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Survey best practice: How to engage senior stakeholders in the design of your employee listening programs

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By Aage Seljegard and Adam Zuckerman | October 7, 2019

Employee listening programs are comprised of multiple, opinion measuring events over a defined period of time. They can include census, sample, onboarding and exit surveys, in person or virtual focus groups and a number of other informal opportunities to collect feedback from employees.

They represent a goldmine of insights to help leaders make solid, data-driven decisions and, if designed well, provide both strategic guidance for executives and specific input to managers.

However, for employee listening programs to be successful, leaders need to be fully engaged. The easiest way is to include senior stakeholders early in program design, engaging them in question design, methodology, timing and reporting requirements.

No involvement, no commitment

By seeking the input of senior executives up front, you not only end up with a better and more relevant listening program, but your senior stakeholders will also receive the results with a much greater level of interest and ownership. Sharing results back to an involved executive team is a far more fruitful exercise than when the data lands ‘cold’.

A little goes a long way

Executive leaders are busy people, but the sponsorship of the employee listening initiative need not be a time-consuming commitment. Thirty minute phone interviews with 4–6 members of the executive team is enough to gain invaluable context for key business priorities and desired culture – as well as leadership alignment needed for these key elements. The interviews also provide valuable anecdotes for telling a better story when results are available.

Think current state and desired state

Before sitting down with leaders, we recommend creating an informal interview script to guide your discussions and help you explore the current and desired future state of the business in relation to both strategy and culture. Try to come away from your interviews with an understanding of what kind of employee feedback would be useful to leaders and when they need it.

For example, if leaders believe innovation is a critical business priority and are planning to embark on a new innovation initiative in the next six months, you can ask employees relevant survey questions, making the results available quickly, so your leaders can inform how the initiative is designed, before it is launched.

Not just what, but how

They represent a goldmine of insights to help leaders make solid, data-driven decisions and, if designed well, provide both strategic guidance for executives and specific input to managers.

Also try to get your senior leaders’ views on how and when the data will be collected and reported. Most companies want to survey employees more often than annually, but how often is enough without becoming overwhelming? Monthly? Quarterly? Scheduled or “on-demand”? Encourage your leaders to balance their desire to know with their willingness to communicate and act on what they learn.

Another critical question is how deep leaders need the data insights to be. Keeping data higher up, for example at the Business Unit level, is easier to manage, but it may not be enough for leaders to act on. At the other end of the spectrum, distributing survey results to all managers in the organization creates expectations for action many organizations fail to meet.

Take stock of expectations

Once you have gathered feedback from your leaders, it’s time to take stock of the headline findings related to both strategic plans and program expectations. Ensure themes and program specifics are reviewed in the context of what you’ve heard from leaders, so that you can produce the kind of insight they will find most valuable.

By actively engaging with senior stakeholders from the outset, you are far more likely to build a program where leaders are actively engaged in sponsoring the follow up activities.

Sign in to your Willis Towers Watson Employee Engagement Software account today to start a new survey or contact us for a demo.


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