Employee Listening Strategy: 10 Actionable Tips for Success
An employee listening strategy enables you to improve the work environment by understanding your employees’ needs, wishes, and concerns. In this article, we’ll dive into the employee listening strategy and all you need to know about developing one.
What is an employee listening strategy?
An employee listening strategy is an orchestrated effort to better understand the people in your organization and hence improve the employee experience. It’s purposefully designed to gather real-time feedback and ideas from your employees throughout the entire employee life cycle.
Let’s unpack this definition.
The goal of an employee listening strategy is to learn about your people’s wishes, concerns, and other things that matter to them so that you can act upon these as best as possible. This, in turn, helps the organization to better achieve its purpose and goals.
A systematic process of uncovering employee concerns is the Voice of the Employee program, which is the base of your employee listening strategy.
In terms of focus and priorities, the employee listening strategy is informed by both the organization’s people and business strategies and goals. More on this in the ‘How do you develop an employee listening strategy?’ section below.
What kind of feedback are we referring to?
Employee listening goes beyond regular employee engagement surveys and annual surveys. Or at least it should. Think, for instance, of pulse surveys, candidate feedback, onboarding feedback, stay interview questions, exit interviews and surveys, etc., to include in your continuous listening strategy. 78% of organizations use more than one employee listening channel.
An employee listening strategy should also involve a continuous conversation between managers and their team members. This continuous conversation includes both in-person meetings as well as online chats. It can be facilitated by, for instance, talent management software that enables managers and their teams to always have the possibility to speak with one another via chat. They can save these conversations in one place so that it’s easy to go back to them later.
Continuous dialogue between a manager and their team members is a useful source of information because often, a manager is the first to hear about an employee’s concerns, wishes, and needs.
It’s important to note, however, that it’s not an either-or situation; employee listening technology should always go hand in hand with human interaction.
Another interesting tool to include in your employee listening strategy are focus groups. Employee focus groups offer a unique way to uncover valuable information while directly involving employees in the process of decision-making and business solutions.
Why do you need an employee listening strategy?
As mentioned above, the main reason why it’s important to have an employee listening strategy is to continuously receive feedback from your workers about their employee experience.
Analyzing the feedback enables you, where possible, to gain actionable insights, improve your EX, and better achieve your organization’s purpose and goals.
But there are other, more specific reasons why it’s good to have an employee listening strategy in place:
Becoming an employee-centric organization
A company with an employee-centric culture is a place that welcomes open communication, encourages feedback, provides psychological safety, and inspires innovation. These are all things that can be stimulated and positively affected with an employee listening strategy.
Employee-centric organizations make their employees a focus in their decision-making. They work hard to make changes based on their people’s feedback. Such organizations experience lower turnover, as well as greater engagement, productivity, and performance.
Being able to take action quickly
Perhaps this is where most of the value of having an employee listening strategy lies. Continuous employee listening offers managers, HR, and organizations an opportunity to really listen to their employees on a regular, frequent basis. Not just twice a year during a usually rather generic employee survey or the dreaded annual performance review.
No, employee listening done well is like giving your employees a feedback option on speed dial (do people actually still know what that is these days?). They have the possibility to share their ideas, concerns, needs, or whatever it is that is on their mind, almost in real-time.
And that is where the value lies. This gives you a chance to take action if and when necessary.
Understanding your employees better
A natural result of the above is that you’ll be much more aware of what your employees think and how they perceive various aspects of your organization (culture, leadership, compensation and benefits, etc.).
This will enable you to create an effective people strategy that empowers, engages, and motivates (future) employees.
How do you develop an employee listening strategy?
Let’s take a look at some things to consider when developing a solid employee listening strategy.
1. Consider your business and people strategy
As you probably know, your business strategy and goals (should) help you define your people strategy. This, in turn, determines your employee listening strategy.
In other words, your employee listening efforts need to make sense within your wider business and people strategies. For example, do you want to equip managers with insights to better lead and motivate their teams to work more efficiently? Or do you want to evaluate the success of various milestones throughout an extensive workforce transformation?
Reviewing your business goals will help you gather the right feedback and data and make improvements that truly help you achieve these goals.
2. Identify your key stakeholders
As with every strategy you want to develop, you need to identify your key stakeholders – and get them on board – before you start. Without their full support, chances are your employee listening strategy will dramatically fail.
So, who are those stakeholders? Apart from the HR department, which owns the listening strategy, there is:
- The organization’s leadership – or at least a few of the business leaders – so that you have several sponsors who endorse your strategy;
- IT to provide support for the technology side of things;
- Legal to provide guidance on privacy and data protection/management issues;
- Line management to role model and encourage participation;
- Corporate communications to monitor existing employee sites for insights;
- Marketing to work with HR on branding related to external candidates.
This is not an exhaustive list of key stakeholders as there might be other departments to involve depending on the organization you’re in.
3. Ensure privacy and confidentiality
If you want your employee listening strategy to be a success, it’s crucial that you make sure your employees (and other types of workers involved) feel comfortable sharing their opinions without fear of retaliation.
Ensuring privacy, data protection, and confidentiality further assures your employees and protects you legally. We discuss this in more detail in the ‘Critical note’ section below.
4. Choose and implement the right technology
Depending on your organization’s needs and your employee listening strategy, you’ll probably need to add a couple of tools to your HR tech stack to conduct and analyze surveys.
