Article: Behind the scenes of PayPal’s active listening strategy

Talent Management

Behind the scenes of PayPal’s active listening strategy

Active listening is a key pillar of the company’s strategy for navigating challenges and setting a benchmark in talent management. We get the details of how it works from PayPal India’s Jayanthi Vaidyanathan.
Behind the scenes of PayPal’s active listening strategy

In a dynamic era where the workforce landscape is rapidly evolving, Jayanthi Vaidyanathan, Vice President and Head HR, PayPal India emphasises the role of effective listening at the core of its approach to talent management.

From fostering an inclusive workplace culture to implementing innovative feedback channels, active listening has helped the HR and leadership team hear and act upon employee voices to enhance engagement and retention. It’s also a way to propel the company towards organisational success by identifying the link between talent strategies and business metrics. Here’s how they do it at PayPal.

How does your organisation prioritise effective listening as a fundamental aspect of talent management?

At PayPal, prioritising effective listening is not just a fundamental aspect of talent management; it's the cornerstone of our approach to creating a happy workplace and nurturing our most valuable asset - our employees. We also have colleagues – the Head of Employee Listening and Employee Advocacy colleagues around the world – whose responsibilities specifically include listening to employees.

We recognise that the relationship between the workforce and the workplace has evolved significantly over time. Today, it's not merely about competitive pay, but also about fostering an environment that encourages everyone to bring their best, authentic selves to work for career success. To achieve this, we have adopted an employee-first approach that places a premium on active listening and understanding the needs and aspirations of our workforce.

We firmly believe that an inclusive and engaged culture is one where employees feel they belong and can bring their best selves to work. By actively listening to our employees, we gain a deeper understanding of their unique needs and can tailor our talent management strategies accordingly. Whether it's making adjustments to work schedules to accommodate personal commitments or providing professional development opportunities aligned with individual career goals, our approach is driven by the feedback we receive.

In terms of measuring success, we rely on a range of metrics. Employee engagement surveys, for instance, help us gauge overall satisfaction levels, while turnover rates provide insights into our retention efforts. Productivity metrics offer a quantifiable perspective on how our talent management strategies impact our business success. These metrics serve as key performance indicators, and we regularly review and assess them to ensure we're on track to create a workplace where our employees thrive.

What specific methods or approaches does your HR department use to actively listen to the needs, aspirations, and concerns of employees?

We employ several methods to actively listen to our employees, ranging from town hall meetings, surveys, and in-person and online feedback mechanisms, to gather insights on employee experiences and satisfaction. Additionally, site-based HR teams run connect sessions and host open office hours with local employees.

Frequent pulse surveys throughout the year help us assess our employees’ well-being and leverage those insights to inform and improve our policies to better meet their evolving needs. For example, Global Wellness Days were implemented following a suggestion received via one of our virtual town halls early in the pandemic. These feedback channels, ranging from virtual meetings to digital surveys, enabled us to act swiftly to support our employees as we all navigated through the challenges of a global pandemic. 

Having a prompt and robust feedback process helps employees to know how best to prioritise their developmental areas. Today, employees and managers can request ad-hoc feedback via our integrated HR management platform, Workday, as part of our broader efforts to encourage a culture of ongoing feedback.

We also conduct connect sessions with HR teams, focus groups, and one-on-one sessions to encourage open dialogue and address individual concerns. In 2022, we introduced our Leadership Principles, a set of guiding statements connected to our core values and inclusive of many different perspectives. PayPal’s Leadership Principles are the result of more than 1,600 conversations with colleagues across all our businesses and demonstrate how active listening can influence our culture.

Additionally, employees are encouraged to share their ideas and feedback through various internal channels like our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs). ERGs were originally designed to foster a sense of belonging for employees at PayPal by connecting employees across identities and experiences to create professional development opportunities and build internal and external professional networks. They have also evolved to be a platform where like-minded employees can advocate for change within the community.

Can you share any challenges or obstacles your organisation has encountered in promoting effective listening as a part of talent management, and how have you addressed them?

