic, forward-thinking businesses. It’s best to be proactive in the face of change and to look for ways to improve organisational practices and processes. And who better to ask than our employees? 

Employees spend an average of 40 hours a week at your company. If you’ve hired well, your employees are dedicated to their work. They want to do a good job, but as no company is perfect, they’ll likely encounter barriers to productivity. They are in the best position to not only tell you what these stumbling blocks are, but to recommend alternatives or suggestions to improve the status quo. Asking for your employees’ opinions and working with them to instigate meaningful change will show your employees that their voices are heard and, importantly, valued.

It’s also worth noting that when you have an official listening strategy in place when change is brought about, you are more likely to have employee buy-in to these changes — after all, the idea came from them! This will help the change to roll out as smoothly as possible.

Finally, listening strategies show employees communication is not one-way. Why would you be receptive to feedback from someone who makes it clear they don’t care about your opinions or thoughts? Getting regular feedback from your employees will help to develop communication, trust and transparency within your business.

Tips for Developing a Listening Strategy.

The first step when developing an employee listening strategy is to consider overall organisational strategy — then work from the top-down. Consider your aims and objectives. This will help to guide your strategy, the questions you ask and the feedback you receive. While all feedback is welcome, you want to make sure you are soliciting insights that are relevant and will help to further your particular business in the way you wish to develop it.

You should also remember that a carefully thought-out employee listening strategy is (as mentioned above) integrated. While there may be many organisations that employ a range of listening techniques, if these techniques are developed in isolation from one another, the approaches might clash, overlap or leave gaps. For a streamlined listening process that supports your organisation’s aims and objectives, strategies should be considered together. You should ask whether all the techniques are needed and whether they complement one another.

There are a number of elements that can be put together to form a comprehensive listening strategy, including:

  • Candidate, joiners and leavers surveys —These surveys help you gain an appreciation of the employee experience at important touchpoints.
  • Employee engagement surveys — Employee engagement surveys will allow you to survey your team to see how they feel about a particular issue, process or change.
  • One-on-one discussions between employee and manager — One-on-ones should be used to reinforce the messages and changes that result from the other listening tools, which will help to smooth the change. During these discussions, managers can explain what the organisation is going to do differently and they can also take employee feedback and concerns onboard.
  • Pulse surveys — Pulse surveys are short, regular surveys that allow managers to track employee attitudes to certain changes or issues, so changes can be made as and when.
  • 360-degree feedback — This listening tool creates a culture of openness while encouraging self-awareness among employees.
  • Focus groups — Employee focus groups will add value and meaning, as they allow us to delve deep into a particular issue that affects a particular subgroup. They are also helpful for addressing and solving concerns that arise following an employee engagement survey, or a pulse survey. 
  • Social media scanning — Social media scanning can help derive overall sentiment and track trends over time — which is useful in tracking how sentiment responds to changes in the business. 

Of course, it’s not necessary, practical or even advisable to incorporate every single listening strategy listed above. Each element should have a purpose — it’s not just about adding in lots of elements and praying for the best. Consider what each element will add to the table. 

An employee listening strategy can be effective without involving all elements listed above. Keep in mind what is right for your particular organisation, your company culture and where you want your company to be in the future. If you’re uncertain about what to include or exclude, you can seek the services of an organisational psychologist who can help design and deliver a listening strategy to support your organisation’s strategic objectives. 

Remember, when you add all the elements together (with a clear purpose for each), they should create a carefully-crafted, integrated strategy that shows your employees they are heard. 

 

Carolyn Nevitte is HR Director at People Insight. With over 15 years experience in Marketing, Sales and Market Research, Carolyn has a keen interest in what motivates, engages and drives employees to excel and connect with the environment around them.

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