Think about what features you need: real-time, dashboards, survey options, a focus on DEIB or wellbeing, etc. Then, explore solutions with those desired features. A few popular employee listening tools are Effectory, Leapsome, and Perceptyx.
5. Involve a wider workforce
Yes, it’s called an ’employee’ listening strategy. Yet, it’s wise to also gather insights from people who are not your full-time employees. Think of independent contractors, gig workers, freelancers, etc.
These types of contingent workers have been – and will continue to be – an increasingly important part of the workforce in many organizations. As such, we are moving towards a more holistic definition – and treatment – of a workforce. In more concrete terms: include your contingent workers in your employee listening efforts to improve your overall people experience.
6. Overcome survey fatigue
Regardless of how many different tools you use for employee listening, surveys will be a (large) part of it. And so the last thing you want is for your employees to get fed up with surveys.
If you send out too many of them, or if they are too long, your employees will quickly grow tired of them. This is even more true if they see that you don’t act on their feedback. So, be smart about the format of your surveys and about how frequently you send one out.
An interesting example of how to go about this comes from Nexans. This global company is the largest supplier of cables and accessories in Sweden. Employees at the Swedish Nexans branch anonymously answer the same four questions every week. The results of this mini-survey are then put into a report that is being shared with the entire branch.
The key to success here, however, is that managers then talk about the survey responses with their team members weekly. As a result, the response rate is 93%, employees feel listened to and valued, and the company as a whole gets a boost from increased job satisfaction.
7. Conduct in-person or virtual focus groups
Employee focus groups will help you gather qualitative feedback to complement your survey data.
They can be the next step in your listening process to dive deeper into the issues identified through surveys and:
- Provide more in-depth insights to reveal workplace trends and fresh ideas.
- Uncover the strengths and weaknesses of your organization as well as actions for addressing or amplifying them.
- Paint a more comprehensive picture of how your workforce feels about your organization through qualitative insights.
- Provide an additional opportunity to show your people that you value their feedback and are genuinely dedicated to improving their EX.
8. Be open and transparent
This might very well be the single most important aspect of a successful employee listening strategy. We’ve already mentioned it, but we can’t stress this enough: sharing the results of your listening activities is so important.
As we saw in the example from Nexans, this can have a positive effect on the participation rate but also boost engagement, job satisfaction, and so many other things.
At the very least, be transparent about the insights you gain through your employee listening efforts and share them with your people. If you have an action plan, that’s fantastic – share that too.
If you don’t, be honest with your employees, tell them you’re looking into what you can do (if you really are doing that), or even better, ask them for input. Try doing this consistently – like we also saw in the Nexans example – so that your employees know what to expect.
9. Have a communication plan
With the challenges like survey fatigue and privacy concerns, think about how you are going to continuously communicate about your employee listening activities. This includes:
- information about the survey results and what you plan to do with them;
- addressing privacy concerns (if there are any);
- sharing success stories.
When developing your communication plan, keep all of your employees in mind, both frontline/deskless workers and office/knowledge workers.
How you can best reach them and ensure that they actually get the information will most likely vary. While office-based employees might religiously read your weekly email newsletter, people in the field might be more likely to check out the big screen in the canteen, for instance.
As we saw in the Nexans example, managers also play an essential role in this.
10. Take action
The whole point of your employee listening strategy is to turn employee feedback into a meaningful action to create a lasting change in your organization.
Many companies are already on the right path here. According to a survey by Perceptyx, 60% of organizations can now produce action plans within four weeks of receiving their listening results.
Also, make sure that you show your employees that you’re actually doing something with their input. 90% of employees are more likely to stay at an organization that gathers and acts on employee feedback.
Let’s say that a pulse survey shows your employees are unhappy with the new time-tracking software. You can then follow up with some employees to find out what exactly it is that they find frustrating. If they find it difficult to navigate, you can prepare a short video training session where you show employees tips and tricks about how to use the software effectively.
A critical note
Employee listening can be a truly great way to improve your EX. If done well, it can contribute to creating an employee-centric organization where every employee feels valued and listened to. A place where employees actively contribute to the success of the business.
However, a critical note is in order.
Organizations are utilizing a wide range of methods to understand how their employees feel and what they think. Some companies already use methods like calendar scraping and sentiment analysis of internal communication. The productivity monitoring software market has boomed with the rise of remote work during the pandemic.
Here, the line between employee listening and ‘big brother is watching you’ potentially is a fine one. Who says companies won’t use the data they (secretly) gather from their employees against their employees? Whether it be an employee sharing with a colleague that they’re mentally not very well or perhaps that they’re interviewing elsewhere, what if the company decided to let these people go because of this?
Or, let’s take things one step further even. Imagine if companies use the data they gather from wearable devices such as a Fitbit against their people? What if some people don’t get to those infamous 10,000 steps a day for a certain period of time? Will they then end up in a database of employees ‘at risk’ because, according to their Fitbit, they’re not active enough? And what consequences will this have for them?
There are some serious concerns with these kinds of employee listening techniques simply because the interest of a (large) organization isn’t always aligned with that of its people. And because there are countless examples already of how large corporates abuse people data or, at the very least, aren’t fully transparent about what they do with it.
When you’re developing an employee listening strategy, make sure to consider the ethics of employee listening. Ask yourself: How do we ensure an organization doesn’t misuse the data it collects from its employees? How can we protect employees from this?
A final word
Having an employee listening strategy is key to driving a positive change within your organization and retaining your employees. By putting a strategy in place, you’re turning feedback into a valuable resource for improving your workplace.