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5 Reasons Now is the Right Time to Revisit Your Listening Strategy

Ah, 2020. What can I say? It’s been quite a year. Australian wildfires, Kobe, the COVID-19 disease, the COVID-19 recession, RBG, movements for racial justice and the end to race-related violence. And it’s not over yet. We are currently in the middle of hurricane season (they predict up to 25 potential storms this year), unprecedented wildfires on the West Coast, and just 2 months away from a presidential election in an increasingly polarized United States.

These societal, political, economic, and health situations have a significant impact on the world of work. Rather than business as usual, many organizations have been scrambling to make decisions that will ensure their financial solvency, as well as the physical and psychological wellbeing of employees.

With the radical shift in organizational priorities, and the need to make vital decisions at a rapid pace, many organizations have abandoned their employee listening strategies. And with such pressing needs, this is understandable. But it’s time to re-engage. Your workforce has been rocked by these events, and now more than ever their voices need to be heard.

Below we explore all your misgivings about conducting a survey now and all the reasons why you really should.

What good will a survey do? While your employee listening strategy may feel trivial at the moment, taking the time to solicit the opinions of your workforce will go a long way in showing them that you care. Think about it. The emotional toll that the past few months have taken on all of us, and the cognitive load that we continue to carry around, have left us all feeling vulnerable. The ability for employees to engage in a dialogue with their organization and express their concerns, fears, and hopes for the present and the future can be an incredibly cathartic act. Moreover, the possibility that actions will be implemented based on their feedback and the fact that their input can be a catalyst for meaningful change can give people a sense of agency and hope in a moment where so many of us are searching for meaning.

Do we even have time for this? The past few months have undoubtedly forced your organization to become more agile. It’s likely you’ve had to pivot your strategy and priorities at least once and more likely, on several occasions. In this perpetual state of uncertainty, you might be concerned about your ability to address the survey results. How can we focus on this with everything else we have going on? You may be thinking “Can’t we wait until things are normal again?” Well if you’re waiting for things to return to normal, don’t hold your breath. While waiting until “normal” shows up, you may find yourself delaying your listening strategy for another 6 months. Possibly a year. Possibly two. Can you really wait that long to hear from your employees?

The reality is that it is never a bad idea to survey, and there are ways to manage this process to ensure that the data drives meaningful actions. First, make sure to adapt the questionnaire to reflect the current priorities of your workforce and organization. Also, asking fewer questions will make it easier for your employees to participate in the survey and easier for you to analyze and act on the results. Finally, adjust your approach to action planning and make the process less formal. Don’t spend more time on analysis than action. Focus less on detailed reviews of results, and encourage managers to use the data as a jumping off point to discuss what can be done to create a supportive work environment.

An opinion survey? Shouldn’t they just be happy to have a job? With 1.4 million Americans currently unemployed, and the remainder left fretting about their job security, it might be easy to put your listening strategy on the back burner. Don’t. While financial security may satisfy the bottom rung of Maslow’s hierarchy, a paycheck is simply not enough to unleash the discretionary effort and potential of your workforce. It certainly isn’t enough to retain your top talent, who in spite of it all are still a hot commodity and at risk of finding something better. For most people, work is about much more than money–it’s about doing something that gives them a sense of meaning and purpose. A 2018 Pew Research Center study found that career and work come in second place when Americans talk about what gives them meaning in life–after family and before money. During these difficult times, it’s important not to lose sight of your mission and culture. The shared set of values, beliefs, and norms it represents will be the guiding light that inspires your workforce to go above and beyond. Making your culture a strategic priority for your organization and evaluating it through a survey, will give you the insights you need to connect people to work that inspires them.

Won’t doing the survey now skew the results? You might feel that given the tremendous events of the past few months, the data you collect will not be an accurate representation of your organization. But remember, the intent of the survey is to provide you a snapshot of what is happening in your organization now. Interpreting the data through the lens of your current reality will enable you to make sense of your results. Remember, the insight isn’t in the number, but rather in aligning the number with your institutional knowledge. Furthermore, keep in mind that the current situation does not define your organization. While there is a tendency to believe that crises disrupt and permanently transform organizations, the reality is a bit more nuanced. These moments amplify the aspects of your culture that are already working well, and those that aren’t. Rather than transform your organization, the structural shortcomings and advantages that were there all along will just be more glaring.

What if the results are bad? It’s normal to feel a certain level of anxiety about what you may learn from the survey. In the absence of information, it’s natural to assume the worst. But when all is said and done, you can’t fix what you don’t measure. You have probably put several measures in place over the past few months to create a work environment that is healthy, safe, and equitable. Now is the moment to measure the effectiveness of those actions. This crucial data will enable you to course correct what isn’t working. If you don’t dig in now, things will only get worse. And you never know, you may even be pleasantly surprised with what you find. If your efforts over the past few months have been successful, you could potentially find that your workforce is more engaged than ever.

As much as crises can challenge an organization, they also offer a unique opportunity to re-evaluate and re-assess your culture. Using a survey to better understand the needs of your organization will give you the insights you need to help your workforce to come out of this situation with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment.

To learn more about surveys and employee listening strategies, visit the Employee Engagement Experience.

About the Authors

Colleen Casey
When I was about 8 years old, I made the obligatory pilgrimage of every born and bred New Jersey native to the Thomas Edison museum. The other children and I pummeled our patient tour guide with innumerable questions (mostly pertaining to whether or not Mr. Edison had died on the premises). Upon learning that Mr. Edison had not received much in the way of a formal education, I inquired “But how was he so smart if he never went to school?!” The simple and astute response of the guide – “He asked a lot of questions.” My career in public opinion and employee polling has led me to do just that – ask a lot of questions in order to better understand how others see the world and what shapes those perceptions. In my current role, I use the insights that I gain from engagement surveys to help our client organizations better understand how their employees view their work, their leaders and the organization’s culture in order to enable them to implement meaningful change based on employee feedback. I feel that my time spent studying sociology and living in France provided me with a unique opportunity to see the world through a different lens and understand how culture informs the way we view ourselves, the world around us, and the institutions that shape us. These academic and personal experiences have been highly valuable to me in my career, heightening my sensitivity and awareness of the necessity to bring a unique approach to client measurement strategies, an approach that aligns with and reflects their unique organizational culture.

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