Active Listening Overview and Example

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For more information on WorkTango's Active listening strategy, see our webinar - WorkTango Survey Building & Launching.

The Evolution of the Employee Voice

Your employees deserve to feel valued, cared for, and heard. They deserve to be part of the conversation—a conversation that should ideally take place more than once a year. Not only do they deserve it, they expect it. And when they do have that voice, there’s a lot of evidence on the impact of higher engagement. That being said, while annual surveys can give a snapshot overview of the year, employees and your business will flourish with more constant communication.

The way we listen to employees and offer a safe place for feedback is changing as well. This is an overview of where the trends are headed:

1. Annual Surveys are being Replaced or Supplemented


Now, more than ever, it's crucial to continue to engage our employees, yet oftentimes, the way we measure engagement and give employees a voice is outdated.

Quite simply: the annual survey method is inadequate.

It's too infrequent

Imagine facing a challenge in the workplace, and then having to wait 365 days until your concern was addressed. Imagine trying to do your job, day in day out, without feeling like you were being heard or appreciated. Imagine if there were no opportunities for you to give your feedback until the yearly annual survey came around, and then having to wait additional months for any change to begin to take place.

Employees don't work in years and quarters; they work in days and hours. As a result, we must ensure that we're giving them the support that they need. This is why companies are beginning to evolve and either completely remove or supplement the annual engagement survey.

What's more, the annual survey typically isn't representative of the whole year. Think of how difficult it sometimes is to remember what we ate for dinner last night. How much more difficult would it be to recall specific work experiences from six months ago?

As LearnGeek shares in "5 Problems with Employee Engagement Surveys": "It is a lot more likely that we're spending a pile of money to see how employees are feeling about the past few days. The rest of the year could have been amazing, but a bad moment last week could radically shift the feedback for groups of employees."

It's expensive

Traditionally, large consulting firms have owned this process for companies, deploying their army of data scientists, industrial physiologists, and engagement consultants to deliver insights. Today, A.I. powered technology has automated this manual work significantly reducing the cost and complexity for organizations.

It's cumbersome

The annual survey is long and generic, making it both a bland and a convoluted process for your precious employees to have to wrestle through.

When methods are outdated, it doesn't make life any easier on our HR teams. They're the ones who are tasked with the nearly impossible job of sorting through enormous amounts of data to try and somehow measure both the specific and overall sentiment of their employees, determine actionable insights that are valuable for leaders, all typically in tools like Microsoft Excel.

It's inaccurate

As LearnGeek shares in the same article: "Because the survey is constructed and executed without local context, managers are left to interpret the results and figure out how to turn the data into tangible actions. This often results in responses that are too little, too late or off-target due to the local interpretation of the results and related employee needs."

While the Annual Survey method was the first progression in the evolution of Employee Voice, updated technology enables us to take leaps and bounds beyond this outdated method.

2. Employee Pulses had their time

Another recent popular method of gaining employee feedback is through the Employee Pulse. This is a shorter, more focused group of survey questions that can be sent out on a frequent basis, and this flexibility means that the Pulse can potentially be an incredibly effective tool.

When you're able to consistently connect with your employees, you're better able to understand the vibe at work and therefore take more effective measures to ensure that things run smoothly. The trick is to determine and embrace the most efficient means for communication and success.

As an employee, receiving an employee pulse is traditionally an easier experience than a long annual survey, however, there is still room to improve. One problem is that the employee pulse can be repetitive and impersonal, with similar questions every time or a predetermined rotation of questions. This can cause employees to feel like it's a process on autopilot and leave them wondering if leadership is actually listening.

3. Active Listening is where it's at

If you want your employees to feel fully engaged and understood, there is one option that goes above and beyond both the employee pulse and the annual survey. Its modern methods and efficiency offer the most exciting and successful progression in the evolution of Employee Voice. It's the concept of Active Listening.

With the Active Listening approach, employers are able to get a baseline for employees, trend survey results over a period of time, and then ask more tailored specific questions based on actively listening to the results of previous surveys. It is not asking the same questions over and over, but rather fluid questions that pay attention to the employees' responses, generate relevant insights, and inspire action.

In terms of a structure, Active Listening supports the following:

  • Consistent questions on a frequent cadence to gauge and measure employee sentiment over time
  • Rotating questions that dive into more specific issues or gaps over time after gaging the sentiment baseline from the key questions tied to main engagement drivers
  • Specific questions relevant to the business to get real-time insight and feedback about what's happening in the company today (or going to happen) such as reactions to major announcements or large organizational changes.

Active listening model

Example: Quarterly Active Listening Strategy

To take a look at an example of how one of our customers moved from an annual survey to a more quarterly Active Listening model, the following approaches were adopted:

  1. Distribute the Short Engagement Survey Assessment at the beginning of the year in Q1
  2. In following quarters, filter through these similar questions every second quarter to ensure trends are within six months of each other, as opposed to the whole year.
  3. After the original baseline, following quarters would dive deeper to understand sentiment for specific Engagement Factors with more "Deep Dive" questions, or ask questions based on initiatives the organization has implemented or are planning for to get "Diagnostic" feedback. This approach extends beyond just measuring engagement, but knowing what's working, and digging into issues further.
  4. There are also questions distributed to Company Priority Initiatives, as well as different questions to each Department/Division to add buy-in and participation from other leaders.
  5. Action Questions attempt to understand whether employees feel action has taken place since the last survey, or whether they have faith action will take place. This adds a lot of accountability at the leadership and company level.

The image below illustrates this approach in more detail. Depending on the goals of each organization, and the frequency of surveys, the question selection and length of surveys would be customized. For example, many companies that Actively Listen monthly, have between 7-10 questions each month.

Active listening strategy.png

Active Listening isn't always tied into a cadence. Many companies that want to receive feedback in an ad hoc manner, for real-time insights based on a worrying result in a previous survey, or through major Change Management initiatives, do so as part of their Active Listening Strategy. Many companies also request feedback throughout the entire employee lifecycle.

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