At PayPal, our journey to promoting effective listening as a crucial part of talent management has been both enlightening and challenging.  As a global organisation, ensuring effective listening across diverse teams and locations can be challenging. To address this, we've invested in technology solutions that enable virtual town hall meetings and cross-team collaboration. We've also established local ambassadors or liaisons in various regions to bridge communication gaps.

With employees hailing from various cultural backgrounds and speaking different languages, it's essential to overcome potential language and cultural barriers. We've implemented diversity and inclusion programs that celebrate different perspectives and employees of all generations.

Sometimes, employees may be hesitant to share their true thoughts and concerns, fearing repercussions. To address this, we've established anonymous feedback channels, where employees can express themselves without fear of retribution. We also actively encourage open and honest discussions during one-on-one meetings with managers.

Simply collecting feedback without acting upon it can lead to disillusionment. We've made it a priority to not only gather feedback but also create action plans based on the insights received. Regularly updating employees on the progress of these action plans is essential to show that we value their input.

Ensuring that leadership across the organisation is aligned with our commitment to effective listening is crucial. We've implemented leadership training and workshops to foster a culture of openness, and we regularly engage in dialogue with our senior leadership to reinforce the importance of listening to our employees.

In your view, how does effective listening contribute to employee engagement, retention, and overall organisational success in the context of talent management?

s a purpose-driven company whose beliefs are the foundation for how we conduct business every day, open communication, continuous engagement, and trust are cornerstones for how we interact within our immediate teams and beyond. From daily stand-up meetings to weekly team huddles or company-wide all-hands meetings, everyone is provided equal opportunity to discuss ideas and issues that matter across all levels of the organisation. We also provide employees with various channels to offer feedback, celebrate achievements, or voice concerns. 

Organisations that practice effective and active listening tend to build higher employee trust and create a workforce that is aligned with its goals to contribute to the success of the organisation. This will thereby lead to employees being more committed and productive in the workplace. A 2021 survey revealed that 74% of employees are more effective at their jobs when they feel heard.

Furthermore, when it comes to conflict resolution, it enables a cohesive process while also helping understand conflicts that may arise in the future and provides an opportunity to act upon them proactively.

Effective listening sets the stage for maintaining an open dialogue in the workplace which not only encourages creativity and collaboration but also empowers employees to contribute to continuous improvement efforts in the organisation.

What strategies or best practices can you recommend to other organisations looking to enhance their talent management through effective listening?

Creating a safe space where employees feel comfortable speaking their minds is crucial for any organisation. They can do this through regular check-ins and team catch-up sessions that encourage open and honest communication. While effective listening is important, leaders need to realise that being receptive to constructive criticism from their employees is equally essential. Similarly, actively addressing feedback from employees will increase trust as employees feel reassured that their concerns are acknowledged and addressed through appropriate solutions.

Additionally, involving employees in certain organisational decisions and incorporating their ideas for improving the organisation is an effective top-down strategy that will allow for increased engagement between employees and senior leadership, thereby creating the space for open dialogue.

Can you describe instances where feedback from employees has led to adjustments or improvements in talent management practices or policies?

Our culture of open and ongoing dialogue between all levels and across the organisation has provided us with the necessary foundation to flex our Annual Performance and Rewards Cycle policy and adapt to changes in the workplace and our community at large.

2020 brought on unexpected and unprecedented challenges that required all of us to pivot and adapt to new ways of working with the global pandemic. We recognised the complexity of trying to equitably rate performance in an environment where everyone’s working situation was unique and evolving. With such widely varying circumstances among employees, and in the spirit of reinforcing our primary focus on delivering and succeeding as One Team, we decided to eliminate performance ratings as part of the Annual Performance & Rewards Cycle for 2020.  

Feedback about the decision was very positive. We learned that both managers and employees appreciated the elimination of ratings and that removing the rating created a more focused conversation on performance feedback, with more impactful feedback provided. 

As a result, we decided to permanently eliminate performance ratings from our Annual Performance & Rewards Cycle. Today, consistent with our current approach to performance management, employees continue to meet with their managers about their performance and associated rewards, but managers will not assign any specific performance rating.  Managers also have frequent ongoing conversations with employees to create opportunities for employees to adjust their goals and identify ways they can upskill and continue their professional development in our current environment.  

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Topics: Talent Management, Employee Relations, #HRCommunity

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