In my last post, I shared research from Bersin by Deloitte: “Becoming irresistible: A new model for employee engagement.” Earlier this week Josh Bersin, author of the original report, published a follow-up article in Forbes: “Employee Feedback Is the Killer App: A New Market Emerges.”
I encourage you to read the full article as it is quite comprehensive. Below are a few key highlights.
The Employee Engagement Challenge
I can't explain this any better than Bersin does himself:
“As attention shifts toward the health and happiness of staff, employee engagement remains surprisingly low… While some companies are doing very well, many are doing quite poorly — and the data shows no easy-to-spot patterns. The highly engaged organizations are all shapes and sizes: all industries, all sizes, and all ages. Why is there such a wide variation in employee engagement and retention? The answer is clear: building a highly engaged workforce is difficult.”
Bersin defines employee feedback as the “killer app,” especially because so many in our culture are conditioned to offer feedback in nearly every aspect of our lives today. It’s difficult to create the environment necessary to empower and encourage feedback, just as it’s difficult to hear and fully understand the worthy message in the feedback.
Bersin counsels to view feedback as gift to both give and receive. Creating that culture is the real trick.
Creating a Feedback-Rich Culture
Bersin offers several steps to create such a feedback-rich environment.
1. Provide anonymity. Bersin argues anonymity is necessary to ensure people in a work environment will offer constructive feedback to drive needed change. Otherwise, people will be too fearful to share their real perspectives. I understand this position in relation to organizational functions (e.g., product feedback), but disagree when it comes to feedback about people performance. The reputation for 360 degree reviews is murky because of the ability for people to make unfair, disparaging and potentially quite harmful comments from behind a veil of secrecy. When it comes to performance, forthright honesty is the best policy. The important take-away is, as Bersin says, “Create a listening culture, and take action on what you learn. This will open a deep well of innovation and ideas, giving people a sense of empowerment and ownership.”
2. Create feedback systems, not surveys. Bersin puts the emphasis on pulse surveys and other ways to encourage people to share what’s on their minds. Doing so has deep impact on the organization. He points to one story:
“A Swiss investment bank, which has been studying its employee data for years, told me that the single leading predictor of business unit profitability is ‘employee engagement.’ Imagine what they could do with more current and actionable data.”
3. Spread the responsibility beyond the manager. Following on earlier discussions about performance management, Bersin also points out the flaws in manager-led performance management systems. The input has to come from more than a singular source. He says, “We know managers are biased. Research shows that 61% of a “rating” is based on the bias of the boss (not actual employee performance).”
4. Social recognition is the “gorilla” in the feedback market. The power of “thanks” never fails. The benefit of focusing on positive feedback is that it is often not anonymous, removing any taint from concerns over, “Who said that?” And the impact is exponential. Bersin points out:
“If feedback is the killer app, then 'thanks' is the gorilla in the market. When you unleash the ability for people to easily say 'thanks' to their peers (and give them points or other rewards), an enormous new network of information often starts to flow. Leaders can suddenly see important people who they may never have noticed, and the culture of helping others can start to grow and improve.
“Our research also found that saying ‘thank you’ is an important part of building strong employee engagement. Many companies tell me that these tools unleash enormous amounts of positive energy and can help people understand even better who and why certain behaviors and people are valued highly.”
How is feedback shared in your organization? What are your opinions on the value of anonymous comments vs. owning your words? How do you facilitate the flow of positivity in your organization while also gathering needed (and perhaps negative) constructive feedback, too?
As Globoforce’s Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting, Derek Irvine is an internationally minded management professional with over 20 years of experience helping global companies set a higher ambition for global strategic employee recognition, leading workshops, strategy meetings and industry sessions around the world. He is the co-author of "The Power of Thanks" and his articles on fostering and managing a culture of appreciation through strategic recognition have been published in Businessweek, Workspan and HR Management. Derek splits his time between Dublin and Boston. Follow Derek on Twitter at @DerekIrvine.