In this guest column, David Mizne of 15Five explores how feedback loops can boost engagement–when they’re properly developed.
Engagement is one of the key factors influencing employee retention, and providing job satisfaction doesn’t just save you money in recruiting, hiring and onboarding. Studies have also shown that companies with high levels of job satisfaction are more profitable than those with dissatisfied employees. But for many companies with unhappy workers, lavishing a variety of perks seems like a quick fix.
While employees do appreciate unique rewards, improving communication between managers and workers goes a long way toward fostering healthy workplace relationships, and does far more to promote job satisfaction over the long term.
Unfortunately, too many organizations implement a software solution to discover what employees want and need, then create a “solution,” push the GO button and walk away. These organizations haven’t taken the time to get into their workers’ heads.
What do Employees Really Want?
In its 2017 Employee Job Satisfaction and Engagement Survey, SHRM found that employees consistently wanted the same things: trust and respect, adequate compensation, job security and an opportunity to use their skills and abilities at work.
Certainly, this data can be seen as a proxy for what any employee wants. But, really, what every employee wants is to be a whole person at work, to have a certain amount of flexibility and autonomy, to do something meaningful and share their triumphs and challenges with others.
That’s why over the last half-decade, software has become such a disruptive force in HR technology. Most providers include some type of continuous employee feedback or survey tool for setting and updating priorities, as well as some type of performance review system. But those features cover only half the battle.
Technologies that automate and streamline employee feedback and internal communication make it easier for staff members to share their thoughts with management, update others about their priorities and keep co-workers abreast of their progress on specific projects–all in real time. They can offer feedback when it’s needed and respond to the concerns of workers and managers before small issues become full-blown problems.
Such solutions enable employees and executives to work in a connected environment. HR can manage conversations in a way that’s more effective, set regular check-ins for employees, develop a system for showing appreciation and track progress on individual objectives and goals. For the modern workplace, it’s much easier to implement these feedback loops and create an environment of open communication. What’s required is diligence from managers to engage with every response in an employee survey every week.
Employees often suffer through a persistent problem with managers making the excuse that they “just didn’t know about it.” In today’s labor market, that argument doesn’t carry much weight. Once a concern is out in the open, managers must be prepared to act on, or at least acknowledge, the concern. Otherwise the employee who assumed their manager was ignorant will now assume they just don’t care. You can guess what that does to their level of job satisfaction.
The Feedback Loop in Action
The No. 1 factor influencing the success of both full performance-management software packages or simple feedback tools is the willingness of managers to interact with employees–in other words, to create feedback loops. With those in place, managers don’t just develop a system for teams to voice their concerns and opinions, HR and managers get the ability to take action.
Where to start? By opening up communications. Both HR and managers should encourage teams to share their ideas and voice their concerns. While you want to create a structured system for feedback, you also need to maintain a dialogue. Acknowledge all responses and be grateful for feedback even if it’s uncomfortable. That way, you’ll give permission to employees to respond to your questions, whatever they may be.
But be warned: Employees will lose confidence in any feedback system if they feel like they aren’t being listened to. Encourage managers to use their team’s comments to make meaningful changes. Develop an action plan based on the feedback. When you start to take action, employees will see that you’re listening.
Annual Reviews Aren’t Enough
One of the most far-reaching disruptions to performance management has been the overhaul–or outright abandonment–of the traditional review, where managers meet with employees once a year and provide them with sackful of feedback.
It’s an archaic and still too-common system that’s overly rigid and lacks the consistency necessary for effective workplace communication. As technology continues to accelerate the speed of business, competitors can copy and supplant a company in months instead of years. More than ever, businesses have to be aware of threats by having managers speak to front-line employees and pass up feedback and ideas far more frequently than once a year.
When weekly feedback is automated, the employee’s answers to manager questions and their performance metrics are stored in one place. From there, they can be analyzed later to determine progress. From the employee’s perspective, such systems also minimize “recency bias,” which occurs when more weight is given to more recent events and thus embeds an inherent unfairness into reviews.
Technology can help here by automating reminders and helping to gently nudge those small behaviors that can make or break the implementation of HR’s software solution. If the HR manager who owns the solution’s implementation and success can click a button to encourage engagement, everyone wins.
Make a Commitment
However, no matter how helpful software may be, the truth is that people are often too busy to interact with it. To change that, leadership must create adequate space and time for managers to perform reviews and do what’s necessary to manage their employees properly. A philosophy from the top of “figure it out” will only lead managers to ignore the workforce-management part of their role in order to complete their tasks as individual contributors.
This can’t be emphasized enough. Some of the most common complaints from today’s workforce involve communication. Employees don’t believe they get the recognition they deserve or that managers take enough time to talk to them. They want an environment where they can speak openly with their leaders, and they want to receive feedback on their concerns.
No software will ever replace the relationship between managers and employees. Technology’s role is to make performance conversations happen naturally and easily, whether workers are on-site or remote. That kind of environment is sure to improve employee engagement, retention rates and ultimately the business’s results.
David Mizne is Marketing Communications Manager at 15Five, whose software provides continuous performance management through weekly check-ins, objectives tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s and reviews. Follow him @davidmizne.
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