In previous articles, we have looked at why you need to and how to build an engaged and committed workforce. One of the key aspects of the engaged workforce is the opportunity to give voice to their opinions. This can be done informally in team meetings and huddles or, more formally, through a ‘Voice of Employee’ programme.
In this article, we’ll look at the guiding principles for a VoE programme (this is the closest we'll get to a sales pitch so if you’re not interested or you’re happy for us to be the experts in developing a VoE programme then 'look away now').
There are seven important elements to a VoE programme:
- Create an environment in which people feel comfortable providing feedback. The biggest barrier to success for Voice of Employee programmes is a company culture which has not previously encouraged colleagues to air their opinions. If you are such a company then the sudden launch of a company-wide feedback programme risks being met with suspicion, silence or (worst of all) a lack of honesty. Even if you are a company that is used to fostering openness and transparency communicating with all colleagues in advance of sending out a questionnaire is essential. Explain when and how the survey will be delivered, tell staff what is expected of them and by when, confirm what will happen with the results and when staff should expect more communication about the outcomes and actions that will be taken.
- Invite feedback from the 'shop floor to the top floor'. It’s important that the whole company is offered the chance to provide feedback on how they feel about the company they work for. Senior management must be seen to be participating and staff who may not be desk-based must also be included. Emails are generally the most inclusive method of embracing employees across the organisation. Questions should be the same for all employees and, as such, need to be relevant to all employees to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to provide appropriate feedback about their work life.
- Anonymous response - visible results. Employees must be able to provide feedback without fear or favour; being able to do so anonymously is critical. Knowing the Division in which a respondent works is important for analysis purposes, but if you start collecting details such as longevity and location it might increase the ability for an employee to be identified and therefore either prejudice the response or remove it altogether. It’s also important that the results are presented back to HR and the business areas in a clear supportive way to enable appropriate action plans to be formulated.
- Actions owned by the business area. Whilst HR will be expected to coordinate the programme, it’s important that there is a ‘hub and spoke’ approach when it comes to sharing of the survey replies. With HR owning the process of distribution of the surveys, relationship with the VoE business partner and coordinating of action plans, but allowing local business managers to own the feedback and formulate and execute appropriate actions plans.
- 'You said- we did'. It’s true for all feedback programmes, but arguably more so for an Employee survey - when someone takes the time effort and energy to complete a survey it’s important that they understand that their comments and scores have been considered and that action plans are formulated as a result. An initial update from the MD, or Head of HR within a few weeks is a good start, but once the analysis is underway and actions plans are kicking in, make sure you tell employees what’s being done and the changes they can expect to see. This will instil confidence that their voice had been heard and that their opinions are driving action. And it will encourage them to contribute next time.
- More than once a year. Checking ‘how’s it going?’ should be a more frequent process than just one time a year. Once you know how your employees feel, you’ll need to check if your actions plans are hitting the mark or if other factors are influencing engagement. ‘Pulse surveys’ are a great way to do this - a number of short, easy to complete surveys that can be sent out several times during the year to take the temperature on employee engagement and see if the actions plans are starting to address the issues in the way it had been intended. This should also prevent any nasty surprises when your annual employee survey comes around again.
- Questions that produce actionable insight. Metrics are great, but verbatim is key. In your survey, you’ll want to seek scores against a range of topics - career development, leadership, recognition, support from colleagues etc. But you must prompt open-ended feedback from your employees – giving them the chance to range beyond your question set if need be. This unstructured feedback may be harder work to analyse but there are distinct advantages: employees get the chance to really say how they feel - it’s great to get the good, the bad and the ugly reflected back; verbatims will uncover nuggets of insight that may not otherwise have surfaced; ask what you’re doing well as an employer as well as what you need to do differently (this helps to get a balanced view and will support internal engagement).
Giving staff the opportunity to voice their opinions is a vital ingredient of employee engagement. It creates a sense of ownership and participation which leads to commitment and motivation. And it’s vital in any business, no matter how senior you may be. Jim Yong Kim who recently stood down as President of the World Bank once said:
"No matter how good you think you are as a leader, my goodness, the people around you will have all kinds of ideas for how you can get better. So for me, the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better".