You only need to think back over the rollercoaster that 2020 has thrown up to realise that listening to your people once a year is no longer enough. What employees might have said in January is very different to what they would have said in March and different again to how they felt in June and beyond. And the year is far from over.

Organisations have increasingly realised that employee feedback is not a yearly (or bi-yearly) event, it’s a continuous process.

But shifting towards a process of continuous listening isn’t without risk. We talk about a shift from the old world of listening to the new world: the difference is that significant and it needs to be managed carefully over time. 

Through thoughtful implementation of next-generation technology, organisations can successfully make the shift to continuous listening – and secure the maximum benefit that regular feedback offers.

A successfully shift to 'continuous listening' requires more than the implementation of next-generation technologies. Click To Tweet

What is continuous listening?

While old world feedback was a rigid, reactive process based on the Annual Engagement Survey event, in the new world feedback is about proactively generating insights that empower change.

This can only be achieved through an ecosystem of different survey channels and techniques. A mature listening program comprises more than one listening event, comprising a variety of tools from census and lifecycle surveys to pulse checks and special topic investigations.

And as in all good ecosystems, each part is targeted to assisting the whole. So new world listening can be focused on specific employee experiences such as onboarding or about a specific segment of the workforce like a contractor population.

So it’s just a platform change?

Absolutely not. There’s a common misconception that you can flick a switch on a new flashy platform, and voila – you have a continuous listening survey program.

In reality, it’s quite the opposite. A successful program requires careful consideration of numerous factors and effective planning. It’s ultimately a cultural change built on trust between leaders and their people that feedback will be offered, listened too and acted on. The survey platform is important and a key enabler. But viewing the shift solely as platform-based rather than cultural assumes it’s a one-size-fits-all approach. Looking through a cultural lens, it’s easier to see that what works for one organisation won’t work for another.

An effective 'continuous listening' program requires a cultural change built on trust between leaders and their people. Click To Tweet

If we think about organisations who have successfully made the transition, they’ve all taken different approaches and implemented different continuous listening programs that resonated with their business and workforce

Five principles for making continuous listening work

Making continuous listening work means looking beyond the survey technology and thinking strategically about how to gather, manage, and respond to regular employee feedback in an organised and structured way. These five principles are essential to go beyond just listening to making it work.

  1. Clarity: Continuous listening needs to be clearly linked to a purpose – what are you trying to achieve through your listening program? What business challenges are you trying to solve for? What information is important to collect and how are you looking to use this data? For example, if you’re concerned about retention, incorporate on-boarding and exit surveys.
  2. Commitment: A purpose is only made real through commitment, which requires alignment at all levels of the organisation. Central to building alignment is making the connection to business objectives. One thing that hasn’t changed between old world and new world feedback? The importance of leadership support.
  3. Content: New world feedback no longer rolls out the same questions every time – it’s about asking the right questions to the right people at the right time in the right way. This will be driven by what elements of the employee experience you are looking to get deeper insight into or different segments of the workforce you are trying to gather feedback from. 
  4. Cadence: How do you get frequent feedback without the survey fatigue? The answer is finding the right rhythm for surveying in your organisation, supported by the clarity and commitment around the program. There’s no set number of surveys to run in a year for it to be right
  5. Control: New world feedback balances top-down and bottom-up actions to find the right level of control. This is very much a question about what works for the organisation depending on the culture, organisational structure, reporting lines and the composition of your workforce.

These five principles are the foundation for making frequent feedback work – enabling a listening program that is a powerful tool for guiding strategic decision making and optimising performance.
To learn more about making continuous listing work, download our whitepaper.

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About the contributor

Nadhisha Piyasena is a Senior Client Director for Korn Ferry Advisory, Australia. He works with clients to solve people challenges that get in the way of business performance. He focuses on thinking broadly, commercially, and critically to provide evidence-based and practical solutions that add noticeable value to organisations in the areas of leadership development, employee engagement and talent management.

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