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How to build an employee-centric listening program

Tony Latter | 13th September 2021

“When employees say they want their voices to be heard, they are really saying they want leaders who will not just hear them, but really listen to them.”

– Forbes


Thinking about starting an employee listening program, but don’t know where to begin? Use our step by step guide to think about how you will structure your process end to end. 

1. Start with an open mind

We all think we know our organisations, but it’s impossible for anyone to know exactly what everyone else is thinking or feeling. When you start an employee-centric listening program, it’s best to put aside your feelings about what you think if or isn’t working within your organisation. Instead listen to what your people have to say. 

If you bring prejudices or opinions into the process too early this can derail progress, and make your people feel they aren’t being listened to. This could cause problems with later surveys. 

2. Build Trust

To make the most out of your employee listening program, you need buy-in from your people. The best way to do this is to build trust by being transparent. This means clearly explaining the process, timelines and outputs from the outset. 

Another key aspect to trust is anonymity. You will get both more and better data from this because your people will trust that their feedback will not be linked back to them. This will allow you to get a clearer and more accurate picture of where your organisation is. 

3. Make it easy

The best thing you can do when starting your employee listening program is to make sure that gathering, analysing and most importantly giving feedback is as easy as possible. Ensure there’s an easy link to follow, information and deadlines are clearly signposted and surveys aren’t too long or complicated. 

We believe that surveys should be available in appropriate languages on any device, but particularly should be accessible on mobile devices and desktop computers so people can give feedback when and where they like. 

You don’t want someone opening the link and being faced with a wall of questions and text. Letting people know how long the survey is likely to take them, and how far through they are will help manage expectations. 

4. Listen first 

We are often asked about benchmarking employee engagement and happiness. While we have access to thousands of data points across hundreds of companies in 92 countries, we don’t actually believe that benchmarking against all this data is the best way for organisations to achieve their goals. 

Instead, we recommend benchmarking against yourself, as every culture is unique. Start your process with a survey that gives you a good idea of where your culture is and what the priorities are within your organisation. This will put you in a strong position to achieve your goals. 

5. Prepare for honest feedback

You may find the feedback is more candid than you expected particularly if you’ve included free text. Free text is very important in an employee-centric listening program as it allows people to speak to you openly and freely using their own words. This gives you a much better chance to understand how your people are feeling and thinking as humans, rather than just as numbers on a scale. 

Don’t become discouraged or take it personally. At this stage it’s key you all see the results as an opportunity to learn, grow and develop a people strategy that will support your entire organisation. 

6. Close the feedback loop

A key way to put your people in the centre of your employee listening program is to close the feedback loop. Try to reply directly to individual comments to ensure your people feel heard without breaking anonymity. 

This gives more power to the employees allowing them to own the process, while still hearing directly from leadership. This is particularly important in larger or remote organisations where people tend to have less direct contact with leadership. 

7. Share results and plans

The next step is to share the results of your survey with the wider organisation, as well as action steps you will be taking off the back of the feedback. Ideally you will include timelines and measurable markers so that your people will be able to see that their feedback has been listened to and acted upon. 

By committing to transparency and honesty you will build trust within your organisation. This will help you gain further insight in any follow up surveys or activity you run. You will also get a better response rate, meaning you can trust the data more. 

We recommend that you are clear and honest about any areas you are unable to tackle, as well as blockers. The more transparent you are with your people, the more employee-centric your people strategy will be. 

8. Keep listening 

Many organisations complete one-off surveys and call it a day. This is a mistake. Humans go through waves of emotion, and one-off surveys only provide a snapshot of how your people are feeling, thinking and behaving. 

Instead we recommend continuous employee listening. This will provide a much clearer picture of the true state of your organisation’s happiness and employee engagement. This approach has two benefits:

First: listening is caring. It creates an environment where people always feel acknowledged and therefore more willing to get involved. Rather than only when you want to listen.

Second, constantly monitoring your organisation’s sentiment means you can address concerns before they balloon into something much harder to fix. Organisations can focus on the most critical areas and put together timely and relevant action plans.

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