Ever since the COVID-19 outbreak, organizations have had to shape their practices around two key themes - business sustainability and employee safety. As the crisis unfolded, several employers sought employee inputs on how to navigate the crisis and leveraged these inputs to inform their strategies.
You can view the webcast here:
In an exclusive webcast hosted by People Matters, in partnership with Keka, on the theme ‘The missing piece in the EX puzzle: Employee voice’ industry leaders Joyeeta Chatterjee, Former Chief People Officer, Future Group, and Dheeraj Pandey, Chief Advisor for HR systems and processes, Keka, discussed the relevance of employee voice in workplace reforms post 2020, the role of technology in making decision making transparent, and enabling change with a collaborative conversation.
Read on for highlights from the session.
Relevance of employee voice in workplace reforms post 2020
There was a time when companies made policies and expected employees to follow them. For instance, if you consider the work from home policy, companies would say, you can work from home once a month or twice a month, and this is the approval process. Today, companies are asking employees, how often do they actually want to work from home? Or do they really want to come back to office? And then, they're building their working arrangements and working policies around that. Employee voice is clearly becoming critical to workplace reforms.
“We have been trying to capture inputs from our people across in our everyday work. And it became all the more profound during the last 15 months. In the first phase of the pandemic, we took inputs from people on the way to communicate and reach out to each other, what was more effective, what was the periodicity, what time of the day would be more suitable for certain sections of people and more on that. Those sensitivities had to be kept in mind,” shared Joyeeta Chatterjee, Former Chief People Officer, Future Group.
The second biggest thing was about employee well-being and well-being of their families and to handle the anxiety of people, noted Joyeeta. The organization gathered inputs around the need to enhance the insurance schemes for people, what kind of medical health and benefits would be needed, what tests need to be done, what kind of safety and security measures are required.
“I think in at this point in time, the HR community really became very, very sensitive to capturing what people wanted and providing them with that rather than providing things that they wanted to.”
Further, realizing that there were new ways of working, new lines of business that needed to be thought through, Joyeeta shared that employee inputs were gathered around “what areas to focus on as a business, what new products can we introduce and how can we reach out to the clients in the best possible manner. We are pretty entrepreneurial as an organization, but it got far more profound at this point in time, and newer ideas were taken.”
Dheeraj Pandey, Chief Advisor for HR systems and processes, Keka, echoed Joyeeta’s thoughts. Sharing Keka’s approach to marry customer and employee expectations amid a rapidly changing business climate, Dheeraj said, “We took employee inputs across multiple areas. We tried to understand where all they need internal or external help. We made necessary changes to organization design based on their inputs.”
Adding that the HR tech firm also leveraged employee inputs on how to approach partnerships and new geographies, Dheeraj said, “In all of this, employee voice was very instrumental. We were able to concentrate on both employee and customer voice, and they were the key elements of our decision making in the last 15 months.”
The importance of employee voice was always there, and it will always be there, emphasized Dheeraj, adding that because of the prevailing environment, the access that employees once had to share their voice has been hampered. However the need for employee input is now more than ever and employers must be equipped to enable the same.
Common pitfalls while capturing employee inputs
“Whenever we are really looking at a process change, we use design thinking as a philosophy, and that's where we include voice of the people getting impacted,” said Joyeeta. As shared by both Joyeeta and Dheeraj, while seeking inputs is one aspect of factoring in employee voice in design thinking, managing those inputs is another task altogether, primarily because of two reasons:
- Prioritizing, acting upon and communicating the action plan and changes based on employee suggestions
- Communication on why certain suggestions could not be leveraged
“Depending upon what you're trying to achieve at a given point in time, one needs to prioritize and work on that, close those gaps, and then talk about what has been closed. Communication around that is very important. And for the other actions which you plan to take in due course of time, very openly talk about why you are pushing them ahead,” advised Joyeeta.
That is what the employees are also looking at.
The more transparently, honestly and openly leaders talk about the reasons around why they are not acting upon a suggestion, people will be okay with it, said Joyeeta, adding, “Challenge comes in where employees share their inputs and feedback, and either they don't get a response or there is too much of a delay in response."
These days, speed of implementation, communicating and over communicating is very important. And if you have dashboards and review mechanisms, which are not just reviewed internally, but also shared across with the employee population, I think they see that the needle is moving and that gives them the comfort.”
Echoing Joyeeta’s thoughts on visibility, Dheeraj added, “If the graphs and analytics around decision making can be shared on the employee dashboard stating a timeline of response and actions taken on employee inputs, it gives employees a sense of being heard, and a comfort that their issues are being addressed.”
“The best way to really make sure that they are fine with whatever request you are taking on is to involve them in the decision making process,” suggested Dheeraj.
“Give certain weightages to different suggestions on the basis of importance, and share the reasoning around why a certain suggestion is being prioritized. We talk to our team openly about why we are incorporating certain action items in the roadmap, and the things that we are not taking into the roadmap immediately, maybe somewhere down the line, maybe in six months or maybe one year that will be addressed. Initially, there might be some kind of resistance from the team members, but slowly, they will understand and believe the thought process. Giving them that kind of visibility and transparency helps.”
