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Co-authored by  Maurik Dippel (co-founder CircleLytics Dialogue) and Dr Dieter Veldsman (The Academy to Innovate HR)

Introduction  

In this article, we reflect on the value of employee surveys and the necessity and impact of adding collective wisdom, ie collective intelligence to surveying and engaging employees. Unfortunately, surveys are often used in isolation, and, without context, are challenging to follow up, and can negatively impact employee trust and collaboration. We propose using a mixed-method approach that includes dialogic techniques to drive continual bottom-up influence, gather wisdom from the broader group, and reflect on others to inform and guide action. Dialogue enables employees to learn from others’ perspectives and answers, provides context that helps to prioritize, and gives meaning to others’ textual responses. The ability to interpret within context and harness the wisdom from various interactions and relationships cannot be replicated by algorithms used in isolation. As such, we argue for a data-informed approach that still recognizes the human elements of employee voice strategies. Within this context, we reflect on the nature of the changing employee/employer relationship and how we believe this should be reflected in elevated employee voice and listening practices to be future-of-work-proof.

 

At the outset of this article, we need to state that we believe employee surveying is a critical component of any employee listening strategy; however, we argue that they need to be used as part of a broader employee listening, leadership, and culture perspective.

 

The origin of the employee survey

 

The utilization of employee surveys can be traced back to the early 1920s when surveys were first used to better understand employee attitudes.  A notable figure during this time was J. David Houser, who is credited as one of the first practitioners using advanced quantitative analysis to better understand employee attitudes.  During 1924 and 1925, Houser interviewed numerous leaders and realized that there was very limited understanding of employee views and opinions, impacting factors such as employee morale and job satisfaction and that more methods were required to gather these insights.

 

Despite all the progress made during the 1920s and 1930s, only a few innovative firms utilized surveys as part of their employee engagement strategies.  In the US, the rise of polling organizations post World War 1 started with companies such as Gallup, Roper, and Crossley focusing on the commercial market research sector in the 1930s. During the Second World War, the Office of War Information (OWI) in the United States employed firms such as Gallup and academic psychological researchers such as Rensis Likert to better understand civilian morale. During this time, the debate regarding the value of open/closed survey questioning and interviewing started to take shape.  The government demanded swift processing and delivery of results and methods that could be utilized at scale.  This need slowly tilted the preferred method of inquiry towards surveys as opposed to more detailed open-ended qualitative analysis.  Challenges associated with open-ended data and the amount of time available versus the time required back then for interpretation contributed to organizations’ preference for survey-based quantitative methods.

 

Speed over context, scale over depth, and generalized themes over in-depth understanding reigned supreme.  Unfortunately, for a long time, this preference has remained, and is still, favored by numerous organizations today, even though the potential barriers that inhibited the use of qualitative analysis on a large scale are no longer relevant.

 

The changing nature of employee voice and listening strategies

 

The last number of years have seen significant shifts in the employee/employer relationship and psychological contract expectations.  Employees demand more autonomy, they want to contribute and have a say in decisions that impact them, as well as be able to influence the direction and scope of their work.  Collaboration and ways of work have become paramount considerations for how work is designed within the theme of co-creation and involving diverse and varied perspectives.  In terms of leadership, we have also seen a move away from hierarchical leadership styles and more contextual and situational styles becoming the norm, e.g., distributed leadership and “asking questions” instead of “telling the answers.”

 

Against this backdrop, employee voice and listening strategies still need to evolve sufficiently from their roots described earlier in this article.  Even though technology and analysis techniques have improved since the 1920s, especially in the last years, mixed-method approaches are not utilized in most organizations, except those with significant and skilled organizational development or psychology teams.  This, however, is not the norm, and as such, in most organizations, employee feedback is restricted to an annual employee survey, simplified pulse surveys, focus groups, and interviews for some qualitative understanding.  These efforts, even though valuable, often lead towards interpretation outside of context, delay in taking action, and leaves employees feeling unheard and their problems or needs unaddressed.

 

The absence of co-creation during surveying and the lack of contextualized, prioritized textual outcomes slow the process of taking effective measures and actions.  Therefore, HR and managers have a hard time turning employee survey data into swift, supported-by-the-people action, typically showing follow-up cycles of many weeks.  Point-in-time feedback, i.e., pulse surveys, does not solve the absence of allowing employees to collaborate, collectively process and give meaning to others’ answers, and emerge more reliable or even new insights and priorities. These, still single-loop survey techniques allow limited opportunity for the workforce to collectively contribute towards the solution and remain merely a diagnostic exercise that is great at identifying areas of concern but limited in its ability to find solutions. “Gauging temperatures, but lacking sufficient, validated insights to make decisions, “a Director from Phillips, the multinational conglomerate, expressed to us.

