Why now is the time to invest in a listening strategy

Many businesses still rely on staff surveys to gauge morale and how their teams are feeling, which can be a slow and ineffective process, says Lisa Hawksworth

 For many years, employee surveys were deemed an essential element of a workplace committed to driving change and listening to their employees. However, as it was so eloquently put in a Harvard Business Review   article back in 2018, “employee surveys are starting to look like diesel trucks collecting dust in the age of electric cars”.

In today’s digital world, we have grown to expect immediate results. Whether this is in our personal lives or at work, we are all guilty of feeling a little resentful if tasks end up taking longer than anticipated.  

Yet when it comes to understanding the thoughts and feelings of their teams, many businesses still rely on staff surveys to gauge staff morale and understand where improvements could be made. However, by the time employees have answered and their feedback has been taken into consideration, several months tend to have passed.

During this time feelings and concerns are likely to have changed as it’s just human nature. And when people have faced what they have faced in the last 18 months, those thoughts and feelings can be different often week to week, even day to day.

Therefore businesses need to find ways to listen to their teams and take action in a much more efficient way. We work with many businesses to support their listening strategies and to help them engage with teams much more frequently and effectively.

Here are just some of the measures businesses can put in place to demonstrate a clear commitment to engaging with their team’s feelings and concerns.

Pulse checking

The problem with measuring performance at a single point during the year is that crucial campaigns, events and activity can end up going unmeasured – leaving you unsure on their true impact and if they are worth repeating.

Similarly, important wellbeing issues may go unnoticed for many months.

Pulse checking is a simple way to track the effectiveness of your work on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. By comparing how people feel before and after they receive a message or have attended an event, you can clearly see its impact.

As you gather more data you can begin to assess what works and what doesn’t, as well as checking if your messages have been truly understood and acted on.

It’s common for businesses to use specialist apps to gauge in-the-moment and ongoing sentiment. These easy-to-use tools are ideal for understanding perception and mood and are far easier for teams to access on the go or if they happen to grab a spare few minutes during their day.

Focus groups

While tracking mood and morale on an individual basis is important, sometimes collaborative face-to-face sessions are the perfect opportunity to generate fresh ideas and encourage people to be more open.

With many businesses adopting hybrid working models, it’s now slightly more challenging to get employees together in the same room – but this shouldn’t deter you altogether. Running virtual workshops is a worthwhile investment and can still lead to a host of new ideas.

Remember to keep these groups to between six and twelve employees, to ensure everyone gets a chance to voice their opinion.


Another great opportunity is observation. Watching how people react in a situation can be telling. Observe how people interact with your communications, whether or not they stop and read a poster and which publication they pick up.

Observe how they interact with others and what they discuss. Running an observation session at the start of a focus group, and simply watching people interact and react to one another can give you an additional lens of insight that polls, clicks and questions simply don’t get.

Regular action planning

The best use of insight is when it’s acted upon quickly. Too often it can be left to fester. It becomes out of date. Introduce a regular cadence for insight reviews and involve your stakeholders too. It’s not about making an industry out of it, it’s taking the insight, agreeing the next step and taking action, quickly.

The outcome

Following a few months of sentiment tracking and focus groups you should have a rich pool of data and insight to help feed into your long-term listening strategy. Remember, this should never be a stagnant document that is simply written and forgotten about, you should continue to seek feedback from your team to ensure their voices are being heard.

Lisa Hawksworth is senior internal communications consultant at scarlettabbott, an employee engagement consultancy