Want to Improve the Employee Experience? First Find Out What They Really Think

Our teams don't always share what they really think. Here are 10 steps to address this problem so you can create an amazing employee experience.

Do you know what your employees think? 

If you want a better employee experience, it all starts here. Take these 10 steps to find out what your team really wants.

Understanding the Employee Experience Takes a Lot of Effort 

Here is an important caveat before we dive into the 10 steps.

If we want to have amazing results in the workplace, we need to connect, develop healthy relationships, work to understand each other, and learn to work and play well together.  

Some may lead you to believe that it is easy. Ask your team what they think, then sit back and listen.

You won’t be surprised to hear that I strongly disagree!  

About 30 years back, I learned this the hard way, during a promotion where I went from supervising no one to supervising hundreds of employees and a multi-million dollar budget in 6 months. Unsurprisingly, I learned that people don’t often tell you what they really think, and it creates a big problem. 

Included in the list of things they don’t often tell you:

  • What it’s like to work “for” you
  • What they wish you would do differently
  • How hard it can be to work with certain team members (including you) 
  • What they need help with to succeed at their job
  • What is happening outside of work that is impacting their ability to show up at work
  • What type of job they would like to be doing vs what they are doing now
  • Things happening at work that make them feel frustrated, undervalued, or insecure

To know what people really think requires a lot of active work. 

Ready, set, go! Let’s dive in. 

10 Steps to Help You Understand the “Real” Employee Experience

1) Foster Open Communication 

Open sharing and amazing communication can only happen in an environment where people feel emotionally safe and secure. Our prior experiences, and our individual comfort level with being direct and handling potential conflict, influence how comfortable we are with being open.

Additionally, some of us may fear negative consequences for speaking openly. These consequences could include losing favor, being passed over for promotion, being marginalized, or even being fired. 

We want to create an environment where people feel safe sharing openly, without fearing reprisal or negative backlash. Here are some tips to foster this. 

  • Remain calm when people share unpleasant or downright controversial perspectives.
  • Avoid getting defensive.
  • Stay open and in an inquisitive mindset.

A huge part of creating a safe and secure sharing environment is to have an open mindset when people do share. Let’s jump into this now.

2) Ask Often and with a Genuine Desire to Hear the Answer 

To understand what our employees are experiencing, we need to ask them! 

Surprising, right?

While this is obvious, we need to be thoughtful and consistent in our approach. If we want to learn more about the employee experience, we need to ask often, and with a genuine desire to know.  

The good news is this is in our control and easy to implement. It will take time and a systematic approach, but it is oh-so doable!

Here are some tips to get you started: 

  • Identify where you come together as a team and make time for the all-important questions, like:
    • “What do you think?”
    • “Is there something that you would do instead?”
    • “How can we make this better?” 
  • Demonstrate your sincerity with your voice, tone, and wording, and by making time to hear the answers.

3) Listen with an Open Mind and Heart

To hear what your team thinks is gold, literally. You need to know what is really going on to succeed at your objective. 

David Brooks said it so well in his book How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others and Being Deeply Seen:

“There is one skill that lies at the heart of any healthy person, family, school, community organization, or society: the ability to see someone else deeply and make them feel seen—to accurately know another person, to let them feel valued, heard, and understood.”

The more we are simply present and with another human being, the more opportunity we have to connect.

So, when someone speaks to you, make the time and space to hear them. Here’s how to ensure you are listening with an open mind and heart: 

  • Make them your single focus
  • Let them fully share without jumping in
  • Avoid reacting or getting defensive
  • Don’t try to shut down the sharing or spin the messaging to match your view of events

Simply be present and hear what they want to share. Spend as much time as it takes to understand. It isn’t always pretty, which takes us to our next point.  

4) Be Ready for It to Get Messy

Let’s speak some truth right now: It can be shocking to learn what others really think. After all, when people tell you what they think you want to hear for years, there can be a lot to unpack when they share their unfiltered perspective.

So how can you handle it in a way that won’t discourage them from sharing? Here are some tips: 

  • Buckle up and get ready for the ride.
  • Practice not looking shocked or dismayed when you hear something you don’t like.
  • Ask inquiring questions that show you really care about their perspectives and experiences.
  • Avoid blaming or getting irritated.
  • Be compassionate when difficulties are shared.

It is vital that we prepare ourselves and each other to be open to hearing diverse opinions. The more often people share their challenges and fears, the quicker you can understand and ultimately improve things.

After all, this is only the beginning of the conversation. We aren’t going to stay in the mess. We are going to keep talking and come up with amazing solutions!

5) Keep the Conversation Going

After you have done the initial work to connect and create an environment of sharing, keep it up! Get comfortable genuinely asking your team how things are going. Continue to systematically create opportunities for your team to share what they are experiencing, like we talked about in the first point.

Building relationships takes time and investment. As we interact and share with each other over time, we deepen our understanding and caring for each other.  