 

Furthermore, the acceptance by employees of change has dropped, according to research, by 49% over the last years. In addition, scientific research proves that employees are key to the successful implementation of significant company decisions. “Nothing about us, without us.” A saying that represents employees’ willingness, hence instinctive demand to be heard, to be included in change that concerns them. A fair, inclusive process that allows a timely voice to employees is essential to make sustainable change happen. At the same time, leadership is regarded to take listening and thus asking questions to the next level, hence to take employees (finally) seriously for what they think, see and experience in their own words.

 

A revised approach must be adopted to allow the organization to co-create the solutions required to move forward through and with employees. We position three shifts required for a reframed perspective to employee listening strategies.

 

Shift 1: From single-loop methods to multi-loop continual dialogue

 

Regular survey methodologies (single loop), long or short, require an additional layer of dialogue for contextualization by people before being processed by AI.  Multi-loop surveying enables leadership to include people in company matters that are most pressing, complex, and impactful and allows them to submit answers and successively review and enrich others’ answers. Look at this example:

 

Single loop:

“How would you score trust in management. Please comment.”

 

Multi-loop:

  • First step: “How would you score trust in management, and can you clarify your score for others and leadership to learn from? [deeper thinking instead of ‘leave a comment’]
  • Second step: “Which answers inspire you most, get your support, and what’s your tip to turn this into action?” [actionable, validated insights]
  • Third step: “How do you score the question about trust in management on second thoughts while viewing others’ answers?” [revised, up to 60% more reliable numbers]

 

Deliberate open questions and disclosing everyone else’s answers to employees is not merely a sign of trust, hence increasing people’s openness to change their perspective, but also a way of collectively processing complex information and collaborating to solve problems together. A single-loop surveying process approaches employees as mere individuals by seeking their feedback quantitatively (scale questions for structured feedback) and, quite often, allowing a comment field.  A multi-loop listening process allows employees to review the textual answers submitted by others on questions that deepen your topic and allows them to re-do their closed answers. This new level of listening considers people as a living, learning network of individuals, hence a collective, inter-connected group, instead of only individuals.

 

This innovative step triggers interpersonal learning, makes employees more informed about a diversity of thoughts from others and allows them to rate others’ answers and explain their scores via a recommendation or explanation. This means they analyze, validate and enrich each others’ answers. Based on that, they may re-do their closed answers, which research shows is done by up to 60% of individuals, hence, impacting positively accuracy of numerical results compared to a single-loop survey.

 

Example from the field:

 

A company listened to 6,500 employees to co-analyze why retention metrics were decreasing, and illness was increasing. 70% of employees explained in their own words what they considered most important for these challenges. Over 4,000 feedback items were processed via the first round (first loop). AI and natural language processing resulted in a list of possible leading topics. Still, no conclusions could be drawn, and no decisions were made. Not until the 2nd round (second loop) was executed: 6,500 employees were included to review and validate, ie. prioritize the best contributions from their co-workers, and were asked for their recommendations. Their second, more valuable thoughts revealed that many (frequently mentioned) topics from the 1st round, were no longer considered the most important. Other topics were pushed up and some contributions and topics were pushed down, hence rejected. In a matter of days, the company made a tremendous impact by taking people seriously and improving on these key matters.

 

Shift 2: Seeking organizational wisdom through connected employees

 

The African proverb “the wisdom of the fish lies in the water” describes the idea that the wisdom of the organizational system lies within its people.  Importantly, this approach does not differentiate between level or role but instead views the organization as a collective consciousness that moves and contributes to the collective perspective the organization holds.  Expertise, solutions, and critical thinking can be found anywhere in the organization and are not represented by reporting lines and organizational charts.

 

Given the rising complexity of organizations and current trends towards less top-down and more bottom-up driven decision-making (even towards fully “decentralized autonomous” organizations), this further positions the requirement for parts of the organization to solve problems independently within their context.  To make this practical, decentralized systems need to be given the power to make decisions in the best interest of the broader organization, yet with the knowledge of the context and localized realities that would make the decision meaningful.  Furthermore, employee listening strategies in this context need to provide more opportunities for input from others and to build upon the ideas and contributions, regardless of rank, role, or status.  To truly leverage the power of diversity of thought and multi-perspective thinking, an organizational culture that prioritizes psychological safety, open feedback, and transparency will be paramount to the success of a more open dialogical approach. This deepens connectedness, hence connecting people to topics that matter most. Increased connectedness positively relates to higher retention and better company performance.

