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Are we really listening to our people?

It’s been said before, but it bears repeating: effective communication is as much about listening as it is speaking (or writing or typing…)

The PR Academy’s 2021 “Who’s Listening” survey (their third of its kind) is written to help organisations get the most from listening to their people. This year’s survey was conducted during the Covid pandemic and so reflects the thoughts and feelings of employees during this most “uneven” of times. But it also provides a lot of insights that could prove invaluable in life post-pandemic.

Here are a few of the headlines from the report:

Listening is key to developing new working practices

This one is self-explanatory. Your people know how things are working. Many of them have great ideas and suggestions to share. Some may foresee potential problems with new practices that you haven’t thought of. (They have the current coalface experience that senior leaders are probably lacking.) Also, new practices will be accepted and embedded so much more easily, and with far greater conviction, if your people feel they have been consulted and had the chance to shape the practices.

Leadership listening is more strongly associated with positive outcomes than line manager or supervisor listening

This shows the importance of a meaningful connection between the very top of your organisation and the rest of the workforce. Most employees understand the pyramidal structure of organisations and why their management structure is tiered, but what this shows is that, regardless of operating level, people want to feel that their views and feelings are being heard by those at the top of the tree.

This is where giving your people the chance to feedback, ask questions and share thoughts, feelings and suggestions, ideally with anonymity really comes into its own, but…

Only 42% of respondents stated that their organisation responds promptly to feedback

…only if you show that you are actively listening to what is being said. And responding. This doesn’t have to be too arduous a task. Answering questions live during (virtual) Townhalls or Conferences and summarising key points and recurring themes using shared Q&A documents or short, engaging talking heads videos will ensure that anyone who couldn’t attend a session is still getting the comms they need. And, most importantly, the whole process shows transparency (thus building trust) and demonstrates that all-important listening.

There is an over-reliance on occasional surveys as a way of listening

There is nothing wrong with running surveys – as long as they are written carefully and structured properly, they can be a great way of gathering top-level thoughts and feelings. But just running one annual Employee Satisfaction survey can often be perceived by the masses as management or HR simply fulfilling a duty or ticking a box.

More frequent, snappy pulse surveys are a better, more agile and productive tool. Combining these with brief focus groups to really drill in on opinions, beliefs and feelings will, once again, demonstrate proper listening and a consideration for employee satisfaction, and return more detailed and useful information to senior management.

The survey showed that, currently, only 35% claim that regular pulse surveys are utilised, and 77% said that focus groups are rarely or never used.

(This is why we make focus groups a key component of our Comms Health Checks. We know that survey and questionnaire results are a great opening gambit but will not return the depth of feeling or level of detail that we really need to make a full diagnosis.)

There is a significant potential for digital listening

This isn’t (or shouldn’t be) as sinister as it sounds! Employees are often much more comfortable speaking up on internal digital platforms than in “real life” scenarios. As long as leaders are visible and actively participating (which, unfortunately, rarely seems to be the case), the sinister, clandestine feeling of big brother just listening in is alleviated somewhat, and there could be a wealth of great ideas and useful suggestions to listen to and take forward. Forums and online workgroups of this nature are live, ongoing and current. They can also bolster a sense of camaraderie, teamworking and collaboration across geographically dispersed teams. As most of us continue along a path to a hybrid model of working, digital comms of this nature are likely to play a more significant role in every day (work) life and management’s opportunity for hearing the buzz from the factory floor.

Get your listening right and you will increase the generation and receipt of good ideas and build trust, engagement and morale throughout your organisation.


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