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March 27, 2017 / Mervyn Dinnen

Are You Listening to Your Employees?

If there’s one thing that should be high on the agenda of HR teams, then its the employee experience. Yet only 30% of businesses try and measure it, which is poor when compared to the 72% who measure customer experience, and baffling when so much of customer brand perception (around 70%) actually comes from interactions with your employees. The experience should start early, from as soon as someone thinks about joining you.

Businesses are short of the skills they need. Leaders are concerned about agility – both the business and the workforce – and the ability of their organisations to respond to change and create solutions. Technology is both friend and foe. Evolving at a rapid rate, and giving employees and customers heightened expectations, it can also overwhelm. Do we have the digital capabilities we need? Are we able to harness the efficiency, data and insights to help create better and more profitable businesses?

Overarching all of this is the way we treat our people. Are we somewhere they want to work? They have choices – are we giving them every opportunity to grow and develop? The opportunity for personal development is increasingly important to them. And what about the technology we use? 92% of employees say that technology affects their satisfaction at work.

I’ve spent last week at Ultimate Software’s Connections conference as part of a team of analysts, influencers and bloggers. Ultimate are certainly a company that from the inside knows how to create a great place to work, and they worked hard to make sure this was an event that offered all attendees – and there were around 3,000 of them – insights, case studies, ideas, new tools and a peek at the road ahead in terms of their new offerings. They announced an impressive range of tools and products to be rolled out over the next year or so. This is important –  over 60% of HR technology buyers rate customer service as a major factor in the purchasing decision. The way you look after them – both from the perspectives of innovation and support – is vital.

We started with a run thorough of trends and crowd sourced client concerns. Some familiar bases were touched, such as gig economy, generational concerns, and limitations of the traditional job description – once created they become obsolete. However there was also recognition that how organisations treat their employees today is more important to employee satisfaction and retention than ever before, with a US workforce study showing that it matter two to three times more than mission, goals & values.

Whilst most of the workplace trends get talked and written about regularly, the fact that they remain a concern for so many HR leaders indicates to me that there isn’t enough clarity around the debate. These events are a useful way for people to get together and share. Whilst something like the gig economy might not itself have a large impact, the fluidity it enables in the workforce matters. HR needs to plan ahead, and if their workers are balancing careers that mix both permanent and contingent arrangements then this needs to be factored in.

Hearing the voice of the employee, getting a feel for their real thoughts and sentiments, is probably most vital. In the US nearly half the workforce don’t feel they are treated fairly, and around 75% want to be listened to. This was a key focus for the conference and, not surprisingly, an area in which Ultimate try to help. Their Retention Predictor was a big feature at  sessions during the conference with customers vouching for its effectiveness. Fellow blogger Tim Sackett wrote:

“Ultimate has done a really good job at going out and buying some great data analytics companies and implementing that tech and talent into their organisation.

The concept is that if you analyse enough of your employee’s data points you’ll see trends that show if someone is highly likely to leave your organisation as a voluntary term. As an organisation, we really want and need to know data this to help retain our best performers.

UltiPro Perception delivers a ‘score’ of each of your employees showing if someone is a flight risk based on their level of performance, so that you can filter, if you want, by high performers to low performers. The notion being, you definitely want to ‘save’ your high performers”

There were two customer case studies I heard. In one attrition had been reduced from 30% to 15% amongst high performers and in the other from 25% to 6%, with the HR client saying “everyone has a retention score but then there’s a person attached to that score”.

A feature that is key to this improved retention is that managers who see team members with a high score indicating a probability of leaving are prompted with a series of customised leadership actions to help them retain their employee – there are 50 actions built into the system, and companies additionally build in their own bespoke actions. Both case studies spoke positively about how this was helping managers become better leaders and much more aware of their key performers and what it takes to keep them.

Relationships with managers and leaders are key to the employee experience. Whilst we might talk about managers being promoted based on their ability to lead and inspire teams, I know from personal (and anecdotal) experience that much of this is learned on the job. What I like about the retention predictor is that it helps managers understand the link between experience and retention, and the help it gives them to develop. Improving retention of the people you want to keep is one clear way for HR to show strategic and commercial contributions to the business. Understanding who is at risk of leaving and why, and being able to do something about it.

The product is currently being evolved as the big product announcement last week – Xander – shows. It uses machine learning, NLP and sentiment analysis to provide better predictions and recommendations. Collecting data is easy, the real trick is to understand and act on it. The best opportunity to really understand our people will come from the ability to understand open text and comments, incorporating more unstructured data to help make the predictions faster and more accurate.

Listen, understand and act – as Ultimate’s CTO Adam Rogers said “Great employee experiences don’t happen by accident”.

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