Measuring Engagement is Not the Same as Listening

In an effort to improve the employee experience, companies are on the verge of making it worse. HR pros are obsessed with the idea of “continuous listening” and trying to relieve survey fatigue by asking employees a small set of questions repetitively to track issues over time, writes Dr. Sarah Johnson, Vice President Enterprise Surveys and Analytics, Perceptyx.

The problem is that actual listening requires organizations to ask more than a few statistically-relevant questions on employee surveys. But more than that, the survey fatigue isn’t because employees are tired of multi-question surveys. They’re tired of answering the same questions over and over and seeing little action. They’re tired of not being listened to.

This notion of Continuous Listening has become a bit of a buzzword in HR circles. While Continuous Listening is the topic of dozens of articles and presentations, there is no single, clear, and agreed-upon definition of “continuous listening.”  Continuous listening might mean a high-frequency survey design, be it daily, weekly, monthly.  It could mean a combination of an annual employee engagement surveys and lifecycle surveys, which add the mixture of onboarding and exit surveys into the mix.  Special topic pulse surveys can be added in for good measure. Continuous listening means Continuous Data, an ongoing flow of survey responses from employees. The data is from multiple points in time, and may or may not include various topic areas and employee subgroups.

Companies listen to their customers continuously, so why not listen to the same way to employees? Customers are asked for feedback after they have had a defined interaction with a company.  It might be a sale, it might be a service call, or it might be any other experience with the organization. The survey is designed to understand the elements of that specific interaction and allow for problem-solving.

If the model of collecting continuous customer data is a valuable reference point, could we do the same for employees?  Can we send relevant questions to specific employees to gain insights at the moments that matter in their relationship with the company, whether that is onboarding, a promotion into management, completion of a development program, or exiting the organization? Could we make the results available just to specific users that are empowered to act, or to all employees to increase transparency?  Absolutely. Technology allows for all of that. But only because technology enables us to do something doesn’t mean we should do it.  At the very least, we need to be thoughtful in how we implement any kind of technology.

Learn More: 7 Ways to Create a Company Retreat with Value

Collecting data from employees continuously sounds like a great idea and potentially valuable. And it can be, assuming it is done correctly.  So, what are some of the potential mistakes that organizations need to avoid when implementing continuous listening programs and improve employee engagement?

  1. Choosing methodology before determining strategy

    Much of the attention given to Continuous Listening is the focus it has placed on a method, rather than on how the data are to be used.  Implementing a quarterly/monthly/daily survey without a clear strategy for what is to be measured, why the data are needed, and who will use the data is a recipe for failure. When it comes to Continuous Listening, there is no one-size-fits-all, no single design or methodology that works for every company.

  2. Collecting the wrong data

    An hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, or annual feed of data is useless if it isn’t The Right Data. The Right Data is illuminating, insightful, actionable, and valuable.  The wrong data are misleading, irrelevant, confusing, and not actionable.  It doesn’t matter how current the data are, or how frequently updates are provided.  If it isn’t The Right Data, it is entirely pointless. Continuous listening is most valuable when the information needs of the organization drive it.  Organization strategy inevitably has people’s implications, whether the ability to retain critical talent, reshape culture, manage global growth, or communicate in new ways. Designing a listening program around strategic initiatives enables HR staff to come to the table with facts and data that allow senior leaders to make the right data-driven decisions about people.

  3. Too much data, too frequently

    Surveys that collect data daily or weekly or monthly or even quarterly can produce an overwhelming amount of data.  For some companies, the continuous onslaught of data can become a deterrent to taking action (“let’s wait another month/quarter to see if the trend holds before we take action”).  Carefully consider what data needs to be collected continuously, and if the data change very little over time, consider collecting data less frequently.

  4. The failure to link datasets

    Companies collect scads of data, whether via HRIS or surveys, training databases, succession plans, and more.  Most of the time, data from multiple sources are never integrated, e.g., the datasets aren’t connected and cannot be analyzed together.  Various groups in the company collect and own their data, and each group drives different and potentially conflicting actions based on what their source of data tells them. The relationships between data collected in these various surveys are never explored or understood. Successful companies use tools that integrate data from disparate groups, allowing for analysis that links antecedents, actions, policies, and outcomes to tell a story about organization success.

  5. Lack of ownership

    Every set of data needs a clear owner that is responsible for strategy, analysis, interpretation, sharing, and driving action. Without an owner, someone accountable for acting, then very little or nothing gets done. Owners may be HR Business Partners, staff groups, senior leaders, and managers.  Make sure the data owners understand their role and the expectation for action.

  6. Technology that isn’t up to the task.

    Speed and quick turnaround of results are essential in any organization. Given the technology available today, there is no reason that organizations should wait for months or even weeks for survey results.  Real-time survey technology enables not just quick turnaround of results, but also the ability to analyze multiple data streams together in virtually unlimited ways via live queries of the data set.

  7. Complex and confusing reporting.

    Data reports must be clear and straightforward. Dashboards that direct the user to the most salient issues and make the analysis process clear and straightforward will encourage data usage. Nudge engines and nudge technology can be used to present each user with the data that is most essential for their understanding of critical issues.  Additional nudges can be used to prompt further analysis, discussion, and action.

  8. All data, no insight.

    There is a big difference between collecting data and listening. Organizations may have scads of data at their disposal, but without analytics tools and capabilities, there is no way to know what it all means. Data from multiple sources require the ability and tools to pull it all together, to synthesize all of these streams into an integrated set of insights. It’s like being in a meeting where everyone is speaking at once. They may all have useful ideas, but if you can’t find a way to corral all of that information, some way to sequence and organize it, then it is just noise.

  9. All talk, no action

    At the end of the day, it’s easy to listen, and while listening is excellent, employees want to see change. Survey upon a survey that doesn’t yield meaningful change will sour employees to the listening process. Employees don’t become fatigued from answering questions; they become fatigued when they spend all their time responding, but leaders don’t seem to care enough to act.

Learn More: 4 Ways Employee Engagement Can Solve Productivity Problem

The advancement of survey technology has enabled organizations to collect just about any type of data from any employee at any time.  When anything is possible, technologically, make sure the organization is clear on what is most essential to the success of the organization.

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