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Responding is the New Listening

By Stacia Sherman Garr

As organizations try to compete more effectively in the current hot talent market, many have focused increasingly on listening to employees, in an effort to create a better “employee experience.” Companies are using a variety of tactics, such as design thinking and agile development methods, as well as new tools, such as employee listening and survey technologies (vendors include Culture Amp, Glint, TinyPulse, and Waggl, among others), to inform programs and experiences that are much more holistic, consistent, and responsive to employees. This is good. But it isn’t enough.

How do we know this? Well, despite all these efforts, half of U.S. workers are looking for a new job. Further, employee engagement rates are extremely low and sickness and stress rates are very high. So clearly, though our organizations are listening, they are not responding adequately.

There are many reasons why this might be the case, but at least part of the reason is that the plethora of information available to organizations is not matched by a similar capacity to understand it. Put bluntly, there is too much information and not enough insight, decision-making, and action. It doesn’t have to be this way. While tools can help with some greater insights into how organizations should respond, they are not enough. The tools can’t themselves do the actual responding.

Instead of pinning the blame for this on one small part of the organization – HR – it is wiser to ask, why is there such a mis-match between information givers and information consumers? The reason for this lies in organizations’ historical approach to hierarchy and decision-making. In many organizations, the information from many people comes up, a few people make decisions, and then those decisions are pushed back down. Except for when they do not, because there are too many bottlenecks or lack of attention at the top.

Instead, leaders need to redesign how we approach information-sharing and decision-making in the first place to allow more people in the organization to access and take action on the collected information. This requires a re-thinking of practices and processes, and, perhaps even more crucially, our organizational cultures. It is only by doing this that leaders can enable the same number of people to take action on the information as those who provided it in the same place.

We’ve been doing some new research on all of this and more, and I will be debuting our new insights at the PeopleFWD 2018 Conference on October 18 in the Bay Area. I’d love it if you came along to hear what we’ve seen and to give us your feedback.

This event is being sponsored by the folks over at CPP – The Myers-Briggs Company. The agenda is targeted at both HR and business leaders – novel concept! Patty McCord (formerly of Netflix) as well as speakers from The Conference Board, SAP, Kellogg Company, M Square Consulting, and the University of Colorado will all be speaking. Come join me for an engaging day of learning.