Perspectives. Employee voice. Releasing voice for sustainable business success

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1 Perspectives Employee voice Releasing voice for sustainable business success

2 Empower, listen to, and act on employee voice through meaningful surveys to help kick start the UK economy. 2 Releasing voice for sustainable business success

3 Introduction Most organisations are carrying out surveys in the UK however, only a limited number of those companies are acting on the findings and benefiting from the transformational benefits of this intelligence. According to our research, only 50% of employees in the UK feel that significant action has been taken as a result of previous surveys, and just 57% trust that a survey they participate in will lead to management action. These are worrying statistics. The economic environment over the last few years has shown just how important it is for companies to develop an engaged and motivated workforce. Our research shows that companies which encourage and value employee voice and approach internal communications in an open and transparent way, are more likely to be financially successful. Seen and not heard? Although employees are, more than ever, challenging traditional ways of doing things, four out of 10 employees in the UK still do not feel that it is safe to speak up. This represents a large reservoir of unheard voices and untapped ideas on how to address business challenges. Employers could also do more to take responsive action on what they hear. Otherwise they could miss opportunities for development, base decisions on a partial understanding about what is really happening in the business, and develop a poor reputation as an employer. Too often, employers appear to believe that an effective internal communications department equates to a listening strategy, whereas more often than not, internal communications is simply a vehicle for disseminating to employees the corporate message. If that message fails to resonate with reality as perceived by the employees, and gives them no room to communicate back up the chain of command, it will only lead to cynicism and disengagement. Despite the worrying statistics, employee surveys have an enormously valuable role to play in overcoming such barriers to open communication, and promoting an organisation s authentic employee voice. Well-designed and administered surveys are a confidential and robust channel for employees to have their say on issues that affect them and their organisation. They allow all employees to have an equal say, as opposed to amplifying the voice of the most vocal. They inform senior management whether employees are motivated, enabled and energised to deliver their best performance, and what areas need improvement. Releasing voice for sustainable business success 3

4 Inform, empower, engage However it is not simply enough to give employees a voice by conducting an employee survey. Our research shows that voice only makes an impact on engagement when employees also feel well informed and suitably empowered. If companies are to transform the employee survey into a vehicle that enhances rather than stifles employee voice, thus establishing an effective instrument for increasing engagement and the conditions for improved performance, leaders need to create the right environment by: Communicating openly and often about business goals, objectives, priorities and challenges. This creates the context in which employees give their feedback, so that the employee voice speaks to the issues that are relevant to the business. Responding. Employees should feel listened to, rather than just asked for their opinions. Regular feedback sessions that monitor progress in implementing actions and create conditions in which employees are more engaged and productive, are key to ensuring that the investment in the survey project reaps the rewards. Involving employees on an ongoing basis. The survey should not be a one-off event, with the results locked behind the closed doors of the manager s office. Instead, employee ownership of the results and involvement in the response is just as critical as the request for them to complete the survey in the first place. A clear cascade of results from senior management should initiate an ongoing dialogue between managers and employees, leading to continuous improvement and a sense of shared success. The best employee surveys go hand-in-hand with a clear process for involvement and ongoing conversation between management and employees. Employees telling management what they need to fix is not sufficient. Employee feedback should instead be used to pinpoint key strengths to celebrate, and areas for which managers and employees share responsibility for improving. Kill or cure? Surveys can kill or cure. A survey with badly designed, irrelevant questions, with no clear sponsor and purpose, and no attempt to communicate or take action on the results, will stifle voice and increase the disempowering distance between management and employees. Survey results are, after all, only data until they are analysed, understood and acted on. By drawing insights from data, and using those insights to make the right decisions about workforce investments and programmes, it is possible to drive the kind of results businesses need to see from higher productivity and better customer relationships, to stronger financials and business growth. A good example of this is seen in a recent Towers Watson s engagement survey project for LV= *. This survey has recorded a year-on-year rise in participation over a five-year period to over 90%, and results that significantly exceed the Towers Watson UK High Performance Companies Norm for most topic areas. This is particularly impressive considering the dramatic and sustained increase in staff numbers through organic growth and acquisition, whilst also set against the backdrop of the financial crisis. LV= is committed to fostering a culture with more open and regular dialogue with employees, in order to construct a clearer picture of what motivates and engages them. Ensuring the buy-in and commitment of senior leadership is an important first step to survey success, as organisations should not look to encourage voice or consult staff unless they are genuinely prepared to listen, act on the outcomes and feed back to employees on what has been done. Linked to this is the importance of honesty and openness in order to build trust. Only authentic adult-to-adult relationships between colleagues, managers and leaders will convince employees of an organisation s integrity and open the door to their whole-hearted engagement with it. It is tempting to see an employee survey as a cure all, but a survey needs a clear communications-led follow-up process, rationale and commitment to act. The power of Active Listening Increasingly, companies are demanding ongoing, continuous feedback of employee views to complement a more extensive annual or semi-annual employee engagement survey. There is also increasing awareness of the value of qualitative feedback (for example, open-ended comments in an employee survey) in re-balancing the recent emphasis on the hard data of engagement scores and benchmarks. Active Listening tools enable issues to be captured as they naturally occur and aggregate views across a large and diverse population on an ongoing basis, with minimum disruption to the organisation. One of our clients recently used our Active LV= * is one of the leading insurers in the UK with four million customers and over one million members. 4 Releasing voice for sustainable business success

