How to listen to employees without putting them on the board

Guest blog by Ian McVey, UK Director, Qualtrics

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Tackling the ‘shocking’ UK productivity Gap

In his autumn statement, the Chancellor described the UK’s productivity gap as ‘shocking’. We lag behind the US and Germany by some 30 percentage points. Days before, Mrs May backed down on her pledge to require employers to put employees on their boards. Instead, No 10 said; “We are absolutely committed to having the voice of workers heard on boards as part of establishing the best corporate governance of any major economy”.

All the evidence is clear. Low productivity walks hand in hand with dysfunctional employee engagement. Strong employee engagement reduces turnover, boosts motivation and dramatically improves outcomes for companies and customers alike. Employee engagement must be a key metric in the Chancellor’s efforts to boost UK productivity.

But how are employees’ voices to be heard? In large, modern companies with multiple departments, professions and customer ‘touch points’, who does the listening? Who joins the dots between what employees are thinking and how a company profits from their opinions?

CEOs need all the friends they can get

In tough times, CEOs need all the friends they can get. They have never needed to keep their employees as close as they do now. Regulatory fines, data theft and falling profits are just a few of the recurring issues they face. We might add tectonic shifts in consumer behaviour. Qualtrics research recently found that in an ageing population,18-22 year olds are the most demanding customers; a socially vocal generation that takes constant innovation and company responsiveness for granted.

When disruption is the only constant, the employee is the strongest link with which to maintain customer trust and connectivity, however demanding the base.

 

Employee & customer engagement: 2 sides of the same coin

Mrs May’s speech also touched on the synergies between tech innovation and industrial strategy. The innovation economy, after all, is outpacing the traditional economy. One of its key metrics is the bar it sets itself for transparency, employee motivation and engagement. Mark Zuckerberg even extends a weekly invitation to his employees to phone in and ask him questions.

‘Best practise’ might be assumed to be exclusive to these sophisticated tech firms, who are so intent on safeguarding their talent. It comes as good news, therefore, that many traditional firms are engaging their employees just as well, without political compulsion. Some use Employee Councils, others have turned to technology.

Employee and customer engagement should be regarded as two sides of the same coin. Customers will come if you wrap the right service levels around your products, but you cannot build the product without knowing what the customer wants.

 

Ask questions and listen to the responses

The first step is proactively to ask your employees questions and interpret their answers. Time consuming employee interviews have given way to real time engagement that keeps a pulse on motivation and well being. The more diverse, multi tiered and global the workforce, the easier the software makes it to to contextualise their responses. Questionnaires are pushed out and fast data is pulled in. Your employees are just as keen to share their opinions as every other socially connected citizen. Ask tough questions and use the insights to implement change. . Ask employees about training programmes, where they see opportunities for improvement. Ensure your HR teams act on what they learn. Be transparent and measure the results. Real time analysis of their responses ensures management can spotlight pockets of high or low staff engagement and discover the reasons why.

 

Empower your employees to manage the customer relationship

The second step is to empower your employees to take charge of the customer relationship. Give them the tools with which to engage your customers proactively and feed their insights, concerns and opinions back to management. Once employees, in whatever silo, from marketing to product design and R&D, become comfortable with talking to the customers, occasional feedback surveys quickly become regular invitations to contribute to a product’s design, or even, as we saw with P&O some weeks back, the naming of a ship. Nobody knows your customers as well as your customer facing employees. Your mission, however, is to ensure that constant exposure to customer opinion makes all your employees customer facing. That is how to ensure that swathes of incoming data are informed with the all important context, not just telling you that that customers don’t like a product tweak, but why, and what they would like instead.

Enable R&D, marketing, customer service and communications teams to better understand failings in the customer supply chain. The more scientific your approach, the more data analysis your tech people employ, the more patterns you will find.

 

Even in a tech business, human interaction is important

These days, every company is a tech company. Mobile apps, online sales and AI enabled customer service are the present, not the future. Such digitisation, however efficient, can also be charmless without human interaction. It can disenfranchise as many customers as it attracts.That’s why modern companies have to go the extra mile. They have to persuade customers that their desire to engage is real.

The same goes for employees. Failure to engage means taking a big financial hit. Qualtrics research showed the average UK employee thinks a third of the working day is wasted. Gartner quantifies the cost of US employee disengagement at $450 – $550 billion per year. Low productivity walks hand in hand with dysfunctional employee engagement, while disengaged, silent shoppers, like silent voters, drift away without warning. Once management is plugged into employee sentiment, however, and employees are connected with customer opinion, the two become aligned and their interrelationship becomes a virtuous circle.

Employee engagement neither usurps nor undermines management. It strengthens it.

Author: Editorial Team

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