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Forward-thinking companies are listening to employees

Technologies and programmes amplifying employees’ voices gain interest among companies keen to keep staff loyal and motivated

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The notion of employee experience is all the rage these days. As skills shortages continue to bite and a combination of digital technology and disruptive Millennial attitudes continue to reshape corporate culture, how to keep staff loyal and motivated has risen higher and higher up the HR agenda.

As a result, ensuring that workers have a positive experience from the time they join the organisation until the day they leave has become a key topic of focus.

“It’s about working in a company that people want to be in; that has the right tools, processes and practices in place to show them they are set up to succeed; that their managers care about them and their career goals and general wellbeing, and that they can trust the organisational decisions being made,” says Sharon Looney, HR director at human capital management software provider CoreHR. “So we’re talking about a golden triangle of culture, physical environment and leadership.”

To date, traditional employee measurement tools have been employed to understand employee views in the shape of annual employee surveys and the more recent online pulse surveys.

But other more indirect methods of gleaning input have also starting emerging over the last few years. Although less commonly deployed, these include the use of employee sentiment and tension analysis tools across internal social media networks, email systems and communities of practice as well as the tracking of external data sources, such as posts on job sites like Glassdoor or Indeed.

Ron Hanscome, a research vice-president at market research firm Gartner, explains: “This combination of active solicitation and indirect or inferred methods of gathering sentiment is now called the “voice of the employee” (VoE). Although you can’t buy a single VoE software suite today, most of the capabilities exist in an early form and work is in progress to enable users to pull data together from the different sources so they can analyse and act on it.”

Although the market for such tools is still nascent, with VOE suites unlikely to appear in fully fledged form for another three years or so, the sector is nonetheless “evolving rapidly” as suppliers pitch into it from all directions, says Hanscome. Such suppliers include enterprise feedback platform suppliers, such as Questback, employee monitoring and wellbeing tools providers like Humanyze, and work engagement platform companies, such as HighGround.

Early days

“While a number of offerings exist in the market, none yet deliver all the needed data collection and analytical methods,” says Hanscome. “In addition, the market has yet to coalesce around a more standardised set of capabilities for VoE processes, enabling technologies and services.”

In other words, if employers wish to go down this route today, it would be necessary to find, select and weigh the importance of different data sources, before either integrating the underlying systems or aggregating the information into reporting or analytics tools in order to understand correlations and patterns. Another key concern would be defining appropriate information security, data privacy and anonymity requirements.

As a result, Hanscome believes, it will be at least another five years before VoE software is adopted widely – although he believes it will have a key role to play in optimising the employee experience in future.

“Employee experience is the sum of someone’s experiences from the time they’re recruited to the time they leave, which includes all of the touch points and interactions in between,” he says. “Where VoE software helps is that it provides a wider view into all of those interactions – not just how people interact with workplace technology.”

But although CoreHR’s Looney sees the value of such a proposition, she also warns that VoE “should not just be about the software”. Instead it should always be treated as a full HR programme that is simply underpinned by technology.

For example, while machines have a useful role to play in collecting and aggregating data and undertaking first-level analysis, Looney considers traditional approaches to gathering information, such as brainstorming sessions and focus groups, to be vital too.

“No technology can replace that,” she says. “There will always be a point where software just doesn’t pick things up. For example, in pulse surveys, different words means different things to different people, so there’s linguistic ambiguity, but there’s also the importance of body language and human interaction.”

Responding to feedback

Another consideration is ensuring the organisation has the right processes to respond to any feedback that emerges. “The question is how ready are you organisationally and structurally to digest the data and move from facts to acts?” asks Looney. “The right change management activities need to be in place, and expectation management is part of that, so technology by itself simply isn’t enough.”

“Using a feedback platform sends a strong message to staff that you’re interested in what they have to say and want to know what their experience is, which helps make them feel more valued,” says Felicity Winkley, HR manager at Totally Money.

The company, which provides consumers with a range of products and services to help improve their credit score, first introduced Peakon’s employee engagement applications about four years ago. The aim was to reduce staff turnover rates, which at the time stood at about 64% per annum, with workers staying at the company for less than two years on average.

“There’s a cost involved in replacing people very regularly and there’s also the huge amount of time that recruiting and on-boarding takes in terms of time and effort,” explains Winkley. “It’s also important to build skill sets in-house, otherwise you have to start from scratch each time and it has a palpable effect on morale and atmosphere.”

