The Art of Employee Voice Action Planning

The Art of Employee Voice Action Planning

Table of Contents

Action planning based on the voice of employees is an art form in these times of transformation. How many times have you heard the expression “actions speak louder than words”?  In our workplaces, that rings true more now than ever before. When the employee voice is heard, understood and used as the basis for ACTION – it changes the employee experience for the better. Better employee experience  feeds into higher levels of employee engagement. And we all know about the benefits of engaged employees.

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 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 used by many today) didn’t work then. And doesn’t work any better now. Action plans are often sidelined, filed away and forgotten . There’s no follow-through. And why would there be if they’re only being measured, monitored and checked 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 kicks in, we’re getting more and clearer real-time views of issues – and that guides us toward actions that matter.  It’s time for a new approach that frees us to be faster and more targeted with our action planning. Translating employee voice insights into meaningful action requires effort from (and brings positive change to) every level of the organization.

1) Direct & operational management level action planning

Frequently pulsing a team and the organization as a whole is  essential. You need a baseline. If you’re tuning-in to the employee voice frequently, it’s easier to know what’s working, what’s not and where to focus your energies next. No more guesses or wasted time.

Frequent pulsing keeps leaders and managers accountable too. It’s easier to track actions. And it’s easier to tie actions to compensation.

Surveys & Insights can help managers turn bigger initiatives into meaningful, specific developments for their teams. Let’s say the C-Suite creates a new action plan at the organizational level:2020 goals include upscaling career planning and professional development.  That directive gives managers a “what” but it can’t supply every step of the “how”. And how can HR track and measure?

Nowadays, advanced platforms can recommend actions to leaders and managers based on feedback from their teams. The best of these systems use algorithms and machine learning to formulate plans and actions specific to each manager. This added layer of personalization is a game-changer because each manager is unique. Every manager needs action plans that are tailored to them. Because ultimately, accountability rests with the individual.

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

The platform can even remind leaders of the actions on their “to do” list. If something has been pending for a while, they can get a little nudge with recommended readings to help them on their ACTive Listening journey.

 Some of the most progressive tools use crowdsourcing to curate which actions work best in 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 make insights even 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 enables it. 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 connections. That’s what frequent pulse surveys are all about: facilitating continuous two-way conversation that leads to impactful change

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 peoples need to be heard in context.

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

2)  Employee level action planning

Include employees in the action planning process. The issues and challenges you’re seeking to remedy are those of employees themselves. Involving them in the development of solutions and ideas produces more effective change and communicates that you truly value their perspective..  Soliciting people’s help increases “buy-in” and the sense of ownership. In fact, you’re likely to see contributing employees act as advocates with their colleagues when their  own 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 participants by levels, departments, tenure, age, and so on; diversity of thought and opinion is paramount. A dynamic of psychological safety is critical. You want people to talk, to feel comfortable, to free their minds, to challenge ideas. . Involving a  neutral or objective third party facilitator can help create a safe place where employees share opinions without fear of reprisal.

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.

And who’s more likely to have great ideas than the people who are closest to the work?

3) Executive level action planning

Leadership endorsement–and enthusiasm– 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. Make sure that the plan  truly addresses employees’ expressed needs, that it’s practical, well-resourced and well-aligned:

  • for implementation across the organization
  • for tracking, measurement, reporting and review accessible to HR, executives, managers and whomever else your organization decides would benefit.

The best organizational Action Plans are employee-driven, inclusive,  diverse in terms of  thought  and aligned with direction from the top. That “alignment with direction from the top” is key. It keeps managers moving toward the same  milestones and checkpoints (rather than going off on their own).

For example, if the corporate directive is to develop a forward-looking career path document to help employees understand how to advance, that approach should apply consistently across the organization. A cohesive Employee Voice Action Plan isn’t  entirely management-driven–but it’s management prioritized and applied. 

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 micro-level drivers like work/life balance, immediate management, teamwork, and collaboration. That’s where direct managers and smaller groups of employees need the freedom to create their own specific Action Plans in alignment with bigger organizational plans.

Managers can call on employees to help build out individual actions and metrics around the corporate strategy.  And they can 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.

The name of the game is to set the direction at the top and then empower  well-aligned customization at every  level of the organization. 

Action planning doesn’t have to be mysterious. We’re here to help you turn employee voice insights into action plans that make change. Let us know if you’d like to talk.