 

Shift 3: Reframe the purpose of feedback

 

Traditionally, diagnostic approaches relied on the premise that feedback was provided to look back on last year’s – or now with pulse surveys, previous quarter’s or month’s – results and key topics. Executive teams spent hours poring over numerical survey results and identifying themes from a collection of comment fields and language processing results.  By pursuing a dialogical approach, the purpose of feedback is not to seek an answer but rather to contribute a new perspective to build upon the collective intelligence of the organization.  Feedback is provided with the goal and intent of someone else responding, building upon, and incorporating the feedback into their actions.  The dialogical approach sees value in the process of connecting through feedback. It uses the opportunity to enhance collective learning, and to engage and build new perspectives in a much faster way, reducing time to action by 90%, as practices show. A shared truth and meaning are constantly created through conversation with a factual and evidence-based contribution toward the ever-evolving dialogue.

 

Example from the field: SpaarneGasthuis*

 

Leadership strives for a culture of dialogue, connectedness, and collective learning and sacrificed benchmarking-oriented survey technology (engagement surveys) to replace this with continual dialogue. While deploying dialogues at any scale, centrally (full workforce) and decentrally via teams and departments, they’ve identified and improved many key matters, such as patient safety, learning & development, leadership development, retention, and so on. Employees highly appreciate being involved in matters that concern them. A culture of engaged change enables leadership to move forward faster and respond to new circumstances more efficiently and effectively. Employee listening is genuinely about listening to their voices and how they reflect on each others’ perspectives.

*Healthcare provider with 4,500 employees

 

Conclusion

Surveys have a place and are important, but they need to be used in context as part of a more thorough mixed methods inquiry process. Primarily, surveys can collect numerical data to gauge temperature, not to understand nor solve problems and underpin decision-making.  We now have the tools to incorporate qualitative and validated insights at any scale and in real-time, giving richer and more robust insights based on collaborative intelligence: produced by connected people, challenging, reflecting on, and assessing others’ views. Continual dialogue is required to harness the wisdom of the organization, yet this can only be done by leadership that promotes a relationship of trust and transparency towards employees and a deep understanding of people being the cornerstone of any change or organizational development.

Please contact us for any further exchange of thoughts, follow CircleLytics Dialogue, or contact or connect with Dieter Veldsman and follow his company AIHR.

References:

Klimaatdoelen

Transform4C is an expert agency in sustainable development, transition tasks, circular economy and climate goals. The Sustainable Development Goals are their guiding compass. They believe that government, education and business play a major role in achieving those climate goals and building a climate-proof future. They advise and guide projects by widely sharing the lessons of pioneers and putting participants in action mode during an experience and afterwards through online dialogue.

Charlotte Extercatte, innovator and founder of Transform4C: “Achieving climate goals concerns us all. We shouldn’t just deliberate; we should above all look at what actions we can take. We aim to help accelerate those transformation tasks as a partner in the global platform of climate professionals ‘100 Months to Change’ (100MTC) which was launched in September 2021. Our goal is to inspire and empower 1 million professionals in their climate work to achieve the 2030 climate goals. This is going tremendously fast with major organizations committing and embracing our approach. These are the big employers of the Netherlands, who can make a difference.”

Experiences as an incentive

To this end, they devised experiences that are held in-company with open registration. The combination of the film screening of Beyond Zero during a 100MTC Experience and the concrete tools from the pioneers’ approach gives partners a feeling of ‘it can be done’. They experience an inspirational and motivational boost to accelerate in climate work.

Charlotte: “During premiere, we had around 700 people watching the film Beyond Zero. From CEOs and scientists to programme managers and students. We gave them a moment to organize their thoughts after seeing this film. We asked them the question: what concrete action can you think of that you can start today? By doing this, you can already generate 30% more action from participants, simply because you focus on what they plan to do. Asking questions stimulates curiosity.

Important role for climate dialogue

After such an event, people want a follow-up. The online dialogue plays an important role in this. A few days after the screening of the film, the participants were given a moment of reflection in a 2nd round of the dialogue. We confronted them and tempted them with the answers of others, to further stimulate their minds and make them think again. This works tremendously well! Ideas from others prompt you to revise your own thoughts, giving a much broader, richer experience. We call this dialogue a call-to-action tool. We want to draw attention again to that one good idea they named, and others also favour, or to encourage a decisive decision. Showing leadership in this area again leads to operational actions. We want to turn awareness into concrete actions. Climate work needs to be on the agenda all the time, so that every employee within the organization starts looking at how they can contribute to a climate-proof future.

