If you listen, they will speak

Employee voice may be one of the most valuable resources an organization has. By employee voice, I mean their opinions, feedback, suggestions, concerns and even actions. Listening to employee voice can help retain talent, fuel innovation, improve products and services, and increase business unit performance. Organizations can clearly benefit from listening to what their employees have to say. But how should they listen?

Employee listening refers to different approaches for collecting, analyzing and responding to employee voice. Beyond traditional methods—such as unions, annual employee opinion surveys and open-door policies—a number of new employee listening approaches have recently emerged. These developments have been driven by a consumer mindset (think Amazon ratings and Yelp reviews), advancements in technology (think mobile apps and enterprise social networks), and the rise of big data analysis (think unstructured data mining techniques). Data-rich, analytically driven enterprises, the so-called Generation D, are twice as inclined to analyze some of these newer data sources, like unstructured text, audio and video.

The promise of these novel listening methods is understandably exciting, but their rapid rise has left many real-world questions unanswered. While some listening approaches offer unobstructed and continuous data collection, they also raise concerns about privacy invasions. And preexisting challenges remain, such as employees’ sense of futility leading to them withholding input or feedback.  As I undertook research in this area, I began to wonder whether these new ways of listening could negatively impact employees’ willingness to voice.

To explore this, we, at the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute, asked employees across organizations, industries, and countries how they would react to four different ways of being listened to (see Figure).


Source: WorkTrends 2015
Sample size: More than 4,000 workers across multiple industries and geographies

Note: Census survey = large-scale, all employees, administered every one or two years. Sample survey = short, cover specific content, quarterly, sub-selection of employees. Mini-polls = weekly, single question, all employees, data visualization. Internal social analytics = analysis of content on a social network inside the workplace.

What we found was very heartening. The vast majority of employees would develop and make recommendations concerning issues that affect the organization. They would also communicate their opinions about work issues, even if others disagree. It turns out, employees want to share their voice, regardless of how the organization listens. If you listen, they will speak.

To hear more about “New directions in employee listening,” please join me at the IBM Smarter Workforce Summit.

You can also read more about employee listening and links to business performance, in this blog.

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