General HR

Continuous Listening-The Future of Employee Voice

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Most of our clients are considering alternative approaches to capture workforce insights (outside the annual employee survey). Everybody wants “best practices”, yet everybody is waiting to see what everyone else is doing. The key will be not to focus too much on industry practices, but rather define a “listening strategy”: what do we want to ask, to whom, when, how and why.

Regarding what is being asked, we see emerging a measurement hierarchy; from the more robust (people’s beliefs, opinions about the organization), to less robust (situational observations) to the fleeting (mood). For example, pride in working for company XYZ is probably stable; whether your leaders communicated about the organization’s strategy may vary from one month to another; and your particular mood can switch daily.

Regarding population and frequency, self-service survey technology enables organizations to have ad hoc surveys user generated, or a planned survey for the entire population. Things such as engagement are more useful when measured once or twice a year, but situational things are useful on a more frequent basis.

The main factors informing the listening strategy are whether these surveys are Managed vs. Self-service, Planned vs. Ad hoc, Census vs. Sample.

One technology for frequent, informal surveys is the Minipulse – a one question poll. Other technologies will also facilitate the launch of ad hoc surveys, linking your past survey and organizational structure.

There is also a desire to use more qualitative information; asking open-ended questions for example. The new approaches try to automate the analysis, because it is suddenly complex to see the important patterns if we start collecting that kind of information. The key is to define what kind of question, frequency and population will provide you needed insights.

Finally, there are also options afforded by internal and external social medias, where suddenly we are not asking anything, but rather looking for patterns in user-generated content.

Two trends that shape up the new approaches:

–  A division of labour: the annual engagement survey, ad hoc local survey and internal social media will divide and conquer the aggregation of employees’ voice. Some things will be pushed to social media for quick escalation. Others will be deeper and more robust, staying in the annual survey.

– The need for enhanced analytics: frequent surveys or multiple survey types, are only as good as the ability to turn the data into meaningful actions. Employees enjoy giving feedback, but the challenge is that organizations end up with more data and less time to analyze and act on it. We have begun to use Watson (our super-computer that understands natural language and won at Jeopardy), to mine this data in order to simplify the overall analysis, and our Survey Analytics technology (also based on Watson architecture) to automate the detection of patterns, themes and sentiments in open-ended comments.

These new approaches require more thoughtfulness in the design, and more analysis capabilities. We believe that smarter organization will have Continuous Listening (mobile, cloud-based), Continuous Insight (cognitive analytics) and Continuous Action Planning (social networking tools) technologies.

This blog is brought to you by IBM Smarter Workforce—Engaging employees to drive the business.

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