Posted: 02 Feb. 2023 8 min. read

Sustain your workforce listening strategy

Keeping active listening in the workplace on track

Authored by Kim Lamoureux, Eric Lesser, and Gary Parilis

In our previous blog, we discussed the importance of unlocking the power of workforce listening. Given today’s changing workforce dynamics and labor markets, the need to understand employee concerns, sentiments, and ideas is more important than ever.

In our work with clients, we’ve learned a very important lesson: Leading organizations view active listening in the workplace as an essential capability, not an event or annual project. While many organizations see workforce listening as a yearly survey, we believe successful efforts require a larger organizational commitment to continuously and dynamically monitor and act on changes in the workforce environment.

Five keys to active listening in the workplace

To consistently and effectively tap into ongoing perceptions and challenges in the workforce, an organization must:

  • Gain executive support by validating the resources and investments required to support a continuous listening capability through increased productivity, customer satisfaction, and cost savings or avoidance. Ongoing listening in the workplace requires:
    • Investment in tools and technologies that facilitate the collection of data.
    • Analysis and visualization of listening data.
    • Individuals with the requisite skills to determine the right questions and interpret results.
    • Process and governance regarding data collection, data usage, and the appropriate level of aggregation for sharing insights.

Measuring the impact of listening efforts in terms of business and talent outcomes is central to demonstrating these investments.

  • Build a coalition of internal and external partners who have a vested interest in the success of a workforce listening program. Regardless of where a continuous listening program sits within the organization, bringing in the right stakeholders to oversee and provide guidance to the team is central to success. Stakeholders from HR, Employee Communications, Risk, Legal, and IT, as well as representatives from various lines of business, all play important roles in ensuring the success of active listening in the workplace and need to regularly engage in the standup and ongoing operations of the listening effort. Engaging external technology and survey vendors from a strategic perspective can also be valuable in identifying external leading practices and new listening approaches that can be incorporated into the larger workforce listening strategy.
  • Bring in the right skills to adequately support the continuous collection and analysis of listening data. Successful workforce listening efforts use individuals with skills in diverse areas, such as organizational development, survey design, data science, action planning, and business case development. These skills may or may not be resident within the HR organization; if they are, they may be in short supply. Organizations will need to consider the resource capacity needed along with the most effective internal and external options to source these skills.
  • Tap into collective insights as well as individual perceptions. Successful workforce listening programs can provide important insights into individual concerns and their impacts on organizational performance. They also offer the opportunity for employees to brainstorm together. Over the past several years, organizations have found value in periodic “ideation sessions” and other virtual interventions designed to tap into the collective wisdom of practitioners who regularly interact with customers, suppliers, business partners, and other external stakeholders. Applying tools for active listening in the workplace can help organizations stay close to the market and bring together individuals with different points of view to address emerging challenges.
  • Be transparent and keep the workforce informed of listening approaches, uses of the collected data, and the benefits of the resulting insights. Workforce listening programs are built on a foundation of trust between the employer and employee. For this to occur, employees need to have a clear understanding of how insights will be collected and reported, how the data is protected, how it will be used in the decision-making process, and what actions will be taken based on their contributions. This is essential for legal, regulatory, and ethical reasons and encourages individuals to participate and provide honest responses.

Taking action for workforce listening strategy success

  • Build the infrastructure: Evaluate your current capacity to support active listening in the workplace and the appetite of your workforce to collect insights and provide feedback. This will guide you to approaches that fit your organization and help identify the necessary infrastructure to support it. Then understand which listening programs are already in place, and grow your workforce listening strategy over time.
  • Invest in an analytics platform: An employee experience or people analytics platform is an essential element of a workforce listening strategy. This allows for integration of listening data (e.g., census and life cycle surveys) with other data, which is too often siloed. This integration allows for better analyses and results in deeper insights—empowering leaders to demonstrate return on investment more effectively.
  • Stay focused on what matters most: The concept of “continuous listening” is relative. Don’t try to measure everything, and prioritize action plans based on what is achievable. Optimize the workforce listening that you have, and focus on the most impactful and valuable insights that align to business and talent strategies.
  • Think ahead and connect the dots: Build out a plan to staff and communicate the workforce listening approach. Before you can build an internal listening function, you may need to leverage various HR, people analytics, and communications staff to pull it off.
  • Remain educated: There are many types of active listening approaches and channels to consider. In addition to obtaining quantitative data through surveys, there are qualitative approaches (e.g., focus groups) and passive approaches (e.g., network analysis) that can be leveraged and augmented with natural language processing and artificial intelligence.

Two things are true—active listening in the workplace is a capability, and workforce listening must be continuous. Building the infrastructure to support an effective listening strategy is essential to sustain its effectiveness and drive value for the business. This requires not only the right resources, skills, and technology but also both executive and stakeholder buy-in to support investing in and executing your workforce listening solutions.


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