How Employee Listening Data Supports Continuous Improvement
Continuous improvement is a cornerstone of modern organizations, focused on constantly enhancing efficiency, speed to market, and overall performance. By seeking input from various stakeholders, organizations identify areas where growth is possible and strive to make improvements as frequently as possible.
Whether pursuing groundbreaking or incremental advancements, orchestrating meaningful progress is always a complex task. Personal development can be difficult in itself, but the challenge is magnified when dealing with an organization composed of individuals at diverse career stages, serving in various roles, and catering to a wide array of stakeholders across multiple products and services.
Goal Alignment: Harder Than It Looks
Every employee who works for an organization should be able to align their work to its goals. For many organizations, this process of self-discovery can be enlightening yet intimidating. Nevertheless, once accomplished, a more cohesive and customer-centric organization emerges, optimizing both customer outcomes and employee capabilities.
Indeed, some employees' work has a more direct connection to company objectives than others. For instance, an outside sales team directly influences top-line revenue. Other teams provide crucial, albeit indirect, support. Revenue targets are accomplished or missed based on the efforts of them both.
At Perceptyx, we believe that a strong organizational culture is one that is aligned and committed to company outcomes. What cultural indicators correlate with these goals? Moreover, what objectives should managers be held to account for?
Answering the question of how to develop a culture that enables an organization to excel can be achieved by examining the findings from employee listening events. (You can learn more about the state of your organization’s employee listening strategy by taking our interactive maturity assessment). These insights unlock the key to goal alignment between complementary teams and work groups. As Peter Drucker once said, "Culture eats strategy for breakfast."
Setting Goals to Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement
Setting targets for cultural development shares similarities with goal-setting in other contexts. Targets should be understandable, visible, and hold everyone — from leadership to front-line managers — accountable for their achievement. Naturally, goals must be numerical and credible, ensuring those responsible for reaching the objectives believe they are attainable. When setting goals, it’s important to strike a balance between measuring improvement and overemphasizing metrics.
When setting goals, consider these basics:
- Clearly define your goal, its purpose, and whether it relates to processes, people, culture, or outcomes.
- Ensure goals are measurable. At times, this can prove challenging. Sometimes, a few numbers can express the indirect, yet invaluable contributions, of even large employee segments. But when these numbers don’t, ask yourself, “Which numbers would effectively quantify improvements in their work?” The answer might lead to insights that establishes the basis for meaningful organizational change.
- Refrain from setting too many goals simultaneously. We suggest identifying one area for improvement, implementing two strategies to address it, and communicating and seeking feedback three times.
- Reevaluate the aggressiveness of goals in light of Goal Setting Theory (GST), which suggests that specific, high goals lead to significantly higher performance when moderated.
- Exercise caution when incentivizing behaviors. When gathering employee feedback via survey, if managers and individual contributors know that receiving “strongly agrees” results in less follow-up work, a bonus, or other monetary rewards, we start to incentivize favorable results rather than honest feedback. Instead, offer non-monetary recognition and track passively collected metrics, such as turnover and productivity, and specific items aligned with your organization's KPIs (e.g., likelihood to recommend or stay for the next year).
Be aware of potential issues when targeting any number.
Focus on achieving true improvement rather than merely "driving a number." Achieving a state of continuous improvement is culture-dependent. A variety of factors can influence a number, so concentrate on outcome metrics and utilize employee feedback to course correct when needed.
- When utilizing benchmarks, keep in mind that unique challenges specific to your organization or industry may not be reflected. Understand the unique context of your benchmarks and consider the factors that might inflate scores, such as a large number of new hires or recent bonus or pay increase announcements.
- Drivers of outcomes, rooted in employee feedback, can help to provide a roadmap for action and decision points along the way. A well-designed listening event should inform actions, barriers to actions, cultural assets, and liabilities.
Change is difficult, and it can significantly impact cultural metrics.
- Highly visible changes can disrupt an organization's culture, often leading to short-term declines in cultural metrics before yielding long-term improvements.