We find that people are curious about what other people think. That is the first step of change! They also want to know relevant issues among the other larger organizations in the room. When using the dialogue, you get all kinds of ideas from the participants. Innovative ideas from the minority of participants in the first round also have a good chance of receiving the highest rating by the other participants in the second round. We desperately need this collective intelligence and learning from both ideas from the minority as well as the majority to get things going. When considered across multiple organizations, it yields special insights: who is more ambitious and why? What are the stakes, what are the actions of one organization and the other?

Climate accelerators

Before we send out the dialogue, we underline its importance to our client and the participants. We focus on what effect they want to achieve and, above all, how. The standard questions in our dialogue are: What is going well? What do you think could be done more? What concrete action will you take? How do you rate this on a scale of 1-10 and what affects you most? By the way, we came up with these questions in consultation with CircleLytics. We harness people’s brainpower best with open-ended questions.

From the dialogue, a top five priorities for our management team emerged – these are the ‘Climate Accelerators’. That top 5 is based on the most valued ideas and priorities within the participant group. We also give that feedback on the top 5 back to the participants. This close out is important. This is how they reflect on each other’s ideas and the data-driven results; it helps them stay in action mode.

With this programme, we challenge on the frontend while putting climate work structurally on the agenda on the backend.

Read what the Ministry of Health says about dialogue, validation and the difference with surveys

In company

With in-company programmes, we realize awareness across the entire organization. This means that different departments look differently at climate goals and the actions required to achieve them, and other departments learn from this, react to it, etc. It is important to first understand how everyone looks at the same priorities and which processes need to be adapted to implement those actions. So make sure you seek support and don’t just run after an individual idea without substantiation. Sometimes departments are diametrically opposed on an action because of different interests. Then it is important to see how they can still come to concrete action together, and how they can understand, strengthen and learn from each other’s actions and ambitions. Keep moving forward together!

Learning from each other

I used to work with dialogues on paper, which is time-consuming and labour-intensive. I also brought small groups of people together physically or sent survey questions for research. Now I can say that the impact is less in that case, because you only collect the answers. It is precisely that second round in the climate dialogue that is so interesting and determines what’s important and what’s not. It also gives participants insight into what others are answering, so they learn a lot from each other. Everyone becomes smarter, more aware and motivated! That only increases the impact.”

Pioneers in the Netherlands

We’ve now had 8500+ participants in our programme. Partners and experts who have committed to the 100 MTC include Deloitte, Ernst & Young, ABN AMRO, KLM, Regio Foodvalley, Renewi, Skyteam, Museon Omniversum, PME Pensioenfonds, SWP, Savills, Boot, hieroo., Mourik, AmCham EU, Impact City. With 30+ partners worldwide, they have started preparations to deploy the dialogue internationally as well.

Charlotte: “We want to connect the forerunners, as this brings a positive acceleration in the transformation process. In doing so, we increase our impact thanks to strong partners, such as Nyenrode Business University, MVO Netherlands, RVO Duurzaam Door, PhiAccelerator and SmartWorkPlace. We also collaborate with 10 Places to be.

We share results from dialogues and our partners as much as possible, because that is how we learn to transform together. Change is not something you do alone. Turn on everyone’s (open) minds and make sure you engage in dialogue, stay in dialogue and keep making progress together.”

Curious to know what CircleLytics could mean for you? Schedule your demo or introduction here.

 

 

Deliberate open-ended questions for high response rates and depth

How was your day? What are we doing next weekend? What do you think of this idea? How can we best solve this problem? Open ended questions. People are tired of closed questions that surveys present us with: the well-known survey fatigue (interesting report dating back to 2013 by the CIPD). This is understandable. After all, we want to be able to give our opinion, to contribute to the issue at hand. And we don’t want to be forced to choose from a limited number of answers. Open-ended questions also let people know that you take them seriously, that you trust them. Gallup has been researching this for many years: employees love, Einstein quote futureno require, need to be take seriously for their opinions. You also get a higher response rate and a much better response; they take answering your question seriously. As a result, your research becomes more reliable. Don’t forget to ask more questions about the future and present, than about the past; the past doesn’t resonate strongly enough with people.