On how to approach leveraging inputs, Joyeeta advised that if you look into identifying smaller pain points, tackle few things at a given point in time, and then work on it, that would help factor in more suggestions consistently.” Alternatively, if you feel that there is too much to deal with at the same time, then ask inputs from the team, ‘This is what we have heard from you, thank you so much for your information. But we can only pick up two pieces in the next two months, and we will tackle the rest later. So which are the top two that is your main focus area?’ “We pick up those two, and then work on it. So there is a buy-in, and that will help establish that understanding,” she added.
Catering to employees across the breadth of generations that exist today at the workplace, Joyeeta emphasized the need for authenticity and transparency as something absolutely core to employee experience.
Emerging tools and technologies to capture employee voice
“Technology only enhances the human perception or human experience. First of all, if you really want to listen to an employee voice, we need those ears, the heart and the soul that really believe in listening to employee voice. Once that is in place, then technology does its work,” said Dheeraj.
Commenting on the tools to capture employee voice, Dheeraj shared,“There are technologies like Keka and many others, where avenues are available for employees on a self-serve basis. Depending upon their needs and requirements, they can go ahead and access all kinds of reports, data, raise certain requests.”
Further, highlighting how technology helps capture personal preferences, Dheeraj recommended employers to leverage this data, design personalized experiences and simultaneously seek employee feedback through surveys and polls on their experience, to understand what your focus areas should be in designing the right EX, where you should be investing your time, money and effort, “because ultimately it is going to impact employees, and your objective is to impact them positively, get the best out of them. And that cannot happen without involving them.”
Sharing her thoughts, Joyeeta said that data backed decision making really helps the organization plan and prioritize. “We have been using a combination of word cloud, sensitization and algorithms, as well as data from the HRMS to figure out what are the key focus areas to work on.”
Commenting on the impact of data-backed decision making, Joyeeta noted that functions like onboarding, recruitment, recognition, learning have significant opportunities to be personalized as per employee inputs.
“Learning was a very big piece where companies always have limited resources. It's always better to deploy what people want, and what they will really use, rather than giving them licenses and then you see at the end, half of them have not been utilized. So here atleast we know clearly what they're looking at. And what Dheeraj mentioned about personalization, I think that is important in today's time, the generation is such that one size fits all won't work.”
Creating an environment that gives way to speaking up
“You need to create that kind of environment. It is very, very important because that's what employees can feel. When it comes to nurturing kids, there is a saying that kids don't follow what you teach, they follow what you do. If you really want your employees to come speak up, you want to hear their voice, first of all, you need to create that environment of sharing. When they observe that environment of sharing between say their CEO and leaders, they also observe what kind of relationship they have with their immediate juniors. The nature of relationship and environment of sharing at the leadership level is often what translates at the bottom as well. So you don't have to really teach anything, you have to practice. The more you practice, the better chances there are of such sharing taking place automatically.
“The culture flows from the top. Repeatedly we have seen that if leaders are able to openly share, especially vulnerabilities - that it can happen to us as well - it creates that kind of trust, and that open space for others to start talking more openly about things and of course, what you're doing about it,” shared Joyeeta.
It is clear how leaders actually role modelling sharing to get employees to speak up, and fostering that sense that - this is a safe environment to talk and share ones’ thoughts, opinions, and even insecurities - that is a critical piece in building an environment that enables employees to share their voice.
Building a culture of listening
“One thing is very clear that with the kind of agile work environment we are in, employee expectations are also on the rise, and you will have to not just react, but proactively plan everything. It is the reality of today. Leaders have to kind of understand that. People are very, very demanding, because today, if you are not able to give something, there are others in the market who will,” shared Joyeeta. She added, “It takes a huge amount of effort to get the right person, get them adjusted to your culture, and get them productive. Managers have also become very sensitive and will need to remain so to sustain this culture of listening.”
Beyond workplace reforms, conversations around employee growth aspirations are another key aspect where leaders need to listen in and communicate.
“People are not scared to have candid conversations around career progression, unlike in the past. Here, that kind of open conversation is happening from both the sides, and the places where it is happening very freely from both the sides will be far more engaging and meaningful for top talent,” said Joyeeta.
Brining in the aspect of approaching employee voice with a focus on inclusion, Dheeraj said, “I have always believed that humans are not a resource, in fact they represent limitless possibilities. Every single human being you hire comes with limitless possibilities. And if you really want them to do something meaningful, you have to look at them with this perspective, and listen to them with this perspective.”
It's clear that organizations are increasingly leveraging employee voice in different segments of the business. There's a wide spectrum of decision making where employee inputs have been relevant in the last fifteen months, and these inputs have been leveraged as a key source by employers to inform their product innovation and strategy.
How swiftly leaders across industries build a sustainable culture of listening and communication across hierarchies, connected through intelligent digital tools, and enabled by honest, authentic conversations, will shape their ability to build a stronger workforce connect and impactful employee experience strategy in the evolving workplace construct.