11 Ways to Doom Your Voice of the Employee Program Before It Even Starts
It’s easier than ever to design, implement and scale Voice of the Employee (VoE) programs thanks to the advent of widely-available and relatively inexpensive technology. We’re now seeing a proliferation of VoE programs cropping up across organizations, and you might assume that with more VoE programs, organizations would be gathering and using better data to create better experiences for employees, customers and other stakeholders.
But in many cases, you’d be wrong. That’s because so many organizations keep making the same mistakes that have tripped up VoE programs for years. It’s more than a top ten: Here are the 11 biggest mistakes I see organizations making that doom their VoE programs — and tips for avoiding and mitigating them.
1. Employee Engagement Surveys and VoE Programs Aren’t Interchangeable.
Voice of the Employee programs tend to focus on a particular area — such as ideas for creating greater customer loyalty, or addressing reasons people are quitting — with particular groups of participants, at a particular point in time. These programs often combine qualitative and quantitative data and methods, relying, yes, on some one-way surveys but also using focus groups, 1:1 interviews, online forums, and other tools. Employee engagement studies, meanwhile, tend to cover a broader population, rely on quantitative data, are given at certain regular intervals and are typically designed to assess relative to job satisfaction. Make sure your organization is clear on the distinctions, and is using each program appropriately.
2. Participation Shouldn’t Be Mandatory.
Employees should never feel like they’re being forced to participate in VoE programs, especially if the objectives are unclear and they don’t trust what might happen with the results. Instead, make participation feel inviting and worthwhile by stating clear goals, laying out intended outcomes and giving assurances about who will see the results and what action might be taken as a result. Holding employees “captive” may breed resentment and fear and can lead to misleading results.
Related Article: Your Employees Won’t Feel Heard Until You Act Like You’re Listening
3. Goals Need to Be Specific and Realistic.
Vague or unrealistic goals will drive away participants — you never want to keep people guessing about what you’re looking for and why. If potential participants aren’t convinced the program represents a good use of their time and that their perspectives are relevant, they will almost certainly opt out if given the choice to do so. Be clear on what you’re looking to discover, why participants’ perspectives are so valuable and how you plan to act on the results.
4. Don’t Use Unclear, Leading or Confusing Questions.
Make sure your questions to participants are clear, unambiguous and don’t require more than a few minutes to answer. Unclear, leading, or confusing questions will lead to unclear and confusing answers.
How best to phrase a question for a focus group will be different than for an online survey. Test your questions with a variety of audiences to make sure that they understand the questions as you intend. Avoid compound questions. Try mixing open-ended and closed questions, both for variety and to make it easier and faster to respond.
5. Create Multiple Options for Participation.
Giving people only one option for participation reduces your pool of participants and your chances of learning anything meaningful. Blending tools and approaches not only helps you get richer, more meaningful data, but also helps lower the barrier for people with distinct preferences or varied levels of ability for interaction. Try including anonymous surveys, open discussion forums online, focus groups or other methods. The more choices you give, the better data you’ll collect and the more likely people will be to participate again.
6. Skewed Participant Selection Means Trouble.
Cherry-picking participants leads to biased data. Be clear as to whether you’re aiming for all employees, or a representative sampling. If the latter, consider how you’ll choose which employees to invite: Will it be function, location, role, tenure, demographic or some other factor? Within a given group, how will you select representative employees?
If your program is targeting a specific subset of employees — such as employees in customer-facing roles, for example — be sure to communicate your selection criteria to both those who were and were not selected.
7. A History of Inaction Will Bite You.
Have you taken action — and communicated those actions — based on prior VoE results? If you’ve conducted surveys in the past and have not made any changes based on those results, or failed to communicate what changes you did make, good luck getting employees to spend yet more time on another survey. Even if you can’t easily act upon what you’ve learned from previous surveys right now — or maybe ever — at least let employees know what the results were and what difference they may have made by speaking up.
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8. Management Needs to Commit.
You never want to be in the position of asking employees to invest their time and energy into VoE surveys only to then have senior managers ignore or dismiss the results — especially if those results cast a negative light on leadership.
Secure a commitment from senior management at the very least to discuss and publish results before you launch any VoE effort. More importantly, ask for their visible commitment to act on the results one way or another, even if it’s to explain why immediate action may not be possible.
9. Don’t Whitewash Results.
If you’re going to ask employees to be honest with you, be honest with them. Make it clear at the outset that survey results will be published without bias, even if the results are disappointing. Provide both quantifiable data as well as an interpretation of results, taking care to be objective. Ask others to validate any interpretations you make, to ensure they’re an accurate reading of the data.
Related Article: How to Build a Modern, Holistic Employee Listening Strategy
10. Be Careful of Confirmation Bias.
Although it may be tempting to use VoE data to prove that your hypotheses were valid, be open to proving yourself (or others) wrong. Don’t give in to confirmation bias at any stage. Make sure the questions you ask aren’t leading (as mentioned above). Analyze results with an open mind. And after you’ve done that, check again to see whether your hypotheses were proven wrong, proven right or if you can even tell either way. Resist the temptation only to highlight data that supports your views.
11. Watch out for Witch Hunts.
Even if your surveys or other feedback tools are anonymous, employees may worry that somehow, someone else can find out what they said.
Make sure that managers refrain from any temptation to discover who said what, especially for purposes of retaliation in any form — even if suggested in a joking manner. One of my CEO clients openly told her leadership team that she was “bound and determined” to trace a certain comment made about her. You can guess how many people participated in VoE surveys after that!) VoE programs and employee engagement surveys may not be interchangeable, but confidentiality needs to be equally protected in them both.
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