Closed question with open answer

Even if you ask a closed question (score, multiple choice, statement), it is almost always better to offer the open text field as well. You must then explicitly ask for an explanation of the score or of the answer to the multiple-choice question. By asking for an explanation, the score is given in a more considered way, which makes your results more reliable. Moreover, you learn about the reasons that lie behind scores and you can finally, reliably interpret your numerical results. This also enables you to analyse whether low scores have been given by mistake, while the open answer indicates the opposite; or vice versa. Your research results will improve, which in turn will lead to better follow-up and targeted, fast action! Managers need to be helped by your insights, not overwhelmed by data and additional home work. Just adding an open-text field to a closed-end question is not an option. If you don’t give the open answer meaning by a clear, guiding open-ended question, why do you expect respondents to give it meaning?

So, instead of asking: “How do you assess ABC?” and allowing a score or throwing in a text field,
ask this: “How do you assess ABC at this moment, and can you clearly substantiate that?”

Don’t limit them, or yourself

The current technology of survey providers is very limited in processing open answers. Therefore, they often discourage this, and you are left with the big question ‘what is behind the scores’. Or they limit themselves to counting words, topic modelling and trying to discover combinations of words. Consequently, the ease of processing the data for such providers is more important than the quality and depth of your research. Even worse, more important than the needs of your participants; there is hardly or no specific room for open answers. Open answers are driven by the open-ended question, not by a functional text box to put in ‘anything you want’. They can’t say what they do want to say. The section below is from the website of one of the market leaders for employee surveys, showing that after the survey, you have to find out for yourself what’s behind it.

the why behind numbers

 

Instant useful information

CircleLytics technology, on the other hand, has been developed to process open answers and convert them into information. Information that you can use immediately. Useful top 5s for instance. You can see right away what was said by which target group and why. This means you will get the most out of the open answers, making sure participants are heard.

Prof Neely (University of Cambridge): “People often reveal their true thoughts and feelings in the open-ended comment boxes. In general, the content of these comments offers a much more reliable predictor of a people’s behaviour.”

How do you deal with open answers?

What is the difference between open answers processing by a survey tool and by CircleLytics? We will explain this using a simple example. After a reorganisation of HR, in which they started working de-centrally as business partners, management and HR wanted to investigate the results. The question was simple: “How do you assess the effects for you of decentralising HR and can you explain this?” Approximately 3,000 employees gave a 1-10 score including their explanations. The average score was high. The answers were then grouped based on traditional word count and topic modelling. These are simple ways of processing texts which made it possible to group 14 themes and to count which words were mentioned most often. The latter resulted in a nice word cloud. That’s it?

For surveys, yes. For CircleLytics and participants, this is where it all starts. Our tool allows for a unique second round per question. In this second round, the unsorted answers are sent back to the participants in sets of varying compositions to maximize diversity of perspectives. Employees (or other participants such as customers, members, etc) can rate these and give them a score of -3 to +3, choose key words and explain their score. Do you know how much they enjoy doing that, how happy that makes them, to learn from each other’s answers and enrich these?

Sentiment & Semantic Analysis

They give a sentiment, a weighting, to the answers of others. You immediately have your real-time sentiment & semantic analysis and natural processing of language. No algorithm can beat the human mind in processing something so complex as natural language. To humans, language comes natural, yet to algorithms it’s one of the most complex things to capture in a meaningful, actionable and reliable way.

By selecting key words, the human minds (the participants) give those words even an extra weighting and extra semantic, contextual value to the data. That is an enormous enrichment; even before our AI/ML/NLP technology starts to perform analyses, hundreds or even thousands of participants are already doing the natural language processing. In practice, this proves extremely attractive: more than 70% of the participants rate more than 15 answers from others. Participants love this way of answering questions, learning from others and structuring the output, and give this two-round method a report mark of 4.1 on a 5-point scale. Very different from the fatigue that plagues surveys….

Now let’s see

Back to our example: 3,000 participants assessing an average of 30 answers, is almost 100,000 thought processes in just a few days! That 2nd round is called collective intelligence. This gave the client a whole new insight. Instead of 14 themes, it turned out that after the 2nd round, only 3 themes were favoured and supported. On second thought, the participants focused on those 3 themes, not on 14 at all. Moreover, a fourth, new theme emerged, which only a few people thought of in round 1, but was positively scored by a large group of participants in round 2!

The theme was about someone’s observation that HR business partners themselves were having a hard time…. A few had empathy for this in the 1st round. A regular one-round survey, a word count and topic modelling simply did not reveal the theme. Only through the 2nd round of CircleLytics could participants see the opinions of others, learn from them and gain a deeper understanding. On closer inspection, they thought differently. An unprecedented enrichment of the research. And a wonderful example of deep democracy in which a minority opinion is clearly revealed.

