A common theme noticed by David MacLeod and Nita Clarke in organisations with both high levels of employee engagement and high levels of performance was employee voice throughout the organisations, for reinforcing and challenging views, between functions and externally.
What is employee voice? Essentially, where an organisation sees its people not as the problem, rather as central to the solution, to be involved, listened to, and invited to contribute their experience, expertise and ideas.
Employee voice exists where the organisation has put mechanisms in place to enable it to have an ongoing conversation with its staff, in different ways, to ensure every voice is heard.
Employee voice exists where everyone in the organisation feels they can have a say and that their voice is heard and listened to, and their views taken into account when decisions are being discussed that affect them.
Many organisations in recent years have built LEAN and Continuous Improvement principles into the way they work, so that their people are empowered to redesign and simplify work processes to cut out waste and improve customer service and the customer experience. Reengineering business processes through employee driven innovation has helped many organisations cut costs, grow their business, and respond to increasing customer demand, while others who have not used applied these principles no longer exist.
Often employee voice is the cheapest smoke alarm you can ever install in an organisation. Things often go wrong in organisations; the issue is whether you catch them before they build up to a major crisis and do significant or lasting damage. In recent times we have all witnessed important private and public sector organisations being very badly rocked by the disclosure of issues which if caught earlier would have passed relatively unnoticed.
Mechanisms organisations have used to have conversations with staff include:
- Online employee engagement surveys, which asks employees what they think about the organisation and aspects of working life, often with an option for giving free text comments.
- Regular face-to-face meetings, where senior leaders tell groups of staff about changes and developments in the organisation, and invite them to ask questions, express concerns, share their ideas, ask for volunteers to be involved in further thinking and discussions
- “Ideas Street” – a more modern version of the suggestions box, where instead of ideas supposedly being looked at by a ‘committee’ but actually disappearing into the ether, ideas are posted online so all colleagues can see and vote on them, and which progress to further consideration if they attract enough support.
- “Big conversations” – where the whole organisation discusses a topic in small groups, through an organised series of conversations based around questions that all staff are invited to talk about, where comments and ideas are collected in, and the conversation develops in response to the feedback received.
- “Graffiti walls” – official ones, opened for a period, again inviting views and comments on a particular theme, where staff can write what they think and colleagues can see what they have written and add their comments.
- “World Café” events, where a conversation happens over a series of tables. Attendees are invited to discuss one topic or aspect at a table, where one or two facilitators help keep the conversation flowing and take notes, often on paper covering the whole table, so everyone can see their contribution being captured. At regular intervals attendees move round the room to another table and another part of the conversation
- “Frontline forum”, where a senior leader gathers together a representative group of frontline staff to listen to issues that concern them, and discuss and work through possible solutions.
- Solutions Groups, using the 3 Cs, or 5 Whys, to draw on staff experience, and through a tried and tested methodology empower staff to develop their own solutions to a problem facing them
- Employee Engagement Champions networks, where keen members of staff play a major role in supporting their managers and colleagues in engaging activities to improve how they work together