Most organizations know that their most valuable asset is their employees. However, it’s one thing to say employees are valued, and it’s another to do something that shows employees you mean it. An organization that values “employee voice” is one where employees are encouraged to share their concerns, ideas and suggestions for improvement. Organizations that support and facilitate voice have a higher likelihood of retaining talent and driving behaviors that improve organizational results.
Employee voice is a means to actively improve existing conditions. Voice engages the employer and employee in a dialogue, widening the pool of shared meaning and ideas. This open exchange of employee experience enables managers to take corrective action to make improvements that impact the organization. Taking a voice perspective can help managers create an environment that promotes employee engagement. Increased engagement can in turn lead to behaviors likely to improve business outcomes.
Assess Employee Voice through Surveys
Surveys are an effective way for listening to and measuring employee perceptions. Having the right data at the right time helps guide organizations at each decision point as it relates to the impact on people. For surveys to be effective, they must be reliable and well designed to fit the specific needs and challenges of your organization. Surveys conducted by an outside third-party or platform are one of the best ways to learn and better understand what is most important to your employees. You may be surprised to find that what you thought was of little concern is actually a much higher priority, but there hadn’t previously been an effective way of collecting that information. Well-managed surveys allow you to focus attention on targeted areas that have the greatest impact on people and the business.
Engage the Use of Technology
Through the use of technology, employees are able to easily share their voice and provide feedback in a way that works best for them. It’s important to make surveys available to all employees by providing several types of feedback channels such as live phone, email, text, internet, or kiosk, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to voice their concerns and ideas for improvement.
Using the right technology to capture accurate and reliable employee feedback is critical, but how you engage with the data is crucial for understanding what to act on. Visualizing your data can be the key to finding the story and is effectively done using tools like heatmap charts and dashboards. These are powerful yet easy to use ways to gain a big picture view of the data while providing meaningful insight into the employee experience. Visualization tools and interactive charts simplify large employee data sets and help shine a light on specific areas you want to target. For example, a human resources business partner may have a hunch one of her business units is having concerns about staffing levels. By using visual analytic tools, she can filter down to business units broken out by location and department, and easily confirm if her suspicions are true, discovering that this was a concern for one group but not the majority.
It’s especially effective if a platform allows for real-time data. It is incredibly powerful for people to see what is happening right now, rather than a few months ago. This can be critical as it relates to things you want to measure now before too much time passes. For example, an operations manager wanting to get a pulse on how his team feels about an upcoming merger.
Organizational Change through Voice
Having buy-in from management and leadership is critical to effectively encourage and act on employee voice. Gathering data to foster dialogue and cultivate change, no matter how small, shows you value and care about your employees. When leadership creates an environment where employees can feel safe providing feedback, they are in a position to make changes that matter. Studies in the Harvard Business Review show that “when employees can voice their concerns freely, organizations see increased retention and stronger performance”.
The intention of developing employee voice should be to fully utilize your greatest asset – your people. Make it safe and easy for people to share their experience and perspective. Listen, foster open communication, and use that information to make improvements. Voice can be the catalyst for positive organizational change.
Maximizing voice means widening the circle of involvement to encompass those likely to be affected by the change process, including those who might be opposed or think differently. When people really believe that their voice counts, a critical mass for change spontaneously emerges (Axelrod R., 2001, Harvard Management Update)
Alison Elsaesser is the Vice President of Research & Development at People Element. She leads and directs the organization’s research and development objectives and initiatives, focused on providing meaningful data that drives positive change in organizations. She is responsible for ensuring research and development programs meet organizations’ needs while providing innovative solutions to organizational challenges. She holds an M.S. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology.