The Employee Voice Speaks Volumes. Listen Up!

The Employee Voice Speaks Volumes. Listen Up!

Table of Contents

What’s happening in the employee voice space? And how are companies adjusting their strategies?

In 1907, Henry Ford had an attrition rate of over 700%. (And you thought yours was bad?) To keep people building those model T cars, Ford gave laborers a reward after working on the lines a year, two years, five years. Clearly it wasn’t enough to keep them motivated. But, more than a century later, companies still use that reward strategy.

In the 1920s the U.S. government introduced employee surveys; a hundred years later the practice continues in the form of annual engagement surveys.

In the 1960s GE popularized the concept of performance reviews, the first ranking system. Sixty years on, organizations are still doing the same thing.

The workplace has changed and is changing now more than ever. But what about the way we consult the voice of our employees? Insanity, it’s often said, is doing the same thing over and over again and expect different results.

If you ask people what’s wrong with today’s approach to hearing the voice of employees, they say it’s too infrequent, it’s cumbersome, and by the time information is shared feedback’s become irrelevant. The processes take a lot of effort, and result in negligible impact.

Five ways to evolve the employee voice mindset in your organization

  1. Use consumer principles. We have all sorts of different customer relationship systems in our organizations. Why aren’t we doing those exact same things for the benefit of our talent? One way to start the conversation in your organization is to point out that “for every dollar spent on employee feedback, companies spend hundreds of dollars on customer feedback.” – This from Tory Stevenson, who ran customer loyalty at eBay.
  2. Leverage and accept new technologies. Bring technology into your world. There’s technology available that allows you to look at hundreds of thousands of open-ended employee comments and understand the themes or sentiments across them. Some companies are stepping it up by nudging leaders with technology that recommends content for skill upgrading based on survey feedback.
  3. Make use of insights, not data. It’s stories that are important – revealing where things are trending up or trending down, where sentiments are low or high. Channel those insights towards behavior change. If you’re not using data and people analytics to make people decisions, you need to start building that into your world.
  4. Be more agile. The evolution of employee voice has taken us from the outdated annual survey to the new and better world of active listening. Employees can express real-time sentiments through frequent pulse surveys and organizations can dig into what’s happening at that moment in time. Some organizations do so every quarter, some every month, some every two weeks, some every week.
  5. Leverage your secret weapon: your managers. Organizations often view employee voice or engagement strategies as being separate from the business strategy. But all your people and all your leaders are involved in people strategies. Empower managers. Give them access to the employee voice in real-time so results can be used to influence behavior and support overarching business goals.

A prime example of this evolutionary employee voice approach is Trimble, a multinational corporation representing 120 organizations and over 47 products and services. Their 11,000 employees are located across 50 countries.

“We like allowing our businesses and all of our employees to stay close to their customers regionally and through an industry perspective,” Kelly Main, a leader on Trimble’s global talent management team recently explained in a webinar. “That also means that our challenges in a highly decentralized environment, requires us to be creative with the Employee Voice and our people strategy as we try to figure out how to unite all 11,000 of us in very different environments or very different cultures and customer bases.”

At Trimble, HR has shifted its role. They don’t want to be the gatekeeper of data, (collecting, releasing, and then advising managers on how to interpret and act on findings). HR is certainly still a part of those conversations, but the priority is on giving managers their own data, empowering them, helping them understand and react to the ways their employees perceive their actions, the dynamics and actions of the team, the business and Trimble at large.

For example, one of Trimble’s most recent surveys asked if employees agree with the statement: “I receive recognition for good work.” If a manager sees that 70% or less of their people feel positively they know there’s an opportunity and a need to do more. They can turn that insight into an active listening discussion. “Gosh, I didn’t realize I have an opportunity to do better at recognition. I want to do better. What does that look like for you? How do you like to be recognized? What have you been working on that has gone unnoticed?” While these conversations can be awkward at first, Main wants people to lean into these kinds of discussions and open themselves up with a growth mindset to use survey results to drive action and change.

Trimble’s active listening strategy integrates with their employee value proposition – to ensure the corporation is living up to who they say they are; emphasizes one-on-one manager/employee exchanges; and at the core, empowers managers. Each survey asks ten or fewer questions and generally takes less than 2 minutes to complete. Issued quarterly, questions reflect the upcoming quarter’s theme Feedback on whether managers are giving recognition to their employees, for instance, feeds into the next quarter’s theme about the quality of working relationships.

“We’ve got four quarterly themes that are the backbone of our performance as well as our active listening strategy and we give managers direct access to their survey data so they can immediately have meaningful conversations. We believe this infrastructure, that links all of this activity together, will hopefully make it easier for our managers to show up as the great managers that they want to be,” Main explains.

Another big theme behind Trimble’s survey strategy is to use data and people analytics as evidence:

  • Pinpointing a list of things great managers do that correlate with the strongest, retention, engagement and performance metrics
  • Digging deeper to understand how work/life flexibility, particularly for those working around the clock with global colleagues and other time zones, is moving the needle for the business
  • Assessing whether the whole agile performance process that Trimble has been participating in is increasing eNPS. Main reports the answer is a resounding yes.

“We really value the real-time agility of our Active Listening approach because it fits with giving managers their data. It fits with our model of telling managers. This is your information, this is your tool, you get to access it when it’s good for you, when it’s meaningful for you to sit down to digest the information. And that’s been a fantastic element of our people survey strategy so far.”