We’ll talk more about how to keep the conversation going in numbers 6 to 10 below.

6) Provide Multiple Opportunities for Feedback 

We all have different preferences when it comes to methods of communication. Some of us prefer to talk, while others prefer to send feedback in writing. Some are comfortable speaking to a large group, while others prefer one-on-one encounters. 

Create a customized, “no wrong door” approach for feedback so all of your team members will find an option that suits their style of communication. 

For example:

  • Offer opportunities for 1:1 meetings as well as small and large group discussion
  • Use surveys to gather feedback with the option to keep responses anonymous
  • Offer opportunities for written input in meetings (i.e., chat, polls, email, etc.)

Offering multiple avenues to provide feedback is a great way to show your team you truly care what they have to say.  

7) Appreciate the Input  

From the moment someone shares, let them know how much you appreciate it. The harder and braver the share, the bigger the thank you needs to be. Acknowledge and thank them genuinely for opening up or providing feedback. 

This may seem simple, but it can make a big difference for your team and ultimately the culture of your organization. It sends a clear message that their input is valued, welcomed, and positively received.

Tip: In any forum where your team is sharing what they think, let them know how much you appreciate it!

8) Share & Use the Input

After your team members share feedback, they are likely wondering how it will be used, especially if it was difficult for them to share.

Communicate how feedback will be used. For example, are you gathering input to improve a specific project or process? Or maybe the company culture, or the organization as a whole? Let them know.

Once you receive the feedback, record it, share it, and follow up with your team to let them know specifically how it will be used.

As you implement changes, let your team know how their ideas and input drove the change. They will know that you were listening, and that their speaking up actually made a practical difference vs. just being words that went out into the ether.  

9) Teach Everyone to Inquire and to be Open to Input 

Yep, adopting an inquisitive mindset is a skill! It doesn’t come naturally. It comes with practice. 

Some of us have spent so many years trying to steer conversations to be positive (with good intentions of course), that it is a new skill to have open dialogue about the hard stuff and not flinch.

Prepare your team for open dialogue and let it be okay to hear when people are unhappy. The more you know, the more you can fix things.

These tips sound simple, but like so many important things, it isn’t about the level of complexity but our routines.

When it comes to using the input, here are some simple tips that can have big returns.

  • Establish the habit of consolidating feedback into themes. This protects the anonymity of sources so you can more widely share. 
  • Share the input gathered in as many forums and methods as make sense. Don’t have “secret reports.” Share openly (as long as care is taken to protect specifics and present things in a way that makes sense).
  • Analyze the input carefully and multiple times, and refer to it when making related decisions, even if some time has passed. Input is often still relevant 18 to 24 months after it has been gathered, depending on the nature of the information.
  • When you make decisions, develop strategies, and change policies based on input, be sure to let your team know that their ideas influenced the actions taken.
  • Integrate this into your organizational training programs, including new orientation, all staff training, and leadership development. Share that your organization highly values everyone’s diverse thoughts.
  • Emphasize that varying thoughts are not only okay but are even welcomed. Teach specifics and role play how to handle what historically was perceived as complaints. Cover the dos and don’ts of welcoming input.

10) Invest in Building Relationships

The ultimate key to knowing what people are experiencing is….to know them.

We get so busy in our personal and professional lives that making time to get to know each other and to nurture our relationships can often be put on the backburner. 

However, relationship building is so worth our time and effort. The more we invest in building relationships based on trust and mutual respect, the greater our opportunity to understand what others are experiencing and what is important to them. 

No one wants to be insignificant. We want to be important to those in our lives. We want to know that what we think, feel, and do has an impact.

Here are some ideas for building strong relationships: 

  • Schedule time to connect with your team and do your best to keep the appointments. If you need to reschedule, do so quickly and with as much notice as possible. 
  • Spend 75% of your connection time with them listening. Take notes about things that are important to your team members and check back with them on those topics. 
  • Make an effort to reach out between meetings: send little notes (actual or text), call to ask how their week has been, go to lunch or coffee together. Ask to attend their team meetings, and make it a priority to visit all your teams and locations periodically.

For a Great Employee Experience, Teach Everyone to Be Inquisitive

As you and your team practice the ten steps above, constantly find opportunities to ask, “What do you think?” Build that question into every project. Incorporate it into day-to-day interactions to invite feedback and generate ideas.  

One last piece of advice—always focus on your people. Spend time with each other. Have fun together. Connect on a regular basis, no matter how busy you are. Make time to find out what is happening for people and celebrate the highs and comfort each other through the struggles. Your investment in understanding what people are *really* thinking will pay off BIG!  

At The Human Priority, we believe in high collaboration, high trust, high respect. We believe in creating workplaces where you can have co-conversations and a sense of community. This is what creates the Workplace Fairytale! This is where people come together and do awesome, great, phenomenal things together. We can help you accomplish this! Learn more about our business consulting services.

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