Think again

That is why the CircleLytics technology is not called a survey; it’s called a dialogue, based on deliberate open-ended question and human (and after that AI/NLP) processing of the open answers. Because dialogue requires that people are prepared to think differently about your question. They learn from the answers of others. People think better in the second instance. They usually think fast first, and then slow down (also read Kahneman’s research), which gives your research more depth. You also come up with subjects that no technology had come up with. Topics that are sometimes only mentioned by a few, and that cannot emerge without the collective intelligence of all brains together.

So when would it be useful to have a survey?

Forget the word survey for a moment. Based on our experience, we advise to determine the design per question in CircleLytics. This means adding a closed scale, presenting a multiple choice, or offering a text field. You can adjust the question when you add a text field. You can now explicitly ask participants to fill in the text field and what you expect them to do. Finally, you can determine whether the question will be included in the 2nd round and set the deadline for this. This is how you can combine the old survey with the new possibilities of the open text field and the 2nd round. If a question leaves no room for thinking for yourself but is just a score or ticking of a predetermined answer, you leave out the 2nd round, and possibly even the text field. This can all be done in a single tool. Tips for formulating strong questions, can be found in our WhitePaper with design principles.

Analyses and results

In conclusion: the response rate and quality are higher and, more importantly in our opinion, you will achieve accurate results and a reliable interpretation of the figures. You can also further analyse the results in CircleLytics by using the unique Weighted Word Count that takes sentiment (score/selection of words) into account. This leads to completely different insights than the old word count.

Everything has an expiry date. The regular surveys you are used to, something that causes fatigue among participants and shows fragile quality, need renewal.

We would like to invite you to get to know the power of people, based on (mostly) open questions, with the CircleLytics Dialogue Solution.

Request demo

 

Dialogue

HR has to go through it every year, quarter or month, and so do the employees: the employee survey. Collecting employee scores for 10 to sometimes 80 general questions. No wonder employees are not happy with these surveys. It’s unclear what happens next, and they can’t give their real opinion. As a result, management and HR are burdened with what to do next. The big question is: what is the reason behind the survey figures? And, what will we do?

 

If you know why, you can anticipate

In the meantime, 200+ organisations have worked with employees to find out the why, their true opinions, the story behind the figures. The story of the people themselves. Especially now that employees combine home and office, and are seriously considering changing jobs, it is even more important to know what really matters to them. General questions with a score do not give us that answer. The next step is to start talking to your employees.

 

HR Director: “Gallup research has shown for years that employees are more motivated if they are allowed to express their opinion. That turned out to be a real goldmine in our organisation.”

 

In dialogue, you can really listen

The questions you ask your partner, friends and family are not limited to multiple choice and scoring questions. Why, then, are they used for employees? From now on, you can also enter into dialogue with employees using open questions. When you use open questions, you tell your employees that you trust them, that you invite them to be open, and that you show you’re interested. Open questions will get you answers that matter, that make the difference, that give insight. Check out our white paper with all the design principles for formulating solid open questions.

 

He who asks, receives. And then? 

Our customers, mainly HR and management teams, use CircleLytics to ask open questions to 10 to 100,000 employees. We are 100% inclusive; everyone simply participates via a link. The answers may be given anonymously. Afterwards, they can see the anonymous answers of others and indicate whether they find them valuable or not. This ensures structure and priority.

 

What is the result of listening to employees?

Happy employees. You take them seriously and that makes an impression. What’s more, you learn a whole lot from what they say, how they solve problems, and how they make improvements visible. Just because you ask them. Management is very enthusiastic about this because they now understand what lies behind the figures and HR gives them the information they need to make better decisions.

Interested in the CircleLytics online dialogue? Visit our website

 

Maurik Dippel, CEO, Co-Founder

Rules. Which ones really hinder employees, do we understand why, and can we solve them? How do you as a works council, HR, manager or CEO ensure that employees actively think about this, come up with ideas and help set priorities? After all, they know exactly what it is that frustrates them every day.

I remember a lecture on Mintzberg and the usefulness of bureaucracy to manage chaos in growing organizations. Today, it is thought that we need to be flexible, embrace bottom-up decision-making, servant leadership and agility precisely because markets are so fickle. Onward! Right? Down with rules, then? Freedom and trust so we can be creative and solve problems together? As Seth Godin pointed out in his book and TED talk Tribes, people are most easily led in the direction they always wanted to go. In a McKinsey study on stability versus agility, the authors state that modern leadership is the art of removing procedures, structures, and rules that get in the way of change, and keep what is needed.

