Who’s Listening - From measurement to meaning

By Martin Flegg, CIPR Inside Chair 2021

CIPR Inside recently hosted a webinar with Dr Kevin Ruck and Mike Pounsford, in which they shared some of the key findings from their latest Who’s Listening report. This is the third published report from their long running Employee Listening Project. This time the report focuses on moving ‘From measurement to meaning’.

I’ve been following Kevin, Mike and Howard Krais’s research with interest, because in many of the organisations where I’ve worked, keeping employees ‘informed’ has always been prioritised over listening to them, despite the known benefits and impact of meaningful two-way communication. Building the business case with leaders and managers for investing in regular and meaningful employee listening, which goes beyond the annual employee survey, has always been challenging for internal communicators. Any research findings which can add to the body of evidence to support this, and help us secure the resources to listen properly, is welcome.

In the current contexts of the pandemic, the imperative to do this, to really listen to and engage employees in change and the re-engineering or how organisations work and do business, has never been greater This makes the latest report even more timely and impactful.

If you’ve not seen, or read, the latest report here are a few of the things which I found interesting in it, to whet your appetite.

  • To listen properly we need more qualitative data from focus groups and more conversational and dialogic approaches. Quantitative data from the annual employee survey and periodic pulse surveys are not enough.
  • Listening drives organisational performance with the report containing some statistically significant evidence that listening to employees is most strongly associated with generating ideas to improve how we work and managing change effectively.
  • By using correlations in the data, the report exposes the eight listening principles most closely associated with managing change effectively. I thought this was a really useful ‘shopping list’ for internal communicators to share with others in their organisation to build the business case for the benefits of effective listening.
  • Leaders are more critical than line managers in creating organisations that get the most out of employee listening.
  • As practitioners, we say we value of listening, but our actual actions in organisations which would demonstrate this in practice are much weaker.    

I’ve often thought that with the digital tools now at our disposal it should be easy to industrialise employee listening in organisations (although the report highlights, we don’t use these tools enough to listen), but operationalising the insights gathered from listening activities is perhaps the more difficult and challenging part.

Whilst the tools and activities to listen to employees are already in place in many organisations, the frameworks, processes, resources and governance to analyse and act on it in a meaningful way are often not. As with so many things in organisations, these are not things which internal communicators can be solely responsible for, and a proactive collaboration with other parts of the organisation to put them in place needs to happen.

It’s interesting to note that in many organisations, the skills, processes and wherewithal to do this are already there in customer insight and marketing functions. These just need to be translated, adapted or extended to also listen to, and act on, feedback from employees for the benefit of the organisation.

Download the Who’s Listening - From measurement to meaning report for more insights and analysis.