Feeling the pulse of an organization

Continuous employee listening makes sense in a dynamic environment
By Aage Seljegard and Nigel McNeil
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 08/08/2017

It’s a fast-moving world out there. Shifts in the political, economic and social landscape — together with changes in the nature of work — are reverberating throughout organizations. 

But one foundational truth remains unchanged — the drive and engagement of employees makes a critical difference to the success of employers. In order to fulfil this promise of human capital, employers are reinventing the overall employee experience, ensuring it delivers against the strategic intent of the organization.

High-performing employees want more than a brand — they want an experience filled with purpose, as part of a high-performing team, with a total rewards package that meets their needs.

As employee expectations change, so too must the ways organizations listen to those expectations. Measurement is no longer about just understanding employee opinion at a given point in time; it’s about understanding the employee experience throughout their journey with an employer.

The employee experience starts before a person joins an organization: “What will it be like to work there? What opportunities will I have?” And it continues day-to-day: “Do I enjoy the work? The colleagues? Do I believe I have a bright future? Do I believe in the mission?” And it influences people’s decision to leave.

An annual employee survey continues to meet a core need for insight into employee perceptions and preferences. The event-type survey provides an opportunity for inclusiveness, granular results reporting and comprehensive statistical analysis.

It also allows employers to cast a broad net in understanding opinions related to every aspect of the employee experience — from big picture, strategic themes to the day-to-day experience of work, relationships and rewards.

However, the dynamic nature of employee expectations is driving a need to complement the robust classic survey with continuous employee listening, typically deployed through agile pulse surveys. Employers can gain a quick and comprehensive insight into the impact of the employee life-cycle moments that matter most.

Here are some ways to successfully incorporate pulse surveys:

Be clear about employee listening objectives: Comprehensive annual surveys can be thought of as an employer’s means to help provide a broad and granular view of the overall employee experience it wants to create.

A pulse survey is an agile tool for tuning the ongoing delivery of that promise, tailored around key moments that matter, such as the onboarding process, key communications from senior leaders, the performance cycle, organizational restructuring or introduction of new management — often targeted to specific populations.

A leading retailer, for example, used pulse surveys to gather rich insights on the employee experience, so programmatic changes could be made and tracked. One-off pulse surveys to test new initiatives were used around launching a new career website, refreshing the onboarding process, launching a new development process and introducing new reward statements.

Regular pulse surveys were used to track the effectiveness of areas such as recruitment, employer branding, onboarding, employee development (leadership development, competencies, career frameworks, learning and development programs), performance management (manager toolkits, rewards and benefits, employee touchpoints, recognition programs) and exit interviews.

Be agile, but also methodologically robust: Leading pulse survey technologies provide speed, ease-of-use and a consumer-grade user experience, while also meeting the foundational needs for thoughtful questionnaire design, internal trend comparisons and external benchmarking.

Good questions should be carefully worded, tested and have a proven link to performance. Make sure to choose a software that has a robust library of tested items and credible benchmarks, so you can find out whether the scores are actually good, or just the same as everyone else’s.

As a general rule, design a blend of questions that will provide insights into your culture, your strategy (for senior leaders to take action on) and the local-level work experience (that local leaders, managers and teams can influence.)

Target the right group: Agile survey technology enables you to easily target specific surveys to specific populations, determining key insights from the relevant groups. Examples of employee segments of particular interest may include high-potentials, graduates and apprentices, representatives of critical roles or diverse talent, new joiners and regrettable losses.

If in doubt, be inclusive: The practice of sample surveys — where only a representative subset of an overall population is selected for survey participation — is becoming less common. This is because employers are realizing the aspect of involving and including everyone is an engaging activity in itself, and is often a key part of the value of running a survey.

Ensure data is integrated for a holistic view of the employee life cycle: To ensure pulse surveys serve the overarching purpose of understanding and improving the employee experience, ensure that a common and integrated survey platform is used across the company, allowing for continuous analysis and learning across surveys.

Set the right frequency, and avoid survey fatigue: The frequency of pulse surveys is an important factor to get right. If surveys are not conducted frequently enough, the insights become dated. On the other hand, surveys administered too frequently produce survey fatigue and can cause the quality of the insights to diminish. It might be tempting to survey everyone monthly, but employees may soon tire of this practice, or find it intrusive.

Choose self-service, a trusted partner, or both: If you’re a self-starter with a limited budget, self-service software is a good option. If you need a little support, make sure to choose a partner that offers experienced project management teams to provide trusted guidance at every step of the process. Ideally, find a partner that offers both self-service software as a cost-effective way of delivering pulse surveys, while also providing support for the larger activities.

Pulse surveys provide a vehicle for employers to put their ears closer to the ground, driving accountability among leaders and generating insight into the employee experience. They are best done as part of an overall listening strategy designed to help an organization deliver upon a thoughtful, well-articulated employee experience.

Both at Willis Towers Watson, Aage Seljegard is a senior talent consultant in New York, and Nigel McNeil is talent director in London, U.K. For more information, visit www.willistowerswatson.com.

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