From Feedback to Action: Building a Real Listening Culture

May 2, 2019

From Feedback to Action: Building a Real Listening Culture

How do you create a real culture of feedback?

The engagement and feedback tools now on the market give employees many ways to express their opinions. But is all this feedback leading to action?

First, we do want employees to feel safe and comfortable talking about what’s on their minds. The growth in tools for pulse surveys and open-ended questions is explosive. And almost every new performance management process includes "check-ins" or some other form of feedback. In fact, as I wrote several years ago, "feedback is the killer app."

Amazon has a daily feedback survey; Workday and other companies get employee feedback weekly. Most companies do onboarding surveys, pulse surveys, check-ins, and exit surveys. And many companies now use organizational network analysis, which looks at communication patterns. Some of these tools even pick up the “sentiment” of email and other communications. 

What do we do with all this data? Do we give managers multiple dashboards to pour through? Do we rank manager engagement scores against each other? Do we let this information come back into performance evaluation and possibly bias managers? One company told me its system for retention prediction backfired—when employees were identified as a retention risk, managers actually spent less time with them.

Now is time to shift from feedback to action—a new challenge for our own HR teams and the vendors that sell tools.

In the early days of engagement surveys, vendors built action plans based on surveys. These were little more than lists of suggestions and coaching tips based on various outcomes. If a manager was rated too authoritative, for example, there might be a few articles to read on how to empower people and delegate authority. 

As it turned out, people didn’t use this much. Engagement has been flat for many years, so overall, these tools weren’t moving the needle. 

Thanks to the growth of behavioral economics and behavioral science, we know that we can change behavior. But how do we do it? We use the feedback from employees to give managers and leaders tips, nudges, suggestions, and regular reminders. Just as exercise apps and devices remind us to exercise, the new breed of feedback tools can teach managers how to improve their leadership skills.

And these action tools work. Recent research from Glint, an employee engagement company, showed that employees who received this new breed of action plans from their managers were seven times more engaged than their peers. And more impressively, employees working for managers who talked through action plans were eight times more likely to be engaged. 

As I’ve studied these tools and see how companies use them, here are three tips:

  • First, collect a broad set of data. Employees have a variety of needs, so you need to be sure you are taking an expansive view when seeking feedback through various channels. Through your feedback sources, you should be giving employees the opportunity to express opinions about meaningful work, their managers, the work environment, career growth and opportunity, company leaders, and health and wellbeing. (You can read about the Irresistible Organization model for more on this topic.)
  • Second, develop a feedback architecture. Identify the sources of employee feedback and determine what might be missing. While survey data is good, you shouldn’t be stopping there. For instance, are you taking advantage of sentiment and network analysis? I also recommend investigating technology that can analyze all feedback in its entirety—something called cross-program intelligence.
  • Third, focus on behavior change, not just data and analytics. Create simple dashboards for managers to compare their results against peers or themselves. Find a tool that gives nudges or tips. Look at some of the new AI-based coaching and development programs that focus on behavior change. Consider using some of the new AI-based, soft skills tools.  They give managers a learning experience that sticks. 

It’s time to move from feedback to action. The market has shifted to what I call “engagement 3.0,” and your thinking should too.

The Authors: 

Josh Bersin is a global industry analyst, author, educator, thought leader, founder of Bersin™ by Deloitte, and principal research partner for HRPS 

A comprehensive research report on “The Alternate Workforce,” expected in May, will be available to all HRPS members.