Most organisations put considerable effort into maintaining customer closeness, as this is rightly seen as a key component of running a successful business. As part of this process, it is important to remember that customer opinion can be heavily influenced by the attitude and morale of employees within your organisation, and that monitoring this is therefore crucial. Indeed, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development goes as far as to say, “Most research confirms that the quality of people management is a better predictor of performance than business strategy, research and development or quality management” (Change Agenda on Human Capital, 2003). This being the case, monitoring staff opinions and reacting effectively to their feedback can lead not only to improved retention and productivity, but can also be reflected in improvements in customer satisfaction, and so is a critical component in the management toolkit.
This is especially true in today’s tough economic climate, where there is far less flexibility in the offer of financial rewards – employee engagement is increasingly important in retaining talent. The recession has changed the playing field for many businesses, and they are having to re-evaluate what they can do to attract, develop and retain the best people at least cost, not simply for the sake of being a good employer but to secure the financial success of their organisation.
Measuring employee perceptions is not as straightforward as just taking more notice of discussions around the water-cooler, of course; here are some tips to help you design and get the most out of your employee consultation process.
Make sure the research format is accessible to allEvery staff member should be given the chance to air their views, in a systematic and structured way. This is important in terms of being seen to be inclusive, and also to enable results to be analysed, and recommendations targeted, in as fine detail as possible. In practical terms, this means undertaking a survey to which all staff, not just a sample, are invited to participate, and careful consideration must be given to the circumstances of all existing staff, making sure they can access the survey, and have sufficient time to take part.
If you are considering an online approach, for example, remember that any field-based employees may access their e-mails much less frequently than those based in the office. It may be worth thinking about offering different methods for different categories of employee, if necessary.
A high response rate gives the results more power
Just like an election with poor turnout, a low response rate can result in people questioning the legitimacy of the results. Therefore, plans must be put in place to maximise buy-in to the study. Before the survey is distributed, publicise the fact that it will be taking place. Explain the process, stressing that it provides an opportunity for staff to give their views and that the results will help shape internal policy. This message is best communicated from someone at a senior level, as having visible senior buy-in emphasises the importance of the consultation.
The questionnaire itself can also impact response rates, as can the organisation of the fieldwork period. Questions should cover all aspects of the working experience, but it’s best to avoid a long questionnaire, as this can make it harder for busy people to find time to participate. Open ended questions in particular should be used carefully: they can provide useful, detailed feedback, but they also take longer to answer than closed questions. Finally, set a reasonable deadline for completing the survey. Ideally, staff should be given a few weeks to respond, as this should still allow any who are on annual leave during part of the fieldwork period to participate. A small number of reminder communications during the fieldwork period can also help to increase response.
Remember the importance of anonymity
Another pre-requisite of a successful employee consultation is guaranteeing that anonymity is protected and emphasised throughout the process. If there is any concern that comments could be identified by senior management, the chance of obtaining honest, open feedback is lost. Commissioning an external agency to run the consultation project, and making this clear to all staff, can make all the difference to the success of the exercise – having the results held and processed by an independent party can provide reassurance that anonymity will be ensured.
It is also useful to explain how the results will be analysed. Whilst it is common practice to break the results down by department or level of seniority, the level of drill-down does depend on the number of employees in each subgroup. A good research process will prevent the possibility of someone’s answers being identifiable because they are the only senior manager within a particular division, for example. Finally, the methodology must also allow respondents to complete the survey in private; this can make a telephone interview inappropriate if respondents are contacted in the office.
Identify feasible improvements that will make a difference
Once the fieldwork is completed, that’s when the real work begins. Whilst each result may be interesting in its own way, it’s advisable to focus on finding out what’s important to employees themselves. This can be done by identifying the issues most strongly correlated with overall satisfaction. Most employees will be happy to accept that their job cannot be perfect in every way, but may still become disenchanted if they find fault in those areas that they value most in a job. By focussing on what is most important, it should be possible to identify the most pressing problems, and then prioritise changes that can potentially make the largest difference.
Communicate the findings and the actions you intend to take
Post-survey communication can prove as important as the analysis itself. Sharing the findings with all staff is strongly recommended; if employees think you are merely paying lip service to the process without actively looking to change anything, this is only marginally better than not consulting them at all. Tell them where the results were positive, where they could have been better, and importantly, what you plan to do in response to their feedback.
Finally, follow through on your promises
Once you’ve informed staff what actions will be taken, it is vitally important to then go ahead and do what you said you would. If you don’t follow through effectively, this can engender a cynical attitude which could even result in a drop in morale. In her work on psychological contracts in organisations (1995), Rousseau observed, “We know that when employees feel that their boss or firm has broken their expectations about work and career opportunities they often feel less committed to the organisation.” And less commitment to the organisation translates into less commitment to your customers.