What’s happening in the space and how companies are 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. 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, companies 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, Einstein noted, is when we do the same thing over and over again and expect different results.

When people are asked what’s wrong with today’s approach to hearing the Voice of Employees, they say it’s too infrequent, it’s cumbersome, by the time information is shared so many things have changed the feedback is irrelevant, and the processes take a lot of effort, with 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 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 a great technology to look at hundreds of thousands of employee comments that are open-ended, to understand themes or sentiments. 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 the stories that are important – telling where things are trending up or trending down, where sentiments are low or high. Channel those insights towards behaviour 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 really changed from the annual survey to what a lot of companies are doing, called 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 two weeks, some every week.
  5. Leverage your secret weapon: your managers! Companies often view Employee Voice or engagement strategies separate from the business strategy. But all your people and all your leaders are involved in people strategies. Empower managers. Give them Employee Voice in real time to influence behaviour and support overarching business goals.
employee voice and value proposition

A prime example of this evolutionary Employee Voice approach is Trimble, a multi-national corporation with 11,000 employees in 50 countries representing 120 companies and over 47 products and services.

“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.”

Not wanting to be the gatekeeper of data – collecting, releasing and advising managers on how to interpret and act on findings – HR has shifted its role. It’s certainly part of those conversations, and a key partner at the table, but priority is to give managers their own data, to empower them, to help them understand and react to how their employees perceive their actions, the actions and dynamics of the team, the business, and Trimble at large.

As an 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 70% of their people feel positively or favourably, they also see the opportunity and a need to do more, and 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 to you? How do you like to be recognized? What do you think you’ve 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 asked reflect the upcoming quarter’s theme. The feedback, for instance, on whether managers are giving recognition to their employees 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.”