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5 Ways to Listen to Employees

5 Ways to Listen to Employees

Your employees are talking.  And if they’re not talking to you, you have a problem.

Think about it.  When was the last time you were dissatisfied with something?  Maybe it was a poor conference presenter or the checkout bagger who mishandled the eggs.  Did you express your frustration to the conference organizer or the store manager?  Or did you complain about it when you got home?

We can’t make adjustments if we aren’t aware of the problem.  So as leaders and managers, we need to encourage our stakeholders (in this case, our employees) to be frank and honest and tell us what they think.  We have to accept that feedback—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and determine when changes are due.

Negative attitudes spread.  Encourage employees to bring complaints to their managers, and you’ll have a lot less grousing around the water cooler.  In exchange, you get actionable insight to improve your business.

Here are five formal ways to collect employee feedback and make your interest clear:

Employee Engagement Surveys. An engagement survey is a formal, quantitative way to measure employee attitudes.

We know that employees are stronger performers when they are fully involved in the job and have positive feelings about the company and their coworkers.  These surveys are a way to benchmark that engagement across the organization, and then target areas for improvement.

Experts generally recommend that you conduct engagement surveys every one or two years.

Focus Groups. Dig deeper.  Focus groups are another way to measure employee satisfaction and dissatisfaction.  However, instead of hard quantitative date, you’ll walk away with anecdotes and personal opinions that provide deeper insight.

Plus focus groups allow employees to have more control over the conversation, versus responding to an engagement survey in which someone else has predefined the issues.   Focus groups often uncover surprise information.

Focus groups are also a great way to pull employees into company problem-solving.  Use them as a sounding board before implementing a wellness benefit, for example, or capture employee ideas to fix scheduling challenges.

Pulse Checks. These are quick, occasional surveys that get a feel for where employees are at on specific issues.   Pulse checks are a great way to gauge progress in between your larger engagement surveys.  Understand if your efforts are making an impact, if messaging needs to be redefined, or if bigger interventions are needed.

Workplace Nomination Surveys. One way to conduct an employee engagement survey (and get benchmarking data to boot) is to participate in “best place to work” award programs.

The Fortune 100 Best nomination includes employee surveys and benchmarking data, as do the Sloan Awards.  Similar programs are available for small businesses.

Entrance Interviews. Don’t wait for the exit interview to find out what went wrong.   So-called “entrance interviews” are generally conducted 60 to 90 days into an employment contract—and then again at intervals throughout an employee’s tenure.

Or, wait 30 days into employment.  Then, sit down with the employee and find out how they are doing.   Are they feeling challenged and satisfied?  Have they encountered any challenges or obstacles to success?

At Designer Blinds in Omaha, Nebraska, adding entrance interviews contributed to a 96 percent drop in turnover.

And at Zappos, employees are given the now-legendary “Offer” after four weeks on the job.  If they enjoy their position and feel like it’s a good fit, they can stay.

If not, Zappos offers them a $1000 bonus check to walk away.   Better to find out sooner, rather than later, if an employee isn’t committed.

Overall, the easier it is for employees to provide feedback, the more likely you are to retain them.

A study from Right Management shows that 79 percent of employees report making at least 10 suggestions to their employer each year.  (Of those, 54 percent actually report making 20 or more suggestions annually.)   That’s a lot of feedback and ideas.  Are you listening?  Are you sure?

All of the above tools provide important information to capture those ideas—whether you’re talking about flexible scheduling, employee benefits, process improvements, or a new product design.

Employees genuinely want to contribute to the company’s success.   Meanwhile, businesses gain a competitive advantage when they learn to channel this enthusiasm and cultivate contributions from all levels of the organization.

And, acting on employee suggestions goes a long way to boosting employee engagement…and ensuring those innovative ideas keep coming.

by Jaime Leick
Editor, Life Meets Work Editor


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