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Continuous Listening [Part 3]: Transforming Survey Data into Action

Posted by: Megan Younkin

Three steps to an effective continuous listening strategy: Ask, listen, and act.

Such a simple concept, right? Easy to talk about, easy to understand… but not easy to do. Why? The number one limiting factor to a successful continuous listening strategy is action. Asking and listening are fairly straightforward, and there are many resources out there in the world to help you with these steps. There are numerous resources with expert created templates to make it easy for you to craft the right questions, so you don’t have to do that on your own or build from scratch. If you choose the right tools to listen to and understand your employee feedback, you don’t have to do that on your own or build them from scratch either.

The action step is the one that requires some lifting. Employee feedback is unique to every organization based on the culture, size, leadership, industry, etc. There is no single prescriptive solution for taking action because the best actions are the ones that you believe are doable and will work for YOUR people. The great news though, is that you don’t have to do this on your own either. You just need to commit to action and get the right people involved to get you the results you want.

I will share a great way to act that will get you results. But first, I want to talk about commitment to action. Here’s a riddle that I’ve shared with several clients. It is a guaranteed groaner, but it drives home a strong point:

There are three frogs sitting on a log. Two of them decide to jump off. How many are left on the log?

The answer is three. Why? Because “decide to jump” and “jump” are very different things.

I love this riddle because too many times I see “decide to” without action. My colleagues and I are good at getting leaders interested in and motivated to act upon employee feedback data. But after I share with them what to communicate and how to take action, I don’t sit with executives and force them to do something. I know all too well how easy it is to go back to your desk and become consumed with all the other work and push aside taking action. Then one day you look up and it’s time for your next round of employee feedback.

This is not a question of how we motivate leaders to act. The data is there and it’s compelling. It’s also not a question of “want to.” The leaders I work with are interested in making changes that will positively impact their people. The question is this: How do you take that first step from deciding to doing?

I’ve seen success with these three steps:

  1. Assign an executive sponsor. While everyone is still excited and motivated, choose a member of the leadership team who will sponsor the action step. The executive sponsor is NOT the person who creates the plans or is responsible for executing on the action. They are the leader who will support the work that goes into creating action plans and hold people accountable for action when necessary.
  2. Create a cross-functional action committee. Gather a group of employees together (volunteer or “voluntell”) who will be responsible for brainstorming ideas and bringing recommended action plans back to the leadership team for approval. The team should include people who can represent many diverse perspectives – different departments, backgrounds, tenures, levels of expertise, etc. The benefits of a committee like this are immense. You get immediate employee buy-in on your action plans since employees are the ones creating the plans. You also get plans that are likely to work for your organization because they were built in your organization. The executive sponsor does not need to attend every committee meeting, but they should attend the first meeting to cover the following points:
      • Define the committee’s purpose and objectives.
      • Provide an overview of the issues that the committee will be working to improve.
      • Set expectations (timing, specific deliverables, etc.).
      • Show support for the committee’s time and efforts.
  3. Communicate your action progress to employees. This doesn’t have to be all the time, and doesn’t have to be all the details. It is a good idea to send out a communication once a quarter letting people know what you’re acting on and how it will impact them. Here is what you accomplish with this step:
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