CASE STUDY: Gathering Employee Feedback at Centric Consulting

October 1, 2020

CASE STUDY: Gathering Employee Feedback at Centric Consulting

If you want to have a great culture, you need to ask your employees—often—for their opinions. What’s going right? What could be better? Regular feedback is essential for keeping your culture strong and for keeping employees engaged and happy. This is doubly true for virtual businesses, where problems can more easily go undetected. 

But collecting feedback is only one half of the equation. You also need to demonstrate that your employees are not just speaking into a vacuum. As a virtual company, Centric Consulting uses company-wide feedback methods to improve culture and engagement, while proactively addressing concerns. 

Anonymous Feedback

You should engage at least one tool that allows for anonymous feedback, because the only way you can truly uncover and address issues is to get the full, unvarnished truth of how people are feeling. Even when you encourage a culture of transparency and make it okay to give feedback without fear, human nature is hard to overcome. Anonymity helps employees feel they can voice concerns honestly without putting their job or relationship with their team or manager on the line.

Josh Bersin, founder of Bersin by Deloitte, an HR research firm, captures the importance of anonymity: “At work, the ramifications are different. If you down rate your boss or say something critical about him (even in a constructive way), you may be labeled a troublemaker, which now reflects poorly on you.”

Knowing this, Centric’s internal company satisfaction survey is anonymous. External public feedback sites like Glassdoor are also anonymous and worth keeping an eye on for valuable insights. Yes, you will get the occasional unfair, untrue post. But overall, external sites help you pinpoint your consistent wins and misses. If you are truly living your core values and building the culture you want, you shouldn’t fear being completely open for the world to see. Plus, in the age of social media, openness and transparency are a given—you don’t have much choice in the matter.

Quantifiable Data

Management expert Peter Drucker famously said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” This is true for feedback and—by extension—culture. Feedback is only actionable if you can spot patterns and trends. For that, you need quantifiable data. Many companies are turning to people analytics, one of the fastest growing areas of HR, to mine employee data to understand how people work and how they can improve employee experiences and performance.

We use a widely accepted method called Net Promotor Score (NPS) to measure employee and client satisfaction. There’s a lot of science behind NPS, but the short version is that it’s a simple way of scoring your customers’ and employees’ satisfaction and loyalty levels. You ask them a question along the lines of “On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend Centric to a friend?” You then calculate your NPS by subtracting the percentage of those who wouldn’t recommend you from the percentage of those who would.

For employees, we design additional survey questions that help us determine how well we’re living our culture. These include:

  • “I believe the leaders of this organization are honest and trustworthy.” (Are we living our core value of integrity?)
  • “There is open and forthright communication between employees and leadership.” (Are we modeling a culture of transparency?)
  • “What should we start doing?” (What is something new that would enhance our culture?)

We conduct these surveys once a year, and they’re always anonymous. Because NPS is widely used, we can easily benchmark how well we’re doing for our industry. While the tool isn’t perfect, it does allow us to measure our culture’s health and shows us which areas need improvement.

Once we started using quantifiable measures, we began reaping countless insights from the data. We started to see trends, such as which business groups score low and where we might have some cultural issues.

Rapid Two-Way Feedback

A little over half of companies perform annual employee engagement surveys. But they’re increasingly turning to other less formal forms of employee feedback, and for good reason: formal surveys provide just yearly datapoints, leaving plenty of time for new issues to crop up and balloon out of control. Not to mention that companies make many major decisions throughout the year that impact employees and culture. When an issue or policy decision of any magnitude comes up, you’ll want to first get rapid feedback from a cross-section of employees and engage with them directly to dig deeper into their insights.

While there are countless apps these days that allow companies to collect rapid feedback, we rely on our Voice of the Employee (VOTE) Advisory Team. Made up of a rotating selection of employees from all levels and backgrounds, VOTE provides transparent, immediate feedback on any potential major decisions, especially those impacting culture. The team gives us an idea of how an issue will be viewed by the company as a whole and an arena for iterating different approaches before we roll something out to the entire business.

External Feedback

There are three sources of external feedback Centric monitors: client satisfaction via NPS, Glassdoor reviews, and in-depth exit interviews. Employees who are on their way out tend to be open about anything that wasn’t great, and we often uncover an opportunity for improvement. The interview questions are designed to help us rate our culture and see where we can do better. For example:

  • “What three things could your manager and/or Centric leadership do to improve?”
  • “Was there anything we haven’t discussed that could have been done to positively affect your experience at Centric?”
  • “For a qualified friend or colleague, how likely are you to recommend Centric as a good place to work?”

Once you have feedback, what do you do with it? Here is where the hard work begins. You’ll need to figure out if you really do have issues that need to be addressed, determine their root causes and decide which ones need to be prioritized.

Our talent management group first analyzes the data to identify recurring issues or potential problem areas. We then gather a mini team or assign one of our leaders to determine whether we need to dig deeper. Once we’ve researched an issue and determined we need to take action, we add it to our list of projects or assign it to a leader to address. Common examples include:

Declining satisfaction scores. Occasionally, one of our operating groups will see a sudden drop in overall satisfaction or a particular area. When that happens, we talk to employees within that group to get more context, identify a root cause and create an action plan. In one case, we were able to identify that a newly promoted leader needed additional training on how to better interact with employees. 

Recurring issues. Often, an area that needs improvement will repeatedly show up on exit interviews and our employee satisfaction survey. Vacation policy, career training and onboarding are just a few examples of issues causing major heartburn that we’ve tackled over the years. 

Culture-enhancing ideas. Purposeful, frequent feedback not only helps us determine what’s not working, but it’s also a wonderful source of new ideas to enhance our culture. A few examples of ideas that have been suggested by our employees include sending annual Mother’s Day gifts to all employee and spouse moms or producing Ask Me Anything videos featuring our top leaders.

The Authors: 

Larry English is President of Centric Consulting and author of Office Optional: How to Build a Connected Culture With Virtual Teams.