5 Listening tool to analyse comments provided online from over 100,000 employees. The company had been using traditional employee opinion surveys for several years and wanted a better understanding of the obstacles that employees found in doing their job well. The power of this approach was its ability to analyse, distil and report back to a senior leadership team the combined voice of a large and diverse employee base. Using their actual words makes it so much harder to ignore what they have to say. Short, sharp and focused surveys also have a role to play in giving employees a voice during periods of signifi cant organisational change. Research has consistently shown that the vast majority of change initiatives fail to meet their objectives. The difference between success and failure often comes down to the readiness and engagement of employees. Evaluation Reorganisations Bureaucracy International aspects Relations between departments Products and services Resources and means Stress and pressure Working hours Respect and ethicsempowerment Recognition Atmosphere Junior-related issues Work life balance Decision process Strategy HR RemunerationCustomer focus Performance Workload Talent management Corporate culture Competitors External image Management Work environment Structural organisation Profitability Support PlanningQuality Career and mobility Innovation Operating efficiency Internal communications Staff management Training MotivationCosts TechnologyLeadership Skills Immediate manager Working relationships The importance of communication Effective communication and fi nancial performance are strongly related: companies that are highly effective at communication are likely to outperform their peers. Our research confi rms that effective communication is an important element of change management, and if both are done well, there is a strong relation with fi nancial performance. Companies highly effective at both communication and change management are 2.5 times as likely to outperform their peers as companies that are not highly effective in either area. Employee voice needs to be embedded in communication strategy which requires planning, resource and training of internal communicators. We see that organisations with the best communication practices create: Clarity. Delivering messages about business direction and performance, as well as all aspects of the employment deal. Confidence. Engaging leadership at all levels and following a disciplined process for changing and communicating to create greater certainty, confi dence and engagement among employees. Community. Building a shared experience across diverse audiences, geographies and business units, and making greater use of new media tools. The best change and communication practices enable companies to keep employees engaged in the business, retain key talent, provide consistent value to customers and deliver superior fi nancial performance to shareholders. Survey communications At Towers Watson, we develop communication strategies and plans that outline the actions and materials required to ensure all key stakeholders are engaged and active in supporting the survey, and which also ensure employees are motivated to complete the survey. We typically hold communication strategy and planning workshops which look at business and HR priorities, stakeholder mapping, audience segmentation and feedback from stakeholder interviews. These cover both the communication activity prior to the opening of a survey, through to its close and feedback and action planning on the survey results. Our detailed communication plan covers guiding principles for the survey, communication objectives, key messages and branding as well as the communication required to drive employee participation in the survey. Releasing voice for sustainable business success 5

6 How do you define effective communication? Through our research we have identified the top seven practices that are key to effective communication: 1. Helping employees to understand the business. 2. Providing information on organisational performance and financial objectives to employees. 3. Educating employees about organisational culture and values. 4. Integrating new employees into the organisation. 5. Communicating to employees how their actions affect the customer. 6. Providing individuals with information about the true value of their total compensation package. But, most importantly: 7. Regular and ongoing feedback from employees. Conclusion Tapping into the employee voice within organisations is a critical part of delivering sustainable engagement, innovation and continuous improvement. However, organisations need to create the culture and structures that encourage employees to communicate ideas and suggestions. These elements include how their voice is heard and by whom, and what use will be made of employee voice in shaping organisational strategy and management decision-making. Leaders also need to be convinced of the beneficial impact greater openness to employee voice has on employee motivation and willingness to produce extra effort for the company. Companies that take voice seriously also stand to benefit enormously from employee survey programmes that are designed around their business strategy, and tailored to deliver insights from employees on business issues that matter. Towers Watson s research into the features of financially high performing organisations finds more than 70% of employees in these organisations believing that management acts on survey feedback (see page 7). This compares to the UK average of around 50%. A distinguishing feature of high performance organisations in the UK is their effective and responsive approach to employee surveys. Employee surveys foster a shared sense of ownership of business challenges and opportunities, if they are embedded in a culture in which leaders regularly and openly communicate with their people, and empower them to shape solutions. In contrast, poorly formed engagement surveys that misunderstand, mismanage and mis-measure the views of employees, represent a missed opportunity to realise significant business improvement, and can have an adverse effect on an organisation s ability to tap into the collective voice of its employees. 6 Releasing voice for sustainable business success

7 High performing organisations and employee voice One way in which high performance companies set themselves apart from the competition is their effectiveness in conducting surveys to create a strong culture of listening to the employee voice. They do this by: Visible leaders spending time sharing their vision, plans and challenges. High performance companies set the standard on employee surveys. Showing an empowering style encouraging employees to give of their best and trusting their judgment in devising solutions to issues the survey has pinpointed. Focusing on the meaning behind the numbers, not just on the numbers themselves. There is a subtle but critical difference between wanting to improve employee engagement, and wanting to hit a certain engagement score in a survey. Employees rightly become cynical about surveys when the focus is on the scores themselves, rather than on what needs to change. Building organisational readiness to ensure a plan is in place for what to do with the results before the results are available. Creating an active network of engagement champions. Using technology to foster best practice sharing and overcome barriers to action. Maintaining momentum by communicating quarterly about actions taken. Building post-survey action into existing programmes, policies and systems where possible, rather than creating a separate stream of work that is divorced from core activity. Making it easy for managers and leaders to act. Releasing voice for sustainable business success 7

8 About Towers Watson Towers Watson is a leading global professional services company that helps organisations improve performance through effective people, risk and financial management. With more than 14,000 associates around the world, we offer consulting, technology and solutions in the areas of benefits, talent management, rewards, and risk and capital management. Towers Watson 71 High Holborn London WC1V 6TP Towers Watson is represented in the UK by Towers Watson Limited. The information in this publication is of general interest and guidance. Action should not be taken on the basis of any article without seeking specific advice. To unsubscribe, with the publication name as the subject and include your name, title and company address. Copyright 2014 Towers Watson. All rights reserved. TW-EU February towerswatson.co.uk

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