Listening to the Heartbeat of Your Organisation: Traditional and Out-of-the-Box Methods
In today's fast-paced corporate world, understanding your audience or employees is no longer just a luxury—it's a necessity. The ability to effectively listen, comprehend, and act on feedback can be the difference between a thriving organisation and a sinking ship. So, how do you ensure that you're truly 'hearing' what's being said, and perhaps even what's left unsaid?
Traditional Methods (Brilliant Basics)
Let's begin with some tried and tested methods aka the brilliant basics. These classic approaches have stood the test of time, some for the right reasons, some for the wrong, and equally all can be done horrifically wrong or amazingly right.
Surveys: Easy to scale and analyse. However, it is possibly one of the worst approaches to take if done on its own with no other supplementation
121 Interviews: These offer qualitative insights delve into individual experiences, and can be resource-intensive if not part of a blended listening approach. Try to meet your interviewee where they are, hover around the coffee machine or if you want to get a little weird, hover in their desired line (the path travelled between point A and B e.g. the point between their desk and the toilets maybe)
Focus Groups: Moderated discussions that capture varied opinions and reactions, allowing for springboard conversations. However, can deafen the quieter voices and drive group-think
Usability Testing: Observing user interaction with products highlights usability issues. Can drive bias if the sample group isn't designed well.
Feedback Forms/letters: I love this simple effective approach from Headspace, everything doesn't have to be digital (see image below)
Creative Methods: Pushing the Boundaries
You 1000% need to get the brilliant basics in place before you start to look at some of the more creative approaches below. While the approach below may seem more progressive and even audacious, they are only as good as what you do with the data and how you follow them up, it's often about the conversation, not the method:
Mystery Employee: Dive deep into company culture and processes through a covert lens, set up a fake team and have them injected into the business for a period of time
Field Studies: Observe users in their natural environment. Can be resource-heavy, but I talk more about the amazing insight this unfold in my book I highly recommend you do this if resource and time permit
Social Listening: Great as a supplement to a solid listening approach, the goal is to monitor platforms to capture real-time sentiments about your business. I've done this via Glassdoor, Twitter, Reddit and so on. This is a great supplement to a well-designed listening approach. If your people are not happy, or if they are loving life the chances are they are talking about it somewhere, they are no different to customers. Reddit, Facebook, X (Twitter) Glassdoor are all great social listening spaces
Lego Serious Play: A great tool to use when asking employees to identify workplace/specific challenges. It's also a great yet simple approach if you want to get insight into the perceived company culture, this exposes by light the company's cultural strengths as well as weaknesses.
Role Reversal Workshops: Foster empathy and compassion by rolling up your sleeves and doing your job. This is a great approach often employees become numb to the tension in the business because they have adapted. You will be amazed at what you find your people have to deal with.
Cultural Immersion Trips: Evaluate expectations and appetite, select a test group and have them work at another business for a day. Then pose the question of if they offered you a role would you work there and why, and what made it different?
Pet Focus Group: A relaxed setting can offer insights into well-being and interpersonal dynamics. As long as your pets are ok in social environments then bringing pets into a focus group helps bring a level of safety and zen into the room. I have never done this however there are reports linking stroking a pet to reducing anxiety
Forest walk: This is a tweak to 121 interviews, rather than doing 121 interviews in a meeting room arrange to do it in a forest. Some of the best 121 interviews or conversations with managers happen when you leave the office. Read Jason Fox's battle scars to see this in action. A friend of mine does 121 interviews and coaching while gardening
Diary Studies: Longitudinal insights into daily work life. Each month ask a random selection of people to fill out a digital diary for a day or make people do it for a few months, I dive deeper into this one in the Insightful Innovator
Card Sorting: This is one, if not the most, underused approach and yet it's so simple, it's about understanding people's preferences and priorities. Go and hang around the local watering hole with a list of cards of things you might want prioritising for your people and ask them to do it
Doughnut Stand: Create a coffee and doughnut pop-up shop, at the entrance or canteen. Explain to employees that it's simple to get a free coffee and doughnut, they have to answer a few questions. At a conference a few years back, I set up a stand and had a t-shirt printed out with the question 'What's your problem?' printed on it. They would come, grab a cake and have their question answered with a promise of no sell... just make sure they are Krispy Kreme doughnuts, now is not the time to be cheap
Shadowing: Direct insights from first-hand observation. Simple, but be mindful of the Hawthorne effect
The success of any organisation is rooted in its people. Active listening should be a primary focus for companies. Instead of relying solely on one method, a truly human-centred approach requires a mix of multiple techniques, be it traditional surveys or some of the innovative methods mentioned above.
The ultimate aim is to genuinely appreciate and understand the unique voices within your organisation. Every piece of feedback contributes to growth.
It's essential to listen and gather insights about the needs of your people to enhance and create better people SPIES (Services, Products, Interaction, Experience and thus a better people Subscription model)
Adopting these methods will need courage and an open mind, but I promise you if you choose to be brave the insights and results they produce will take you from the mundane to the magical
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