An Employee Listening Strategy is Critical to High Performance – Now More Than Ever (i4cp login required)

A solid employee listening strategy
is imperative to organizational performance both when times are good and in
times of crisis. Prior to the events of 2020, the Institute for Corporate
Productivity’s (i4cp) groundbreaking study, Culture
Renovation: A Blueprint for Action
found that 41% of
high-performance organizations used frequent and short employee pulse surveys to
gauge employee sentiment while only 28% of low-performance organizations
utilized this approach. The study also found that while 27% of high-performance
organizations leveraged always-on continuous feedback technology, this was true
in only 7% of lower-performing organizations.

With the multiple crises of 2020 and the numerous and various
impacts on employees across the globe, the importance of a listening strategy
has become even more pronounced. In a soon-to-be-published study by i4cp on
leadership behaviors, we found that the attribute of being highly attuned to
the opinions and feelings of employees was among the most cited by nearly 700
survey respondents as much more important in 2020 than previously so.

Kate O’Brien, Director of People Analytics and HR Operations
at Broad Institute of MIT and
Harvard noted in a recent discussion
of learning and development leaders
facilitated by i4cp that one key to ensuring that employees
felt as if they were being heard was a shift in listening strategy which has
been accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

O’Brien detailed their approach: using their monthly “Broad
Pulse” survey, standard engagement questions continued to be asked as an anchor
while they began to ask additional questions that are a bit more personal such
as: How overwhelmed do you feel? How anxious do you feel? Are you a caregiver?
Of children? If so, what ages are they? Do you feel financially insecure?

In another i4cp-hosted discussion of
learning and development leaders, Akil
Walton, VP of Global Talent Management at Tech Data, shared that a shift in their listening strategy has been
key to engagement during the pandemic.
In this call, Walton said
that Tech Data has also increased the frequency of pulse surveys, covering
topics such as remote work, return to the office questions, and more. The
organization is particularly interested in determining whether people are
staying connected and engaged, and whether they feel the organization is
building trust.

Similarly, a heightened
focus on communication was among the first changes Lincoln
Financial Group made in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak
and the migration
of its employees from workplaces to work-from-home (WFH) settings. Within a
week of the move to WFH, the company sent out an all-employee survey on productivity,
asking how people were adjusting. Another survey sampled employees’ opinions of
the company’s pandemic response and its support of its workforce. Positive
responses noted increased communication between employees and their leaders and
revealed workers’ desires for continued enhanced communication and connection.

Why is this important now?

As we start to emerge from the challenges of the past year, it might be
tempting to fall back into old habits—perhaps stepping away from listening more
often and moving back to considering engagement of employees once per year if
at all. However, if your organization wants to emerge successful and strong,
this would be a mistake. The world has changed forever, and the expectations of
employees have shifted as well.

While so many organizations were compelled to start
listening more often as the world around us shifted, the approach to how to do
this was often built on the fly and with little to no real planning.

As you consider creating a more comprehensive employee listening strategy, it may be helpful to work through the
following questions to determine the right approach for you and your

  • Goals – What are our listening program goals?
  • Methods – What methods will we use for communication,
    data-collection, and response?
  • Benefits – What’s in it for the organization to make
    these changes? What’s in it for employees?
  • Plan – What will our high-level implementation
    scenario look like?
  • Measures – How will we measure the effectiveness of
    our approach?
  • Resources – What resources do we have now? What will we
  • Readiness – How ready are we to implement? What are the
    barriers to changing our approach and how will we mitigate them?
  • Next steps – What are our next steps to get started?

Despite the many
tragic events of 2020, one positive outcome is that so many organizations have
seen the importance of assessing employee sentiment and listening more
frequently. With the impending option of transitioning from WFH to returning to
a workplace for many in 2021, it may be tempting to believe that a deeper
listening strategy is no longer a priority or perhaps the effort won’t be worth
the gain.

We assert that rather
than move away from always-on or other more frequent listening opportunities,
it’s time to redouble these efforts so that the trust and connection created
over the past year is not lost but rather used as a foundation on which to

Kari Naimon is a senior research analyst at i4cp.