Leadership Comms: Listening is the new Talking, and Action is the new Listening
— May 31st, 2023
Communications professionals have always prided themselves on the value of "two-way symmetrical communication," with employees.
But this practice is sometimes cast aside by leaders and organizations that would prefer to just cascade and disseminate information.
Traditionally, companies have focused on communicating to employees, and much less on communicating with them. Until even just a few years ago, companies were content to capture "Voice of the Employee" through engagement and pulse surveys, or by analyzing data from sophisticated HR or EX tech platforms.
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However, in researching our Insights Report: The New Rules of Employee Experience & Communications, across the board, our interviewees told us that those methods just don't cut it anymore.
What we heard was a demand for employee listening that truly engages workers. Certainly, surveys and digital solutions are important, but smart companies are also leveraging what we like to call ‘analog’ listening, that is, actual conversations with employees.
One leader we spoke with offered this advice:
“Going out into the organization, meeting people, hearing stories, gathering frustrations, what are they proud of, the more active you are as a leader, the more likely they are to have insights. Get out of your own meetings. Get out of your office as much as possible and stay in the business because that’s where the answers are. Be curious. Ask good questions.”
Implementing a listening program is more than just a way to gather feedback and opinions; the act of listening itself is actually a powerful form of communication that contributes to employee experience.
There are a number of other reasons why a strategic listening program can be important, including:
- Improving employee retention and engagement
- Helping deliver on the organization’s DEI strategy
- As part of the ongoing implementation of its EVP, fulfilling its recruitment brand promise
- Early detection of employee issues that may represent organizational and/or reputational risk
- Enabling and empowering employees to deliver on the business strategy
- Accessing the wisdom and insights of employees to help improve the business
- Encouraging innovation, high performance, cross-functional collaboration, growth, and development
Implementing a consistent approach to listening can also be a game changer in making a hybrid model work. Absent the convenience of seeing people in real life every day, organizations must be more deliberate in how they listen to employees, which contributes to the overall improved employee experience.
One of the most important aspects of a listening program is that it must involve cross-functional collaboration. While communications may play a lead role, input and insight from colleagues in HR, IT, DEI, Operations, and other areas of the business with a stake in employee experience is vital.
As with any communications initiative, the project team should develop a program strategy that sets clear goals and SMART objectives, and establishes criteria, (for example, what are we listening for? What business challenges and opportunities are we trying to gain insight into solving?) and defines how success will be measured and evaluated.
Our approach to a strategic listening program has three phases: Gather, Analyze, and Respond.
Seeking input, feedback, and perspectives from around the business. The annual cycle of engagement and pulse surveys will naturally be part of this, and other sources include:
- Focus groups and roundtables
- ERGs, Champion & Influencer Groups
- Two-way "Ask Me Anything" sessions
- Town Halls with an emphasis on participation and Q&A
- HR and EX Listening platforms
- Stay and Exit interviews
- External sources, for example, Glassdoor
This is one of the most critical aspects of a listening program—it's where we start to interpret and make sense of what we’ve heard. Listening can be noisy work! It can be challenging to sift through signals, inputs, and sentiments, especially when so many will be interrelated and interdependent.
In developing the listening criteria for the program, one helpful organizing principle can be the company’s Employee Value Proposition (EVP) because it addresses so many arenas of employee experience.
As every internal communications professional knows, "survey fatigue" is less about employees not wanting to be asked for their opinion and more about giving it and being ignored.
For this reason, before developing a listening program, it’s imperative that leaders are committed (and have processes and mechanisms) to considering, evaluating, and acting on the expressed voice of the employee.
This is also where many communication professionals may need to build confidence and the ability to influence. In the "You Said, We Did" equation, communicators must be able to support leaders in making decisions that serve the employee experience.
Remember that leaders are an employee audience segment, just like any other, and helping them to understand and interpret information that can be acted upon is vital to an effective listening program.
And of course, communicating the program’s resulting actions, outcomes, and changes to workers is the final phase of an approach to employee listening that hopefully becomes a virtuous circle of Gathering, Analyzing, and Responding!
Dream big, start small
Developing a listening program can be daunting, so it’s important to build a cross-functional team that can help to create an iterative approach. Wherever you are on your listening journey is ok, the important thing is to be strategic, take small steps, and demonstrate results.