The Dos and Don'ts of Continuous Listening
Over the last couple of years, we’ve been increasingly hearing about the concept of Continuous Listening being applied to employees - just as it has long been used by marketing to understand and act upon customer sentiment. A poll by Insight222 of prominent HR and People Analytics leaders even pointed to Continuous Listening as being the #2 topic they most wanted to know more about (Figure 1).
Consequently, HR practitioners are starting to tune in as they try to understand the ways of implementing a Continuous Listening program within their own organisations. However, since the practice is still in its nascent stages, there is much confusion not only about the best practices, but the very definition of the concept.
I caught up recently with one of the most prominent experts in the field, Laura Stevens, who is leading the Continuous Listening offering at iNostix by Deloitte, to get her thoughts and tips on the best ways for organisations to move forward with this exciting and powerful topic.
DG: Let’s start with the definition. In one of your latest articles, you elaborated on the contextual framework of the term. What do you think are the most common misconceptions about Continuous Listening?
LS: While Continuous Listening is a rather broad term, it does have certain parameters that it must adhere to in order to deliver sustainable impact and value. I often see organisations simplify the practice and reduce it to the introduction of survey apps or simply increasing the frequency of collecting feedback - without following through with the rest of the parameters.
Similarly, Continuous Listening is still too often approached as a ‘feel-good’ program – disconnected from the core strategic or business objectives. As a result, the program remains below the radar of senior executives. All together, these soft approaches seriously undermine the transformative potential of Continuous Listening programs. That means, the ability of Continuous Listening programs to radically change the way HR has been working: from a soft and process-centric to an evidence-based and employee-centric function.
"Continuous Listening programs can radically change the way HR has been working: from a soft and process-centric to an evidence-based and employee-centric function"
DG: While Continuous Listening can’t be reduced to the practice of frequent surveys, they are an important part of the program. What is your advice to organisations in terms of their design?
LS: First of all, I’m glad you mention the word ‘design’ in your question, as most organisations today still just ‘buy’ commercial survey questionnaires from the market. As tempting as this may seem, it is not a wise course of action. The insights gained from these surveys are usually disappointing because it’s hard (and sometimes impossible) to connect them to company-specific goals and priorities.
That brings me to my main point of advice: the criticality of designing a customised survey – with survey dimensions and questions tying back to the strategic imperatives of an organisation. In the same line, I recommend organisations to develop a very solid definition of what exactly they are trying to measure and why. Do they want to follow-up and evaluate the success of several milestones throughout a large-scale transformation? Is their main goal to equip managers with insights that enable them to better lead and motivate their teams more efficiently? Getting straight on this purpose is almost 60% of the work I would say, as it serves as a critical input to almost all other components of a survey strategy, as I discuss in one of my earlier articles.
MISTAKES TO AVOID
DG: What are some of the most common mistakes you see organisations make in implementing Continuous Listening programs?
LS: Since Continuous Listening is a relatively new concept in HR, there is only a handful of best practices to learn from. In my experience, here are the two core and most common mistakes organisations make:
- Implementing multiple disconnected listening programs, each limited to the scope and goals of individual departments. Brand and communication departments are measuring brand alignment or net promotor scores, IT departments are measuring satisfaction with new IT services or systems, and local units - divisions or countries – run yet another separate set of measurements. A truly impactful Continuous Listening program is cross-functional and centrally coordinated. It serves a unified business goal and set of targets, capturing data points across the entire organisation and generating deeper and more holistic insights into employee experience.
- Focusing too much on technology as opposed to creating a robust, organisation-specific listening strategy is another common mistake. The HR tech market is saturated with listening solutions that claim to improve the employee experience with a simple set of questions or data points. These solutions often come with a fixed set of measurement metrics and questions, and produce a fixed reporting output. The shiny dashboards of these solutions make them hard to resist and the pre-packed pricing easier to buy (or convince your executives). Most importantly, the pre-defined metrics and output (e.g., engagement or loyalty) give HR organisations the (false) reassurance that these are the things they should be focusing on. I’ve even seen companies using these pre-defined metrics as the basis to define their people transformation objectives. The world upside down. As tempting as it may seem to buy an off-the-shelf-solution, I have never seen this working. Technology and listening solutions should serve as an enabler. That means, a vehicle to get the insights required to serve employees in a way that facilitates and accelerates strategy realisation. What those insights should be is a strategic exercise.
"A truly impactful Continuous Listening program is cross-functional and centrally coordinated"
DG: Let’s talk more about your last point. When an organisation is ready to invest into software to help manage its listening data, how should they go about finding the right solution?
LS: Because the ultimate ambition of high-impact Continuous Listening programs should be to systematically collect and combine a variety of critical listening sources to drive holistic change, my advice would be to invest in a flexible analytical platform with automation capabilities. That means, a platform that is able to automatically ingest, integrate and analyse data coming from disparate systems or third parties (e.g. via API’s) to build a unified view of your employees. These platforms typically have a visualisation and authentication layer for report building and delivery purposes.
For most (smaller) organisations today, starting their journey towards Continuous Listening with an investment in such an analytical platform may not be realistic or feasible. But even than I think it’s valuable to keep this end goal in mind from the start and make the integration capabilities of smaller application and tools (e.g., a pulse app) a deliberate part of selection criteria. This will ensure these organisations can stay in front of the evolving data landscape and evolutions towards more data-driven and employee-centric decision-making.
SELECTING THE RIGHT PARTNER
DG: What about finding the right partner for designing and implementing CL programs? What would be your recommendation?
LS: In many ways, my advice would be similar to that of finding the right technological infrastructure. Look for a flexible partner who can help you to grow your Continuous Listening maturity along the way, as high-impact listening programs develop out of continuous experimentation.
A good partner will be able to help you navigate through the different options available and act as an independent, trusted advisor. Ideally, the right partner should have deep expertise in translating organisational priorities in robust people measurement, sampling and reporting strategies and can equally advise you on data integration and insight generation strategies (i.e., defining analytical techniques to translate data into actionable insights).
Equally important is to find a partner who combines this expertise with a record of accomplishment in this area. I’ve learned how getting an organisation aligned around a more holistic and cross-functional way of listening should be managed as a change. Facilitating this change requires designing a clear value proposition for different segments (how will they benefit from this new way of listening) as well as a new operating model, defining governance roles and procedures to ensure a smooth integration of Continuous Listening into business as usual. Therefore, look for a partner who can help you to manage that change and make sure Continuous Listening gets successfully adopted by and embedded within the organisation.
THANK YOU TO LAURA
Thank you to Laura for providing her time and considerable expertise on this subject. To gain further understanding of the concept of Continuous Listening, its guiding principles, and the do’s and don’ts of implementation, I recommend reading these articles by Laura:
- The 4 Guiding Principles of a Successful Continuous Listening Program
- Why Continuous Listening is critical to Customer Experience Transformations
- Why Data-Driven Employee Experience Should Include a Continuous Listening Strategy