The (Silent) Voice of the Employee

June 22, 2015 conduentblogs

It happens all the time.

The CEO, CFO, VP of HR, and other senior business leaders discuss the company’s spend on compensation, benefits, and other human capital programs—almost always in the context of controlling costs. Absent from these discussions is the one voice that can help find a way through what otherwise is a discouraging exercise with no satisfactory return: the very resource that a business depends on most, the employee.

In a recent article in workspan, I had the chance to outline what I see as the new rules of engagement—how to achieve the best outcome for business growth and productivity by aligning the needs of employees with the objectives of the organization.

Improving people performance in the context of a solid business model, by default, improves corporate performance. To succeed at that, you need to be serious about—and be good at—“employee listening.” That’s because understanding employee attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors in managing their careers, staying physically healthy, and being financially secure is critical to identifying and driving the kinds of organizational change that lead to better performance.

By focusing your efforts to improve overall engagement and performance, you gain a competitive advantage. It can enhance your position in the eyes of your employees by demonstrating your willingness to engage them—and you can further enhance it by communicating what you learned and the action you intend to take. It can increase your effectiveness by enabling you to operate on the basis of sound information, as opposed to untested (and possibly erroneous) assumptions.

Five (Not Very Good) Reasons for NOT Engaging in Employee Listening

We’ve heard them all before. Any of these sound familiar?

1. We don’t want to raise expectations. The fact is, your employees already have expectations—and those expectations aren’t always reasonable. Employee listening can help you align expectations for employees with your business goals.

2. We’re not prepared to deal with the findings. Avoiding the data doesn’t solve any underlying problems. Better to talk with your employees about the issues that can be addressed quickly and the ones that will take time.

3. We already know what they think. Survey after survey tells us that employees believe their companies “make major decisions that affect my life without asking me.” You’ll have a hard time enlisting employees’ support for company goals when you don’t demonstrate you know or care about theirs.

4. We’re surveyed to death. Being “surveyed to death” is a good sign that you need to put a “listening strategy” in place to limit the questionnaires and make the process far more effective, and a valued part of your organizational culture.

5. We don’t have the time or the money. Through email and Web-based surveys, you can get data quickly and cost-effectively. And, it’s an investment in your human capital that can have a positive ROI in many ways.

Still not sure about employee listening? Consider a few real-life examples.

One of our clients, a Fortune 200 steel manufacturer, used a broad-based employee “pulse” survey to gauge how well the CEO’s objectives had cascaded down through individual goals at every level in the company. The survey data enabled the client to pinpoint exactly where the cascading process had been effective —and where more work was needed.

An international paper manufacturer used annual surveys of managers and executives to understand the extent to which a large-scale strategic transformation was “taking root” throughout the organization. Based on the survey results, a country-specific communication campaign was launched that substantially accelerated the transformation.

A third client, a large media and technology company, invited employees to take a fun, interactive quiz—designed to be “mobile first”—so that employees could assess their overall well-being. In the process, the employer gained valuable insights into its population’s health and personal goals as well as learning what programs employees would find most valuable.

The question is not whether an organization should engage in employee listening, but whether it can afford not to.

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