The world of work isn’t exactly the Land of Oz, but it can be a scary place. These days, we’re surrounded by uncertainty. Leaders must find the courage to face the unknown and act on whatever they encounter along the way. It isn’t easy. But it’s a path that leads to a stronger work culture, a more enriching employee experience, and sustainable change.
After all, management is a journey. It’s a process. At its best, it’s a virtuous cycle, fueled by feedback that reveals important truths about the human realities of work. Often, we uncover this intelligence through tools based on the principles of people science. But which tools really help? Let’s dig deeper…
So Many Tools, So Little Time
This is the perfect season to assess your organization’s existing feedback capabilities and identify future needs. I’m sure that’s what many employers are doing after seeing what’s new at the annual HR Tech Conference earlier this month. But innovation isn’t the only thing driving their choices.
Just think about the complex issues weighing on leaders’ minds:
- Employee engagement and retention continue to slide. Still, productivity and performance expectations remain high.
- After years of overwhelming change, stress, and burnout, managerial ranks are dwindling at all levels.
- Many organizations are still trying to reconcile return-to-office policies with flexible work preferences. This means they must prioritize workforce wellbeing, inclusion, and trust — all of which depend on strong communication.
- In the face of ongoing economic headwinds, employers are hesitant to move forward with expansion plans. Some are even cutting staff. Yet, finding and keeping highly qualified talent for in-demand positions remains an uphill climb.
- AI is rapidly reaching critical mass. On the heels of the recent surge in generative AI, other forms of automation now touch every corner of our work lives. And momentum is expected to accelerate.
With all these factors in play, it may seem tempting to turn to technology for solutions. But that could make the situation even worse. Why?
Tech stacks are already suffering from post-pandemic bloat. After years of investing in tools to support changing workforce dynamics, too many organizations are still not making the most of their incremental tech investments or managing them strategically.
The story is all too familiar, isn’t it? No matter how many tools we acquire, if the right people can’t, don’t, or won’t apply them effectively, what’s the point? After all, technology is only as powerful as the people who use it to connect, communicate, collaborate, discover, grow, and perform each day.
On the other hand, the right tools in the right context can make a huge difference — if the right people put them to good use. Sounds like a people science challenge to me.
How People Science Helps
This reminds me of a conversation I had about a year ago on a #WorkTrends podcast with people science expert, Kevin Campbell. Over the years, Kevin has worked with some of the most prestigious firms in workforce strategy, including Culture Amp, Deloitte, Gallup, and now Qualtrics.
How does people science add value, in Kevin’s opinion? Check these snippets from our discussion:
Kevin, what exactly do you do?
People science requires expertise in multiple disciplines. Think of a Venn diagram with three intersecting circles:
One is people analytics, another is organizational psychology, and the other is applied practice. An employee experience scientist sits in the intersection of those three areas.
What does the term “employee engagement” mean to you?
It’s important to talk about what it is not, as well as what it is.
It’s not a survey. Often, we lose sight of the fact that engagement is an emotional and psychological state. A survey is just a tool that helps us measure that state.
Engagement really starts with emotional commitment. I emphasize the emotional aspect because it’s about the desire to stay with an organization and help fulfill its objectives — not because you’re obligated or you feel forced to do it, but because you want to.
What is the most critical challenge you’re seeing right now?
Organizations often overemphasize understanding and underemphasize improvement in action.
For example, according to 2021 data, nearly 90% of companies measure engagement or have some type of employee feedback program, but only 7% of employees say their company acts on feedback in a highly effective way.
How can employers address this problem?
It’s important to recognize that the engagement survey or data isn’t the end. It’s really just the beginning.
To improve, you’ll want to translate results into actions that can have outsized impact on your company culture. And the key is simple coaching skills.
For more insights, listen to the full podcast episode here…
5 Feedback Strategies People Science Experts Use
So, if you want to gather ongoing insight to improve the employee experience, where do you start? We didn’t discuss that in our podcast interview, but Kevin did share helpful ideas in a LinkedIn article, “The Truth About ‘Always On’ Employee Listening.” Here’s a summary of his recommendations:
“Always on” means different things to different people. So I would start by asking stakeholders to define “always on.” Some surveying solutions work better than others at improving the employee experience and increasing employee engagement. Here are five use cases and considerations for each:
1. Digital Suggestion Boxes
Some organizations add intercepts on their intranet home page asking things like: “What feedback do you have?” Also, they post QR codes in break areas or add links to surveys in leaders’ email signatures. Digital suggestion boxes can build trust in other ways, as well. For example, you could gather ideas for peer recognition or business improvements.
It’s important to continuously monitor employee input and ensure that leaders reply. At small companies, it can be highly effective when the CEO responds directly. However, input volume can quickly become unmanageable. You could streamline the review cycle by establishing a process to filter and delegate suggestions as they are received.
2. Daily Surveys
Increasingly, we see daily surveys with a handful of simple questions about how employees feel. This kind of on-demand, anonymous channel for employees to raise issues, share feedback, and offer insights helps capture a real-time snapshot of staff morale and satisfaction.
As with digital suggestion boxes, volume can become overwhelming. However, this method can be beneficial if employees realize they can use it to gauge their own experiences without expecting others to act on all input. For instance, you could invite people to assess their own activities and emotions with a daily wellbeing check, so they can understand where they’re focusing time and attention, and how they feel about it.
3. Surveys to Optimize Specific Work Experiences
This involves in-the-moment feedback in the flow of work. For example, you can survey employees during and after each support instance, including live help desk, online chat, and self-service. Digital intercepts can capture feedback whenever people complete key milestones or engage with online properties like company intranets and HRIS systems.
It’s important to close the loop on these touchpoints with dashboards and alerts that notify experience “owners” and “designers,” so they can act quickly on the issues raised. This is also a great integration point for pulse surveys. For example, say a pulse survey identifies equipment ordering as a workplace issue. You can add an intercept on your intranet where people order equipment.
4. Lifecycle Surveys
You may not think of lifecycle surveys as “always on.” However, people are constantly being onboarded, leaving the company, and returning from leave. Each of these events is an opportunity to collect a stream of valuable feedback for leaders to consider.
This is also an integration point for pulse surveys. For instance, pulse questions that tie back to goal alignment, expectations, or enablement could indicate that onboarding surveys would be useful. Or if employees express concern about training and development, you could create an event-triggered survey about learning experiences.
5. Frontline Customer Feedback
You might think of this as a customer experience use case, but enabling frontline employees to make suggestions on behalf of their customers is another “always on” strategy that can elevate both CX and EX.
This makes the most sense when customer-facing employee roles aren’t already empowered to make changes, or they don’t have other ways to frequently share ideas and feedback with leaders.
What Would a People Science Expert Do?
Clearly, effective feedback isn’t just about the ability to gather input. Although it’s essential to welcome ideas and measure staff sentiment, that’s not enough to make the right kind of impact on workforce commitment, engagement, or performance. In fact, too much of a good thing doesn’t serve anyone well.
What really matters is whether leaders take timely, appropriate action to address whatever the feedback process uncovers.
Knowing this, the challenge in the year ahead is probably not where to find money for new or better feedback tools. The question is, whenever employees let you know the truth about their experience, do you pay attention? And are you willing to do what’s necessary to drive change and keep the conversation going?
That takes more than a big budget or fancy tools. It takes courage.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Find more helpful insights for business and HR leaders who care about people and the future of work. Check our growing collection of #WorkTrends podcasts and subscribe!