And which rules and procedures should remain? Which ones are in the way of people changing in a direction they have wanted to go for a long time? 

The remarkable thing is that we don’t really appreciate change. At least, not if we have no influence on it, have no part in it, or have no co-ownership of it. We shy away from change when we have no role in it, according to, for example, research from the American Psychology Association on Well-Being. Stress increases as employees see the values they implicitly live and work by threatened. And vice versa. Values are therefore smarter to deploy than rules! Netflix discovered this much earlier. They follow a very simple rule: Avoid Rules! People over Process! However, a close examination reveals that Netflix only allows rules if something can lead to irreversible damage. Netflix apparently allows a margin of error, so to speak, to learn. Fail fast often is what start-ups and gurus like Gary Vaynerchuk sometimes say. So do we. And rules hold back this learning process.

In his book Doorbreek uw bedrijfscultuur (Break through your company culture), Rudy Snippe talks about the self-referential ability of organizations. They maintain their own system, and rules, and confirmative bias ensures that people are mainly open to signals that confirm them right and do not threaten their already existing perception or views. Managers or employees who say: “this is the way it has to be, because those are the rules, don’t ask me why” or “it doesn’t work that way here” are not wanted by anyone, except your competitor. Well, not even them..

There is evidence that €5 billion of administrative burden is wasted in the healthcare sector in the Netherlands alone. It’s quite bold to state that this ‘can therefore be scrapped’, because rules also provide structure, support accountability and make risks transparent and manageable. And last but not least, the legislator also wants to see all kinds of things complied with, such as requirements for a license, tender, etc.

Do we leave it at that? No, definitely not. What if you had a smart online dialogue twice a year and asked your employees which rule they think could be abolished and why? What if you could let employees respond to each other’s ideas, and you would know which ones could potentially be abolished, and more importantly, why? What if you also asked which rule allows them to do their work in a stable and structured way?

One of our clients tackled the ‘rules’ topic by simply asking its employees (nearly 3,000 employees) to name rules that only bother them and the organization and do not benefit the client, prioritize others’ answers and comment why you favour their answers more or less. The outcome was clear and could be divided into:

1 rules that hinder employees from doing their jobs and unexplainably still exist;

2 rules that are inconvenient, but serve a purpose;

3 rules that need to be looked at more seriously but have the appearance of not being so.

Anything under 1 can be simplified or removed after further analysis. Note the chain effect: ask the question where the rule got its origin. Do we still understand if the rule is outdated and unnecessary? Conduct further online dialogue in a small(er) group if necessary.

Anything under 2 is explained in more detail. Apparently, the main thing you need to make clear to employees is that these rules exist and why compliance is necessary. Realize that they apparently didn’t know that. Therefore, go over why they didn’t know that? Why are there rules that are unknown, untrained, and/or untraceable? You can also train important rules smartly with groups of employees via dilemmas. Contact us if this appeals to you.

Finally, anything that falls under 3 should be analysed more closely. You can have deeper online dialogues with the group that identified these rules to clarify what to do with them. Again, what is the origin, why don’t we understand why we have these rules?

You get the idea. Clearing clutter and making important rules visible are both necessary. Something you simply can’t pass up. You don’t want to wait for this: you either want to get rid of rules or see them enforced. There is nothing in between, in our opinion. So neither work, nor the customer, nor your employee falls between two stools.

How do we proceed: We can set up a program with your organization or department for the above challenges. You will have the first results with groups of 10 employees up to 10,000s within 2 weeks.  You will be amazed to see the results: a quick return on investment. This will not only be reflected in money and agility, but also in higher employee satisfaction and commitment. The best companies in the world, have a foundation based on the commitment of employees. At the time, not the CEO of IKEA, but an employee came up with the idea of removing the legs of the LÖVET table, in order to develop “flat packaging” as a smart, customer-friendly logistics solution. Don’t underestimate employees, they have ideas, they want to improve their work and they know which rules can be thrown out and which ones are badly needed better than anyone.

Fancy a challenge? Contact us today to get started tomorrow.

Vragen

 What are right questions to ask employees? And how do you get more insight from the participants’ answers? How and why did they come to their choice? What is the real underlying story? Or does that linger under the surface?

The right questions will lead to a successful round of questions

Asking the right questions sounds simple, but it’s not. Countless surveys you have ever distributed as an organization show this. The response rate is low, the answers hardly give the desired results and the frustrations of employees only increase because they have the feeling that ‘nothing is being done’ with their response.

