Rather than spending time guessing what employees want, wouldn’t it be easier if they just told you?
It’s likely that they already are—but if your HR team isn’t practicing active listening, you might be missing some of the most important insights into employee engagement. According to a 2016 report, “The biggest challenge for HR in leading engagement programs is shifting from a transactional, once-a-year mind-set, to an ‘always on,’ continuous listening approach to monitoring engagement.” A culture of listening has become more than just a nice-to-have; it’s crucial to employee engagement and trust.
Active listening uncovers how your workforce feels as part of the larger organization and alerts you if there’s something out of sync. While some companies have opened up a Chief Listening Officer role, HR can help facilitate a company-wide culture of listening no matter their job title.
It may be time for an organizational gut check to see if your culture promotes active listening or shies away from constructive criticism. Here are five steps to better encourage active listening throughout your organization.
1. Survey strategically
If you’re regularly conducting employee engagement surveys, you’re on the right track! But it’s not as simple as it may sound. You need to identify the right cadence and questions to ask to ensure you get the most insightful responses. At Namely, we use Culture Amp to survey employees four times a year, with two long surveys that go deep into specific aspects of our company culture, and two short “pulse” surveys that are used to get a quick check on how everyone is feeling. Defining your optimal format ensures employees have the opportunity to share ongoing feedback—and also gives HR the insights to track and assess improvements.
2. Be a presence
Survey results should almost never come as a surprise. If you’re surprised by survey feedback, that’s a good indication of a disconnect. While benchmarking your results helps contextualize your employee engagement in the grander scheme, nothing is more direct than talking to employees in person. HR’s presence is hugely important to establish a culture of listening. Step outside the office, walk the floors, take an employee for coffee, hold office hours, and strike up conversations. Don’t sit behind a closed door and try to guess what’s going––get out there and listen.
3. Provide training on listening
Invest in a learning and development initiative to train leaders on active listening. The training should emphasize tactics to give undivided attention, suspend judgment, and empathize with what people are saying. Stress the importance of asking questions to clarify what employees are saying and to take time to reflect on the feedback. Once this becomes common practice among leaders, the entire workforce will be encouraged to follow suit and improve their listening skills with both peers and supervisors.
4. Supplement with Tools
HR can’t be everywhere at once to hear what is top of mind for employees and managers. But there are a variety of tools and technologies that allow them to easily gather feedback. Utilizing interactive systems such as internal social media networks and feedback and survey platforms can give you better context around workplace happiness.
5. Follow Through
You’ll quickly lose employee trust if you don’t act on the insights you gain. Take what you learn from surveys and observations, and use that to make real, positive changes. Then follow up and ask for even more feedback. Active listening isn’t a one and done thing—it’s continuous and allows your workplace to improve every day. When employees trust that you take their feedback seriously, they’ll be more inclined to give it in the future.