The concept of ‘Continuous Listening’ has been increasingly gaining traction, turning into something of a buzzword among business leaders and HR professionals. Yet, there doesn’t seem to be a unified definition of the term – neither on a conceptual, nor on a practical level.
Some organizations use the term when moving from an annual engagement survey towards more frequent pulse checks, still others see it as capturing insights from all the key employee experience touchpoints and tracking the impact of the changes they make.
While it is perfectly fine for companies to differ in their level of ambition and maturity objectives in regards to Continuous Listening, I believe it is time for the field to develop a common standard and understanding of the concept.
In this article, I provide a definition of and a conceptual framework for Continuous Listening. Both reflect a synthesis of my main takeaways from years of working with organizations on designing and implementing Continuous Listening programs. Furthermore, they highlight the components that I believe are crucial for deriving tangible results from Continuous Listening – organized using 4 C’s.
A Definition for Continuous Listening
I define Continuous Listening as a: “Coordinated and Cross-functional effort to Continuously Collect and Combine a variety of critical data sources to drive and enhance Company performance – by applying the same Customer-centric mindset, analytical techniques, and interventions to employees as those used in the field of marketing in relation to customers.”
The 4 C’s of Continuous Listening
1. Coordinated and Cross-Functional Programs
To capture real benefits, organizations must make Continuous Listening a comprehensive, dedicated, and integral part of their operating model. Continuous Listening should be centrally coordinated and cross-functionally executed.
I often see organizations struggling to break through their internal structures when implementing Continuous Listening programs. Each department tends to develop its own methodologies and tools to capture feedback: marketers are primarily after employees’ input on perceived brand alignment, service delivery examines transactional feedback, while people analytics teams deal with the issues of engagement, leadership, and communication.
It often gets even more chaotic than this. I have met a number of organizations in which centrally managed surveys, spearheaded by HR, were running in parallel with numerous isolated surveys within individual business units, divisions, or local entities. Such a decentralized and uncoordinated approach runs into numerous risks and leads to a range of negative consequences, including:
– A disengaging experience for employees, including survey fatigue;
– Limited ability to combine & leverage employee data centrally and thus, to drive holistic change;
– High costs & inefficient use of resources due to the multitude of vendors and solutions employed;
– Risks of data security and privacy breaches (GDPR)
I would therefore really encourage organizations to centralize listening efforts where possible. This doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be flexibility for countries or units to run their own listening initiatives. However, try to create maximum synergies and avoid overlap by collaborating closely across functions and establishing a central coordinating body.
2. Continuously Collect and Combine a Variety of Different Data Sources
The real value of Continuous Listening is derived from continuous and comprehensive efforts that collect and combine a variety of different data sources and connect them with HR and business metrics.
Running annual engagement surveys doesn’t even come close to the concept of Continuous Listening. The term itself emphasizes the need for continuity of measurement. It is consistency and continuity that allow organizations to gain timely insights into employees’ mood, behavior, and attitudes.
While it’s natural to want to start your journey towards Continuous Listening by increasing the frequency at which you survey employees, be mindful of the risk of over-surveying them, which, in itself, can contribute to their negative experience.
Achieving a comprehensive and unbiased view of employees’ experience and motivations requires a systemic analysis of direct feedback (what people say when they are being asked), indirect feedback (what people say without being explicitly asked), and inferred feedback (how people behave, which can often times contradict what they say). A failure to combine a diverse range of data sources will inevitably lead to the oversimplification of multi-faceted relations that develop and exist in a complex environment.
Finally, employee perceptions, behavior, and experience data must be linked with HR and business metrics in order to identify what works, for whom, and why. It is this knowledge that will allow organizations to continuously improve and adjust their initiatives, delivering tangible results.
3. Company Performance
Continuous Listening programs should be deployed with the purpose of gaining an extensive understanding of employees in order to achieve sustainable, high performance habits and deliver upon strategic business objectives.
The bottom line for any organization is to grow and improve its performance. Continuous Listening is not a “feel good” concept. It’s a deliberate effort, which, if designed holistically and executed rigorously, helps to reinforce your business objectives and growth targets.
In order for your investments in Continuous Listening to pay off, ensure that what you measure has a proven link to business performance, as backed by either scientific literature or your independent analysis of these links. Do not buy into the generic, commercial survey packages or listening solutions. Instead, focus on asking questions that are relevant to your organization’s strategic or transformation objectives.
4. Customer Centricity
Continuous Listening programs should embrace the same approach in terms of frequency, diligence, speed, and depth as marketing initiatives that target customers.
Customer-centric thinking has clearly found its way to HR. Employees expect their voices to be heard and concerns addressed in the same manner as organizations listen to and address their customers’ feedback. Impactful Continuous Listening programs uncover employees’ needs, pain points, and motivations. This information is then used to design personalized targeted interventions that keep employees engaged and productive.
From segmentation, to driver analysis, to impact analysis, HR must adopt the same analytical approaches as their colleagues in marketing in order to gain the same in-depth understanding of employees as an organization has of its customers.
We hear a lot about the ‘Future of Work’ and what it is going to look like. However, when it comes to re-defining employee engagement and creating personalized, data-driven employee experience programs, that future is here. It has arrived. Deloitte’s study of Global Human Capital Trends reports that almost 80% of executives identify employee experience as an important area of business, yet only 22% consider their organizations to be excellent at building a differentiated employee experience.
If you are one of the 78% of organizations on the other end of this spectrum, the risk of being left behind is very real. Continuous Listening is a bridge that leads to a transformative data-driven approach to employee experience, which, in turn, helps businesses deliver on their business objectives. It’s time to get started!