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The employee experience platform

Active listening isn’t just an essential professional skill; it’s the foundation of a thriving company culture. It transforms employee engagement by creating a workplace where everyone feels valued and heard. In short, active listening is a powerful tool for business success.

Take Avalere Health, a global leader in healthcare consulting, and St. Austell Brewery, a UK-based family company with 42 managed and another 138 tenanted pubs. These organizations perfectly demonstrate how active listening can contribute to a company culture that fuels business growth.

Nick Holmes, VP of Employee Experience at Avalere Health (formerly Fishawack Health), and James Hampton, Head of Employee Experience at St. Austell Brewery, joined us at Culture First Global to explore how active listening can be a powerful catalyst for business success. In this article, we share actionable insights that you can use to practice the art of active listening to drive cultural change within your organization.

Practicing the art of active listening

Listening is critical to building employee engagement and trust. By actively listening to employees and making informed decisions based on their feedback, organizations can create a more engaged, satisfied, and productive workforce – all of which contribute to a positive company culture.

What does active listening look like in the workplace? It involves more than merely conducting engagement surveys. While these surveys are helpful for gauging employee sentiment, the true value lies in using them strategically to gain insightful responses. This means asking the right questions at the right time and frequency, while also ensuring that these surveys are part of a continuous practice of open communication and trust.

The goal is to create a workplace where active listening is embedded in every interaction and throughout the decision-making process.

Establish a feedback loop

Truly active listening means creating an environment where employees feel valued, heard, and empowered to share their thoughts and ideas. It's a continuous effort that requires commitment, openness, and a willingness to adapt and improve operations and procedures based on employee feedback.

In practice, this can take many different forms. For example, Avalere Health merged principles of human-centered design with active listening exercises to begin their cultural transformation and better support employees. They launched an internal initiative, "Your Voice," to gather data about every point of the employee lifecycle – from onboarding to offboarding – through deep dives, pulse checks, engagement surveys, exit interviews, round tables, and workshops.

These insights helped Avalere Health build a more unified culture in a complex, multi-organizational environment. Nick Homes, VP of Employee Experience at Avalere Health, shares, "We learned that creating an environment where people can show up as their authentic selves and feel that they belong is a really important step.”

Fostering flexibility and empathy in the workplace

As you practice active listening, you also want to prioritize flexibility and empathy. They go hand in hand and are key to creating a culture that supports growth, nurtures positive relationships, and boosts employee satisfaction.

So, how do you start? Begin by genuinely connecting with your employees. Listen to their diverse perspectives and experiences with empathy and an open mind. This will help you get a clear understanding of the current state of your organization’s environment. The more active listening you do, the better you will understand how employees perceive their work setting and employee experience. This knowledge will be invaluable in shaping a workplace that meets diverse needs and stays true to your company's mission and core values.

For instance, St. Austell Brewery operates in a highly seasonal and rotational industry, which brings unique challenges in maintaining a consistent environment. The brewery tackles this by empathizing with the needs of all employees, including short-term and seasonal staff, to provide a great working experience in the pubs.

James Hampton, Head of Employee Experience at St. Austell Brewery, shares:

"To truly help our staff feel comfortable, authentic, and well at our workplace, I realized it's important to understand their experiences before we can begin to impact change or encourage the leader and manager of that area to enforce or create change.

St. Austell Brewery responded to the needs of its diverse workforce and the seasonal fluctuations of its industry by introducing a "pub flex app," which supported more flexible working arrangements. This app allowed staff to tailor their work around personal schedules, significantly boosting each brewery's ability to attract and retain employees.

St. Austell Brewery’s employee engagement increased by 6% in just six months, along with a 10% reduction in labor turnover in less than a year.

Ultimately, St. Austell Brewery recognized a crucial truth: happy employees lead to satisfied customers, which is key to profitability and customer retention.

Driving change through incremental actions informed by employee feedback

When companies want to implement transformational changes to business operations, the typical approach is a dramatic announcement signaling a swift change of direction. However, this sudden move can create fear and anxiety among employees.

Alternatively, gradually building momentum for change can be more effective, and active listening plays a crucial role in this process. By continuously listening to and understanding employee feedback, organizations can make incremental changes that are more manageable and less intimidating. This also offers a smooth, positive, and sustainable path to transformation. After all, creating and maintaining a positive culture takes ongoing effort.

Through active listening, Avalere Health's Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS) went up by 10% in 12 months. More impressively, voluntary attrition dropped by half from 26% to 13%.

Avalere Health recognized that real and enduring cultural change happens like "drum beats, not lightning bolts," meaning it's a result of consistent, small actions rather than abrupt shifts. Through this focus on long-term engagement and gradual progress, the organization built and influenced its culture over time, not overnight.

Create lasting success with accountability and continuous communication

Active listening is vital to accountability and effective communication, and it sets companies up to reap the long-term benefits of a flourishing company culture. When companies like Avalere Health and St. Austell Brewery ensure clarity and alignment, they foster an environment where each employee understands, embodies, and contributes to the cultural values – ultimately leading to a unified workforce committed to shared goals.

Illustration of four different hands, all making a different hand gesture.

Learn more about Avalere Health and St. Austell Brewery’s cultural journeys.

Watch the Culture First session

What’s next

Build a world-class employee experience today

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