Therefore, we won’t use the word survey. We talk about challenging, listening to each other, working together, where the approach is to engage in a conversation with each other. In question rounds, the right questions are critical to making a question round successful. By successful we mean; whether the outcomes lead to solutions that contribute to the purpose of the questions.

Coming up with questions is difficult

We found that many organizations struggle with asking the right questions. To this end, we conducted research in recent years at dozens of organizations with many tens of thousands of employees, examined studies and designed 100s of questions. We asked them how they are doing, what could be improved or even what needs to be improved.

The 2nd unique round of CircleLytics is used to challenge and inspire each other to think deeper about the questions presented. Organizations such as Fivoor, Inspectorate for Health Care and Youth, Movisie, Unilever, Municipality of Utrecht, HR Community, RSM (global) and several others engaged in a dialogue with employees and their network in this way.

In recent months, dozens of organizations have surveyed 10,000 employees about how they are doing, and what could or should be improved, including what work can be done at home, or not, and why? How much of the work should be done at home, how much at the office? What do employees want, what do they demand? How much room does the labour market allow for not meeting the employees’ demands or wishes? Will employees continue to have the same wishes and demands when it comes to working at home or in the office? What if this changes? What is the influence of the government and social developments when it comes to choices regarding working at home or at the office?

Together with several client organizations, we designed questions, did research and read studies. As a result, we designed top-notch dialogue questions for you and your organizations. You can use these unchanged, enrich them or you can make a selection.

People, society and organizations are currently facing unprecedented circumstances. Insecurities regarding health, finances, jobs and a future for you and your environment go hand in hand. In addition, home and office work must be combined and that in itself is complex enough without corona . Societies and countries are also under pressure to keep their heads above water, to be accountable to parliament and citizens and to ensure that healthcare is or will be up to standard, to offer confidence to all. And then there is the labour market, accessibility of offices, cost of office space versus working from home, etc. Organizations are already making different choices, like Lloyd’s and Goldman Sachs do in this article.

In this sense, we are part of a great experiment in which many people and agencies have opinions, point to each other and are constantly confronted with new, mostly uncertain information. Uncertainty and forms of social isolation can lead to stress and mental problems that transcend normal absenteeism. This can result in a serious loss of confidence, commitment and productivity.

CircleLytics has developed top-notch questions that allow the leadership of the organization, HR, the works council and all employees together to determine what is going well, and what can or must be improved. Contrary to the various corona surveys, the CircleLytics questions reveal the scores: why and how employees think about ‘how to do better’. This provides deeper insights into how to make sound decisions compared to using scores from an old-fashioned survey. It also results in collaboration: employees learn from each other and listen to each other. Something that is desperately needed in these times of little social interaction.

People need trust and connection. You increase this by taking them seriously, showing them that their opinions matter and connecting them in the 2nd round.

We designed a set of questions for dialogues with managers and a set for dialogues with employees. These questions are incorporated into CircleLytics and can be used immediately. We recommend that you don’t limit the dialogue with your people to just one because conditions, markets and uncertainties are constantly changing. You can enrich the questions with matters that apply specifically to you.

An example question:

“To what extent is information from leadership clear and available to you?”

Enrich this question with, for example, the following:

“And please indicate what improvement you see for a higher score next time.”

Or:

“And please explain your score with a recent, clear and telling example.”

Another example question:

“What is the biggest challenge in leading your team when you work from home?”

Enrich this question with, for example, the following:

“Describe a situation that other executives can learn from the most.”

or you can give even more direction to the participant:

“In answering this question, don’t focus on video conferencing/IT but on the social side of your work.”

The first round of questions will generate scores and quality answers. These serve as input for the second round of questions in the Circlelytics dialogue. This is how we challenge participants to think more deeply about the questions presented earlier. They learn from each other and listen to each other. This brings about collaboration and creates support for final decisions. A dialogue emerges and the power of an organization’s collective intelligence now comes to the fore.

Ask it!

Ask managers and employees the right questions, show that their opinion matters and connect them in the second round of questions, so that you can respond as an organization to the real needs that are felt by employees. The right questions help management, Human Resources, the works council and all employees to gain more insight into what is already going well, what can be improved and what really needs to change. And make sure you repeat these rounds of questions regularly, because circumstances are constantly changing.

Looking for more information on these dialogues for your employees and/or managers and are you ready increase your insight immediately? Then email us and start your Proof-of-Concept today.

 

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