Skip to main content

The Art of Employee Voice Action Planning in an Age of Transformation

How many times have you heard the expression “actions speak louder than words”?  In our workplaces, it’s a truism unlike ever before. Because the insights that our employee’s voice – when heard, understood and used as the basis for ACTION – shape better Employee Experiences. Better Employee Experiences feed into higher levels of Employee Engagement. And we all know about the benefits of engaged employees.

What’s interesting is the way our Active Listening approach is evolving (a good thing, that).

More than 25 years ago when Employee Engagement tip-toed onstage, organizations rolled out full-scale employee surveys, and based on results, had their leaders draw up an Action Plan that became the footing for performance management (and compensation) across the organization. Great – right?  But then what?

The next 12 months passed by with never-ending distractions, shifting goals, changing priorities. Boom! Before you knew it leaders and their managers were back in the conference room having another annual performance discussion and talking about Action Plans for the coming year.

The traditional approach to employee voice action planning (still in force by many today) didn’t work then. And doesn’t work any better now. Action Plans are sidelined, shunted aside, not done. There’s no follow-through. And why would there be if they’re not being measured, monitored and checked but once a year?

That’s where this story picks up.

Organizations are radically more agile than they were 25, ten, or even two years ago. As the frequency of pulse surveys kick in to give us more and clearer real-time views of issues – and guide actions that matter – the annual performance action planning process doesn’t fit. The good news is: there are different ways we can approach this, and multiple levels in our organizations that can tackle survey follow up actions.

1) Direct & operational management levels

Frequently pulsing a team and getting a better pulse of the organization overall is a critical fundamental factor. If you’re measuring Employee Voice frequently, it’s easier to make leaders more accountable. It’s easier to track actions. It’s easier to tie actions to compensation.

Yes, directives can come from the C-Suite for an Action Plan at an organizational level. Let’s say 2020 goals are to upscale career planning and professional development and turn it over to every leader. But what if a leader knows the what, but doesn’t know the how? And how can HR track and measure?

Nowadays, advanced platforms recommend actions to leaders based on feedback from their teams. The best of these tools use algorithms and machine learning that formulate plans and actions real and specific to each manager. This added layer of personalization is a game-changer because every manager is different. Every manager needs Action Plans specific to them. And ultimately, accountability rests with the individual.

employee voice action planning

In addition to recommended actions leaders also receive reading materials, quick strategies, and step-by-step guidance to help with the how.

This technology will remind leaders of the actions on their “to do” list. If something has been pending for a while, they’ll get a little nudge with recommended readings to help them on their ACTive Listening journey.

Because, every company is different, some of the most progressive tools use crowdsourcing to curate what actions work best in our individual organizations. These platforms solicit feedback: What worked? What didn’t? Would you recommend it to another leader? This contextual info together with machine learning recalibrates recommendations (specific to the organization and individual) to become ever more effective. And of course, all of this information is a measurable part of the full platform.

Buckle in though. The ride is just beginning. Given the speed at which technology is marching forward, AI coaches are predicted to dash on stage soon (forget about tip-toeing). What that looks like, whether conversations will be with a bot (?) a human-assisted bot (?) or person-to-person (?) still remains to be seen.

The point is, these action-oriented tools are personalized (and becoming more so iteration by iteration). They drive action by helping leaders see what needs doing, by holding them accountable, by reporting progress, and by making it a lot easier to track and get things done.

But let’s be clear. Technology is an enabler. It doesn’t replace human interaction.

Technology helps the process. It provides a wealth of background materials and tools. It’s all online. You can use collaboration tools. And at its Employee-Voice-best, it fosters human connection, typically by way of frequent pulse surveys that facilitate continuous two-way conversation.

But an annual or biennial census survey comes with a lot of data to digest. The development of Employee Voice Action Plans comes from your people analytics. And employees need to have a say.

This is where post-survey consulting support brings the added human connection piece and provides storytelling around data interpretation and analysis.

2)  Employee level

Include employees in the action planning process. The issues and challenges that you seek to remedy are those of employees themselves. Involving them in the development of solutions and ideas allows them to contribute in a meaningful way and makes them feel valued.  This will create “buy-in” and they will also act as advocates to their peers and colleagues when their ideas are rolled out.

Facilitated workshops bring together employees to explore key engagement factors like career growth. Because it is Employee Voice, representation is intentionally designed for a good mix of employees by levels, departments, tenure, age, and so on; diversity of thought and opinion is paramount. Getting people to talk, to feel comfortable, to free their minds, to challenge ideas, the discussions that happen are a very important dynamic. A neutral or objective third party creates a safe place where people readily share opinions and thoughts.

An ideation workshop typically generates 100+ ideas. Through a democratic prioritization exercise, those numbers are whittled down to a handful (5-8) of manageable ideas, which are then evaluated more deeply. You get prioritized ideas, evaluation of those ideas and Action Plans. Firm outputs

employee voice action planning - team

3) Executive level

Leadership endorsement is critical to any initiative. If there’s executive participation in the employee voice action planning session, then you should have an advocate around the leadership table. It all needs to be aligned and managed:

  • for implementation throughout the organization
  • for tracking, measurement, reporting and review accessible to HR, your executives, and whatever other levels your organization decides would benefit.

While all of this is inclusive, employee-driven, and promotes diversity of thought, organizational Action Plans still need to be aligned with direction from the top. Otherwise, managers may come up with completely different approaches that may not have anything to do with milestones and check-in points.

For example, if the corporate directive is to develop a forward-looking career path document to help employees figure out how to progress, that approach should apply consistently across the organization. Solutions should not be entirely management-driven, however. But management prioritized (what to focus on, based on the analytics, that will have the greatest impact on employees and the business).

A multi-pronged approach to the art of Action Planning works best. Certain drivers of engagement (such as leadership) lend themselves to formal employee voice action planning and enterprise-wide programs.  But you also have bottom-up drivers like work/life balance, immediate management, teamwork, and collaboration that are more micro level. That’s where direct managers and smaller groups of employees have to have the leeway to create their own Action Plans, their own solutions, to establish bonds of trust.

Managers can still be empowered to develop their own plans. But they have an anchor. They can call on employees to help build out actions and metrics around the corporate strategy.  And keep the conversation going by asking: “How do you like what’s changed? What could we do better?” Those same questions can also be part of a follow-up pulse survey – by division, or region or company-wide.

Set direction at the top. Leave room for individual customization at lower levels.

If you would like to learn more about how to action employee survey data in your organization, join us and our friends from Entegritē on Thursday, February 27th at 1:00 PM ET for our webinar, After the Survey: How Are You Actioning Your Employee Survey Data?

Additional Resources

Check out our guides on workplace culture, employee engagement, and employee voice surveys. Learn about every aspect of a successful employee voice initiative!


Read great blog posts on workplace culture, employee engagement, employee surveys and other great workplace topics.


Join WorkTango’s Rob Catalano he hosts our partners from Entegritē Consulting, Norm Baillie-David and David Ang as we discuss the multiple approaches to actioning employee survey data.