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Why Employee Listening Is Key to Understanding Organizational Health

Why Employee Listening Is Key to Understanding Organizational Health

An employee listening strategy is an organization’s personal health plan. If it wants to be healthy, it needs to listen to its body.

Organizations are simply groups of people acting together. That’s all every company is, whether not-for-profit, blue-chip, or start-up. Oxford even uses the word body in its definition of organization: a body of people with a particular purpose.

As with individuals, we can tell when a body is healthy, and we can act to keep it that way.

A healthy lifestyle includes regular check-ups with a doctor. When you see the doctor, they take your temperature, check your blood pressure, and hit your knee with that little hammer. They check vital signs and run lab tests. They conduct diagnostics.

Measuring Organizational Health

In the case of an organization, we take measurements and then compare them with expected results. When they align, we can be relatively reassured that an organization is healthy. When they deviate, we take it as an indication that something might be wrong. If any diagnostic measure indicates a problem, we run more tests until the root of the problem is identified. 

In this way, as it is for all people, an organization’s health can be diagnosed, monitored, and improved.

In many ways, your employee listening strategy serves to provide the baseline for your organization's health plan. An annual employee survey is like a regular check-up. Pulse surveys or crowdsourcing options like Dialogue from Perceptyx are used when “further testing” is indicated. Action plans are healing interventions.

Diagnostic Tools for Organizations

Take your temperature; it’s hopefully around 98.6°. That’s what we expect to find in a healthy person. That’s the benchmark. In annual employee opinion surveys, we also use benchmarks. Gathered from similar organizations, they serve as indications of whether your results are good or bad. 

Benchmarks are typically used at the item level. We pose an item to your employees and compare their responses to employees from similar organizations. Then we grant a clean bill of health or not.

Benchmarking items is among the most common applications of diagnostics in employee experience research. However, just as one might be unwell without a fever, it's possible to look like a healthy organization while problems lurk below the surface.

More powerful diagnostics that go beyond item comparisons align patterns of results to what’s expected. More sensitive tests yield more information and are often required to fully identify symptoms or discomfort.

Tenure-curve Analysis

One such diagnostic is called tenure-curve analysis.

Understanding how employee tenure interacts with other measures of organizational culture can yield valuable insight about what drives early employee engagement. According to a recent Forbes article, employees tend to be most engaged up until two years of tenure. This finding is clearly supported by Perceptyx’s own Employee Intelligence database, which contains the responses to culture measurements from nearly 20 million employees.

Early tenure is a period of time when it is critically important for leaders to fully imbue an organization’s culture in its newest hires. Analysis of culture through the lens of employee tenure can help ensure that organizations benefit from the wisdom of their most seasoned employees. It might troubleshoot issues with onboarding, find areas of an organization where career progression slows, and more. 

Consider the single cultural indicator, employee engagement. We know that new employees typically present more favorable engagement results compared to employees with longer lengths of service. Maybe it’s because they’re new to the job or it’s an exciting fresh step in their career. We also know that the most senior employees express engagement results on par with new employees. Perhaps they’ve got influence, respect, leadership positions, and rewards that come with them. Taken together, it is typical to find that engagement in an organization follows a U-shaped results pattern. That’s our benchmark. If an organization, business unit, or department deviates from this result, then we know something’s wrong. 

Consider this:

Employee Engagement chart

What can we learn from the organization presented in the graphic above? The organization (the black line) is basically healthy. The organization's average is on par with that observed in external organizations (the dark blue line). That’s where typical analysis stops. By comparing departmental level engagement to the organization’s, we find that Business Unit A (the light blue dotted line) has found a way to excel while Business Unit B (the red dotted line) needs help to rehire people at around the three to five-year mark. 

Different measures of culture do not follow this U-shaped pattern. For example, items that measure “opportunity to grow skills” see relative decline as tenure increases. As our analytical abilities grow, so do our diagnostic capabilities. Consider them advances in organizational medicine.

Tips to Keep Your Organization Healthy

Get regular check-ups

In an organizational context, this means listening regularly to your employees. Multiple channels for feedback should be in operation at regular and expected intervals. And if you feel acute pain or notice an unexpected change, go see the doctor! Listening more often is necessary to listen carefully.

Avoid unhealthy behaviors

For a person, it’s easy to cite examples of unhealthy behaviors. We get stressed out or eat too many deserts. At their core, these unhealthy behaviors manifest a lack of discipline innate to the human condition. We choose these behaviors. Organizations at times exhibit the same lack of discipline, tolerating poor performance instead of addressing it proactively. 

Engage in healthy behaviors

Healthy behaviors include open communication, ensuring DEIB principles are upheld, and remaining true to the organization’s mission. Just like all healthy behaviors, they require practice to become habits.

Perceptyx Can Help You Diagnose Organizational Health Challenges Through Listening 

Context provides clarity for interpreting employee listening data. Perceptyx maintains a robust external benchmark database to provide context for your survey results. Schedule a meeting and let us show you how your company compares to others on the most important employee experience metrics.

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