- Consider whether your organization has recently experienced a merger, acquisition, or change in ownership, or if it has implemented a significant policy change affecting more than a quarter of your workforce. Examples include return-to-work policies, vaccine mandates, changes in PTO policies or benefits, and the utilization of contract workers or travelers in healthcare.
- Ensure that goals are scalable, from the enterprise level down to individual teams or units. As a tip, use benchmark data for enterprise-level guidance and internal company-based comparisons for teams.
Evaluate your audience sample to ensure it is representative.
- Effective communication within and between teams, managers, and leaders is crucial for achieving goals. To enhance organizational culture for continuous improvement, consider the following:
- Monitor feedback-survey response rates as they serve as good indicators of initial engagement.
- Aim for a census approach rather than a sample. If possible, seek feedback from all employees rather than a select few. Sample surveys often yield lower response rates and tend to have higher representation from managers or leaders, potentially skewing results positively. Census surveys provide a more comprehensive understanding of the workforce's perspective.
- Be aware that new hires generally exhibit higher engagement levels than their more experienced peers. In organizations with high turnover rates and low employee engagement, engagement measures may be artificially inflated due to the larger proportion of new staff.
- Utilize an employee listening platform like Perceptyx’s People Insights Platform that offers a "filter" feature, allowing you to exclude specific employee groups from the results. This enables more accurate comparisons and valid perceptions of engagement levels.
Tips for success in goal setting and achievement:
- Engage stakeholders early and frequently. Ensure open communication channels for discussing goals and objectives throughout the organization.
- Share the rationale behind goals well before setting numerical targets, fostering a clear understanding at all levels.
- Align leadership's motivations with the organization's methods and modes of operation.
- Seek input from informed third-party observers, such as the consultants at Perceptyx, to obtain impartial feedback based on similar organizations and challenges.
- Ensure goals align with your mission, vision, and values, as well as individual team members' work.
- Focus on work design and provide employees with complete pieces of work and feedback, enhancing the meaningfulness of that work.
- Support individuals in their search for higher goals and role clarity by creating appropriate mechanisms and processes.
- Maintain goal credibility and strike a balance between motivation and potential discouragement. Overly aggressive goals can have counterproductive effects.
- Base goals on well-understood metrics and established business practices, avoiding surprises that may indicate communication gaps.
- Use employee surveys to gauge perceptions and identify areas for development. Analyze results by functional area to uncover confidence gaps and explore ways to bridge communication and support.
- Utilize previous survey results to inform target-setting. Consider whether past results were trending up, down, or remaining stable, and adjust accordingly.
Establishing Your Metrics: Gap-to-Success Measures
Making plans may be the easy part, but the real challenge lies in devising the right measures to ensure gradual improvements are taking hold. How can leaders do this effectively?
One approach is to use a gap-to-success methodology. With this method, targets are based on various factors, such as external benchmarks, historical performance, or comparisons to similar teams within an organization. Depending on the difficulty associated with a specific achievement measure, improvement goals can be set between 5% and 20%. The difficulty may be related to the cultural concept being studied or the unique circumstances of the team in question.
The advantage of using the gap-to-success concept is that it does not hold teams to an absolute measure of improvement. Instead, it scales the requirement based on the team's starting position, providing a more flexible and realistic approach to goal-setting.
Take a look at the following table for a better understanding.
Goal: Raise the degree to which employees “feel their opinions are heard” by 10% biannually until it reaches 90% companywide.
In this example, you can see that when a team is further from the target, it has a more substantial annual goal. This framework acknowledges that making progress is most challenging when a team is already closest to the peak, offering a balanced approach to goal-setting.
Perceptyx Can Help Your Organization Set and Reach Its Goals
A listening partner like Perceptyx can provide your organization with the listening strategy and resources to address goal setting and many other challenges. Click here to take our Maturity Model assessment and receive a comprehensive analysis of your listening program's distinct strengths and areas for improvement, along with personalized recommendations to continue developing your strategy. To learn more, schedule a demo today.