In today’s rapidly changing work landscape, the relationship between employees and employers is undergoing a significant transformation.
With increasing layoffs, more network-oriented approaches to managing companies, and new technological developments, such as the uncertain impact of AI on our jobs, trust has become critical in fostering productive, collaborative, engaged workplaces. Traditional listening methodologies, which often relied on passive, individual-focused, and point-in-time surveys along the lines of the organizational chart, no longer suffice. To continuously build trust and create thriving organizations, a new approach to employee listening is needed — one that embraces transparency, safety, and continual dialogue at the heart of matters: getting purposeful work done together.
In this article, we explore the importance of employee voice, the role of leadership in fostering trust, and the potential for dialogue-driven organizations to drive business value. Furthermore, we provide a model for human-centric listening practices that organizations can adopt.
The Breakdown of Trust
The employee and employer relationship has shifted in terms of power dynamics. Pre-pandemic, the power in this relationship was held by organizations. Yet during the Covid pandemic, we observed a shift of power to the employee, as organizations had to adapt to a world that kept employees safe and healthy at all costs.
Today, the relationship is shifting yet again. Amid difficult market conditions, and a constant need for change, organizations are demanding more from employees, and many have to reassess the viability of their workforce. Over the past few months, we have seen many layoffs while rising inflation levels and cost of living continue to create anxiety for employees. Some organizations have tried to step up and amend salaries and provide a cost of living allowance or once-off bonus. This requirement put even more pressure on an already constrained budget for most organizations.
As the debate around remote work, flexibility, and AI dominates conversations, it’s essential to recognize that the conversation goes deeper than work models or technologies.
The conversation is about belonging, safety, and trust.
A sense of belonging creates an environment where employees can authentically voice their thoughts and opinions. Safety is essential for employees to feel secure when speaking up, knowing there won’t be negative consequences. Finally, trust is the foundation that enables a continuous relationship between employees and the organization, allowing ongoing listening and dialogue.
Employees need to feel heard and valued as humans while at the same time being empowered to influence direction and contribute meaningfully to their organizations. Research reveals that these debates are sometimes less about the outcomes and more about the “fair process that allows for people’s voice” followed to get there. Recent examples in the Return to Office domain confirm that organizations that involved employees in finding solutions to this new reality are adapting better. [source]
Traditional listening methods are coming up short
Unfortunately, traditional (survey) listening methods have often fallen short, lacking the ability to engage in ongoing, qualitative dialogue, often being treated with suspicion, and employees feeling uncomfortable and not taken seriously when they voice their views in the ‘comment field.’ Even though traditional surveys have a place in organizational practice for generic reasons, a mature listening strategy cannot function effectively without the underlying relationship of trust, a sense of safety, and the opportunity to voice your opinion authentically and learn from others. Listening as a means to collectively move the company forward creates a sense of belonging, collaboration, and experiencing co-ownership of the company’s success.
Trust is crucial for relationship-building, navigating uncertainties, and driving corporate performance. It involves instilling confidence that leaders will act in ways that do not harm employees and creating an atmosphere of psychological safety while co-shaping the company’s next steps. Procedural justice, characterized by fair decision-making processes and openness to employee input, plays a vital role in building or detracting from the trust relationship.
Leadership must establish trust by actively engaging employees in understanding and addressing uncertainties, problems, market threats, internal weaknesses, etc. This approach involves acknowledging vulnerabilities and co-creating solutions collaboratively. By involving employees in problem analysis, predicting trends, and even decision-making processes and valuing their input, leaders demonstrate trust and ensure that uncertainties are not solely their burden but a collective challenge to address. Listening becomes management’s strategic tool instead of HR’s siloed survey.This inclusive approach builds a sense of ownership, empowers employees, and fosters a collaborative environment where everyone can contribute and thrive to the company’s strategy and operational goal setting and attaining [source]]
To address the trust deficit, organizations must embrace authentic listening strategies that tap into the collective wisdom within their ranks or company-wide, and even with external (customer) groups. Passive and siloed approaches to employee listening via surveys are no longer effective unless serving generic purposes. Instead, leaders must take ownership of the process and foster an environment where employees feel safe to share their perspectives and enable leaders to take multi-perspective decisions driven by the diversity of thoughts of the many. By creating opportunities for continuous dialogue, organizations can unlock valuable insights, cultivate a sense of belonging, and empower employees to contribute their expertise. All in one go.
The components of an effective listening strategy:
A robust listening strategy creates an environment where authentic conversations can occur between employees and the organization, benefiting everyone involved. While many organizations have some form of listening practices in place, there is still work to be done. Most listening strategies are survey-based and focused on the employee journey instead of business performance-centered dialogues.
Sometimes, organizations get caught up in the analytics, tools, and platforms, which are indeed important. However, it’s crucial to remember the underlying purpose of listening and be critical about why survey-based listening strategies didn’t deliver on their promises, hence, decreasing engagement, retention, and trust. Mature, strategic employee listening is not just about metrics and disclosing topics they mention a lot. Instead, it’s about leveraging the wisdom of the organization, collectively making things better, and surfacing key or even new insights to thrive.
To implement a robust listening strategy, six key components need to be in place:
- Clear focus and purpose: Clearly define why you want to listen and engage employees in the conversation, ensuring transparency about the goals and intentions of the listening strategy.
- Multi-channel approach: Embrace inclusivity by recognizing that employees have diverse needs and preferences when raising their voices. Explore various channels and methods to reach them authentically.
- Continual two-way dialogue: Solicit qualitative feedback and embrace active and passive listening. Foster an environment of open, collective, and transparent dialogue that facilitates collaboration and validation of feedback and feeds decision-making to drive the organization forward.
- Moments of value: Identify the key topics and experiences that matter to the organization and the employees. Engage in meaningful conversations about these moments to gain insights and understand their impact.
- Mixed data methods: Balance quantitative and qualitative feedback using both data analysis approaches. Generalizable findings are important, but so is diving deeper into specific topics to uncover their underlying meanings to drive specific results.
- Action and feedback: Ensure your listening strategy emphasizes action and feedback. Avoid the trap of passive listening followed by delayed communication. Instead, prioritize continual listening, reduce time to action on insights, and circle tangible results back to the organization.
However, these ingredients can only flourish if built on the three fundamental pillars we discussed earlier in this article: belonging, safety, and trust. Working collectively, the listening strategy contributes toward achieving business outcomes, such as performance, productivity, or engagement, to mention a few.
In the face of changing work conditions and a trust deficit, organizations must recognize the power of employee voice in building strong, engaged workplaces to move forward together. Authentic listening, continual dialogue, and shared decision-making are essential for creating an environment where trust thrives. By integrating employee voice into daily workflows and strategic decision-making processes, leaders can foster collaboration, inspire commitment, and drive business value. In this new era of dialogue-driven organizations, trust, safety, and belonging are the foundation for success.
Plan your exchange of thoughts or demo to CircleLytics Dialogue here.