Responding to employee surveys

How do you ensure a response to employee survey results? Moving from data to action is one of the biggest pain points in effective listening.

The hallmark of an attractive company is caring about peoples’ opinions and giving people a voice. As we face post-Covid changes to working practices, listening will become more important. A key challenge is to improve capability to respond – and be seen to respond – to what is learnt through surveys. This is just one step in the process to create more listening cultures (where eventually we may not need surveys at all) that move from “You said, we did” to “We said, we did!” – and to have a stronger organisation as a result.

But the most corrosive and damaging barrier to listening in organisations is the feeling that nothing changes as a result of sharing opinions.

A vicious circle

The survey is still the most pragmatic way of ensuring many voices can be heard. But when nothing happens people stop completing them. Then leaders are discouraged from asking questions or reading too much into results from low response rates. It is a vicious circle that damages the credibility of this form of listening. Employees feel “Why bother – nothing will change?” while leaders are discouraged by what appears to be apathy.

Managing responses needs action at the organisation level and within teams. The organisational response signals a climate that cares about voice. It sets an example to motivate and encourage team leaders and members to respond within their teams.

Where to focus

Key things to focus on are:

1. Generating a visible leadership response
2. Linking the survey to organisational purpose
3. Developing a mindset that leaders and managers are not solely responsible for finding solutions to issues that the survey identifies
4. Providing support for managers in the form of toolkits and frameworks they can use to support local conversations and action planning

I’ll be exploring each of these in depth in follow up posts.

The team at Oxfam used this picture as a prompt to have conversations with other groups of Oxfam people about their own stories. The simple act of sharing stories had a dramatic impact on how connected people felt to the organisation. During this time, the percentage of people agreeing that they experienced a strong sense of shared purpose within Oxfam doubled.

“We always talk about how we’re a movement of people working towards the eradication of poverty together, but sometimes we get so caught up in the day-to-day tasks and occasional politics that it is easy to forget how cohesive a movement we actually are.”

The importance of purpose

Developing the storytelling skills of leaders is often seen as an important part of creating a powerful corporate narrative that can give employees a sense of purpose. Simon Sinek’s “How great leaders inspire action”  remains amongst the top viewed Ted Talks, with over 28m views in 2016. His subsequent book “Start with Why” outlines the argument that purpose driven leaders and companies inspire others to action.

Increasingly, companies are seeking to improve the way they share meaning and purpose and a big driver of this is the competition for young talent. Gallup, one of the organisations at the forefront of employee engagement measurement over the last 20 years, analysed the views of Millennials, those born between 1980 – 1996 about what they want from work. The most significant issue was a shift away from a focus on reward towards a focus on Purpose:

“Millennials don’t just work for a paycheck – they want a purpose. For millennials work must have meaning. They want to work for organizations with mission and purpose.”

Gallup, How Millenials want to work and live, 2016

Oxfam’s experience demonstrates that strategic storytelling needs to focus just as much on harnessing our natural storytelling skills as it does on developing those of the leadership. Sharing is an act that can take place throughout every level of the organisation. Sharing personal stories about “why I work here” helps people to understand how their own job fits into the bigger picture in a more powerful way than simply being told by the leadership team. Sharing stories also helps people to create their own sense of purpose for themselves, from the conversations they have with each other.

Harnessing the power of storytelling in this way doesn’t depend on your organisation having a global cause to fight for. New Look, the fashion retailer, has used this approach to improve customer experience by encouraging their people to tell stories about how they make customers feel better about themselves. And TUI the travel company encouraged its people to talk about how they made travel experiences special for their customers.

Less telling, more sharing

Storytelling can be used to help people connect with organisational purpose and meaning. However, rather than depending upon a small group of leaders transmitting their version of a narrative, a more effective approach is to involve everyone. The small act of sharing stories is something that we can all participate in and can make a major difference to the way that people feel about their work. In the words of one of the team that ran the sessions,

“Feelings are not tangible, but I know that in the sessions that I ran, people left feeling good and empowered and wanted to do more. I had laughter, tears and real pride in the room.”