While the firm, which now employs 72 staff, had previously conducted an annual employee satisfaction survey, it was widely considered a box-ticking exercise. By way of contrast, the new system is open for feedback during two weeks of every month, which means that any issues can be picked up much more quickly.

Anonymised workers are asked a series of questions that vary on a month-by-month basis but all link back to key engagement drivers, such as mental wellbeing, freedom of opinion and peer relationships. Engagement driver and Netpromoter scores are then calculated every three months, and the engagement driver scores are ranked, benchmarked and analysed to understand the impact on employee engagement rates.

For more about “voice of the employee”

The system is also used in collaboration with other forums for collecting feedback, which include an employee advisory board. This advisory board consists of members of each internal team, who meet regularly with Winkley and chief executive Alastair Douglas, to discuss any issues that arise.

If it comes to their attention that something is not working, Winkley subsequently accesses the Peakon system to see if the situation is being reflected in the data, with the aim of take swift action – something she believes is very important.

“If people feel they’ve given feedback and it’s not been acted upon, it’s worse than not asking for any feedback at all,” she says.

Using insights gleaned from Peakon’s software, the company has improved its long-term staff development capabilities and worked on creating a more cohesive culture by introducing a weekly internal newsletter and opening up Thursday morning breakfast meetings to allow everyone, rather than just the usual departmental heads, to speak. Junior employees are also expected to host at least one meeting on their own to ensure that everyone knows what people in other teams are doing and why.

As a result of such moves, staff turnover has almost halved to 23%, while staff tenure has doubled to four years.

The next step, meanwhile, will be to integrate the employee engagement system with 7Geese’s performance management applications to set “meaningful work goals”, understand how motivated staff are in terms of achieving them and any other hurdles that may need to be crossed.

“Anything that keeps the channels of communication open and helps with transparency has to be a good thing,” says Winkley. “Using this kind of system means you know what people are thinking at a glance, which is great for HR action planning and setting a strategic people policy.”

Case study: FIS

About three years ago, after having grown swiftly both organically and by acquisition, FIS decided it was time to embark on a programme to boost employee engagement.

In general terms, the company, which employs 47,000 people across more than 200 locations around the world and provides software and services to the financial services sector, focused on four areas:

  1. Developing a clear narrative about the firm’s identity and where it was going;
  2. Organisational integrity, which includes values and guiding principles;
  3. Leadership training;
  4. Employee voice to ensure people felt their views were being heard.

At the technology level, meanwhile, there were three key considerations, each of which was underpinned by a requirement for effective data analysis – self-service, which involved making systems easy to use; real-time performance management, and enabling dialogue and feedback.

After implementing Workday’s cloud-based HR applications as its system of record, the next step was to tackle the dialogue element. To this end, FIS introduced Glint’s staff survey platform, which enables users to drill down into the data in order to understand employee sentiment and its drivers.

Isabel Naidoo, the company’s head of people, strategy and analytics, explains the benefits: “Engagement is tricky as it’s a very personal thing – there are different levers for each individual but they change at different points in their life. But why Glint is so good is that it allows managers to pinpoint specific engagers and then identify suitable actions.”

Although each individual’s response to any given survey is anonymous, if the findings are taken in aggregate, managers can see how engaged their team actually is, what is likely to make it more engaged and what they should do to make it happen.

“It links directly to action planning and takes you to 10 things to do differently as a leader, so you can use the results immediately and follow through, which means there’s no ‘say-do’ gap,” says Naidoo. “Glint allows you to be more self-aware and to know your team as you can see their drivers – it’s about real-time, transparent information being in the hands of leaders.”

Performance management

To provide a more rounded view of what is happening though, FIS has also integrated Glint, its recruitment and real-time performance management system as well as Microsoft’s Yammer enterprise social network into the Visier cloud-based analytics tool to help inform decision-making.

“It allows you to correlate data from all parts of the employee lifecycle,” says Naidoo. “We use it for most things, so we link it to other results to form part of our business scorecards and we also integrate it into our leadership dashboard and use the information to shape activity.”

With the firm’s leadership development programme, for example, it became possible to compare the before and after engagement score of teams whose managers had received training and those who had not to understand its effectiveness.

“In the past, we made the investment and people said ‘great’ and went back to the day job,” says Naidoo. “But now we can track populations to see if they’ve become more effective managers, which brings insights to the table about the bottom line impact of investment. It gives HR a level of credibility when speaking to the business that wasn’t there before and puts us in the place we need to be.”

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