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The Four Key Differentiators of a Mature Employee Listening Program

The Four Key Differentiators of a Mature Employee Listening Program

One of the primary goals of our 2nd annual State of Employee Listening report was to identify the specific listening practices that distinguish the most mature and impactful programs from their peers. 

Through our study we identified four key differentiators: diversity of listening channels, speed, agility, and integration

Each differentiator connects directly to specific characteristics of a listening strategy and each one can be matured on its own. Many respondents in our study — including more than 600 HR decision-makers and 500 senior leaders outside HR — noted that while they may have mastered one or more of these characteristics, others were still lagging behind. 

When these characteristics advance together, they allow an organization to ascend the 4-stage maturity curve, progressing from Episodic Listening to Continuous Conversations at Scale. In this post, I’ll review each of these differentiators and discuss their influence on listening strategy and execution.

1. Listening Channels — Are you matching the listening event to the business problems you’re trying to solve?

When most organizations describe their employee listening program, they frequently mention “the survey” or say that “they do surveys.” In the realm of employee listening programs, surveys reign supreme as the most frequently employed method, with 71% of organizations employing them regularly. These surveys aim to capture employees' perceptions of their overall experience with the company, either through census or localized sampling. Lifecycle surveys are another common listening channel, measuring experiences at specific points in the employee lifecycle, such as onboarding, exit, promotions, or manager changes. 

Meanwhile, crowdsourcing seeks to tap into the insights of those closest to the action, uncovering their concerns, queries, and innovative ideas. Although traditionally synchronous, tech now enables companies to crowdsource on a larger scale using digital means. Asynchronous methods help give voice to all employees. About 41% of organizations use crowdsourcing in their listening strategies. 

Behavioral listening is the newest form of listening utilized by organizations, measuring employee behavior without asking employees directly. Passive tech like calendar scraping and language analysis aid in this approach, though this must be carefully implemented to avoid negative impacts on trust and psychological safety. Currently, around 29% of organizations employ behavioral listening strategies.

How Are Organizations Listening Today?

2. Speed — How long does it take for employees to feel the change?

Advances in technology have transformed the speed with which organizations can listen to their employees. What used to take months, including manual survey distribution and analysis, can now be achieved through a variety of technological solutions such as HRIS connectors, QR codes, or listening instruments accessible through employees' smartphones. Real-time data aggregation and analysis are also possible. However, speed is just one component of an effective listening strategy. The primary goal is to initiate real change felt by every employee in an organization. Our study found that approximately 30% of organizations still take more than four weeks to deliver results to executives and managers, which often means it takes much longer for employees to feel the impact of the feedback they provided.

Several factors contribute to maturity regarding speed, the first of which is ensuring that every employee has access to the data gathered from the listening event. An organization has a responsibility to inform employees of the feedback provided. In mature organizations, leaders at every level are expected to take concrete, bottom-up actions based on feedback and communicate top-down regarding strategic priorities and changes stemming from that feedback. Taking action represents the organization's "turn" in the conversation with employees and transforms listening from a one-time event to an ongoing dialogue. Shrinking the signal-to-action gap not only ensures that changes are felt more quickly by employees, it also creates a natural, ongoing conversation.

3. Agility — How quickly can your listening strategy adapt to address new business questions or problems?

A successful listening strategy must be adaptable to the changing needs of both the workforce and the organization. Rather than focusing on crafting the perfect set of questions to ask or track over time, mature organizations recognize that an agile listening strategy is one that can adjust the questions and the listening channel to meet changing business needs. It's often the act of listening and taking action on feedback that sends a more powerful signal than the specific questions themselves. However, this doesn't mean that mature organizations are abandoning their full employee experience surveys. Instead, they use them as a diagnostic tool to identify areas where further conversation is necessary. 

Mature organizations continuously evaluate and re-evaluate their listening strategies. Unfortunately, the data shows that Stage 1 organizations tend to evaluate their strategies infrequently, if ever. In fact, 70% of Stage 1 organizations maintain the same listening strategy as they did a year ago, with hardly any changes. On the other hand, 81% of Stage 4 organizations have made significant changes to their strategies since last year. An organization that fails to adapt its listening scope, questions, and methodologies to address new challenges risks falling behind. In a competitive employment environment, organizations that can respond to the needs of their workforce as those needs arise are more likely to retain employees, innovate effectively, and remain resilient during times of change.

4. Integration — How do all the listening events in your organization work together to form a listening strategy? 

As organizations expand their employee listening efforts, the amount of people data they collect also increases. Additional challenges are tied to the reality that this data is often maintained in multiple systems and locations, and handled by various teams across the organization. With so much data, the key to success is your ability to synthesize it to surface insights and collaboratively solve real business challenges.

However, integrating listening data alone can be a challenge. Mature organizations are able to identify patterns across listening events to craft a strategic response. For instance, analysis of exit data may reveal that key talent is leaving the organization at the 5-year and 90-day mark. By tracing back to onboarding survey results, leaders may discover that employees are not clear about job responsibilities, and further analysis may reveal a mismatch between the expectations set during hiring and the realities of the job. Adjusting the recruitment and onboarding process can help reduce the 90-day terminations.

For the 5-year terminations, analysis may show that employees who applied for a promotion or lateral move but did not receive an offer tend to leave the organization. Additionally, tenure analysis of the employee experience survey may indicate a drop in perceptions of career development for this group. By integrating this data, organizations can develop a talent strategy to retain desired employees by offering career development opportunities.

Effective adoption and buy-in require speaking the language of respective leaders. Only 6% of Stage 1 organizations regularly connect listening data to other key business metrics, which limits the effectiveness of their listening program. In contrast, the vast majority (81%) of Stage 4 organizations emphasize making these connections and integrating data across listening events and business metrics outside the HR department. In these organizations, employee listening is not solely owned by HR but rather integrated into other functional areas to solve problems and improve performance.

Perceptyx Can Help Your Organization Develop a World-Class Listening Strategy

When implemented effectively, a mature listening program has the power to address specific challenges facing an organization, such as increasing employee attrition. Furthermore, it is directly linked to world-class outcomes in areas like financial performance, innovation, customer satisfaction, and change management.

To dive deeper into the State of Employee Listening research, download the complete report. To diagnose your organization's unique position on the employee listening maturity spectrum, we invite you to take our interactive Maturity Model assessment. Upon completion, you’ll receive a comprehensive analysis of your program's distinct strengths and areas for improvement, along with personalized recommendations to progress your strategy.

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