Forrester's Leslie Owens on Harnessing the Voice of the Employee

Posted by Bill Ives on Sep 26, 2011 5:26:00 AM

Last week I attended Forrester's Content & Collaboration Forum 2011. Forrester notes that in five years, almost half of US workers — about 63 million people — will work virtually. I am already one of them. This will change everything in workplace IT support from designing workplace information strategies for collaboration, to delivering content experiences to people across channels, to engaging the next-generation workforce to serve customers better.

The Forum explored the “current demand for more portable, social workplace experiences means for your workplace strategy.” On Friday I attended the excellent session, Harnessing Voices In Your Workplace For Competitive Advantage led by Leslie Owens, Senior Analyst. I had spoken with her one on one yesterday and had a preview of this talk so did not want to miss it. Here is the session description. I will also do an upcoming post on our conversation.

“Workplace interactions among employees and customers increasingly take place over digital channels. Whether it’s via voice, email, service logs, text messages, collaboration sites, or social tools, critical business insight now echoes down the virtual halls of your workplace. Yet few organizations have mastered analyzing employee and customer conversations for better product innovation, improved processes, and competitive differentiation. This session will look forward to a host of emerging analytical tools, practices, and pioneers mining deep insights from business content to drive better business outcomes.

In this session, you will learn about a new frontier for knowledge management: tacit interactions. Understand the role of technology in listening to employees and customers. Chart a path to capturing actionable business insights from data and content that you already manage.”

Leslie began by noting the big interest in the voice of the customer. This is a hot and important issue. However, an opportunity is also there to look within the enterprise at the voice of the employee. Now we have incredible technology in our hands that can generate this voice in a transparent manner if we only look at what is being said.  She showed a mock up of a social media command center to look at the voice of the customer. Many companies are actually doing a form of this to look at Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, and other sites. They look at themes and patterns to make smart business decisions. JetBlue asks for feedback on Twitter and maps your comments back to how your travel is going and where you are through their customer management system.

She walked us through how companies mine this information. They capture it, then process it by cleaning it up. Then they analyze it through several means such as natural language processing. Then they act on it.  They look at possible responses and alternatives,

Fidelity is one firm that does this very well. They listen to customer interactions to improve performance. For leading firms the feedback travels up the organization to impact strategy.  At the same time, it often gets filtered through employees. But companies do not currently listen to what employees say on an ongoing basis in the same way we listen to customers. Instead, they might do annual surveys or even less than that.

At the same time 57% of companies are implementing social media and this offers a rich set of conversations to look at, just like what is happening on the Web. She suggests that companies should start to take advantage of this opportunity. I could not agree more. This transparency is part of the potential of enterprise 2.0 but it remains mostly untapped.

Leslie offered a few examples. Unilever listens to its 1800 international assignees through a social media space and half of them got actively involved. Unilever was able to see the themes that were emerging. They looked at the emergence of unexpected ideas through mapping. But Leslie said this is a rare example. Unilever learned that people had specific concerns about compensation that would not have emerged through normal surveys. She mentioned the Deloitte findings that people engaged in social networking are more likely to stay.  At a session yesterday I heard the Deloitte representative said that retention rose from an industry average of around 83% for most employees to 98% for those actively engaged with their social network powered by Yammer in this case.

In another example, a bank found that experienced employees simply wanted a chair to sit in while they worked. This was an easy fix and these were not employees the bank wanted to lose. But again these are rare examples at the moment. A few firms are also looking at open-ended questions in their survey and mining this unstructured input. Leslie noted that today’s approach to looking at what employees say is where customer insight collection was a number of years ago.

Leslie said people are ready to speak through social media. She is not talking about looking at email, which many would find invasive as it is considered a private channel, but looking in a channel that is known to be transparent. You still need to build a foundation of trust and be ready to hear difficult issues and take action on this input.

You also need to coordinate workplace intelligence efforts so employees are not bombarded and, at the same time, so actions can be taken. Responsibilities need to be determined. Then feedback can be a normal part of many business processes and this can lead to constant improvement.

The audience asked how do you balance voice of customer with voice of employees? Should you not listen to customers first? Leslie said that employees also need to be listened to. She noted that some people even say listen to employees first. I think you need to listen to employees to truly understand what customers are saying. The two complement each other. Employees can give context to customer’s issues.

Leslie nicely expanded on the connection between employees and customers in her post on the topic covered in this session, Harness The Voice Of The Employee For Competitive Advantage. She notes that by doing things to encourage employees to speak and then acting on it, "you empower employees to engage with one another. Engaged employees are more productive, just as engaged customers are more loyal. In fact, employee and customer metrics for advocacy, satisfaction and loyalty are often linked, rising and falling in tandem." This makes a lot of sense to me. Respect your employees and they will respect your customers. 

 I asked why firms are slow to listen to employees when they are actively going after what customers say? Leslie asked the audience this question and some one said it is hard. No one said they were doing it now. Trust and privacy issues were raised. I talked with someone afterwards who said they wanted to do something in this space and IT said no. Leslie noted that while there is an atmosphere of transparency, there remains a need to still have private communities, as well as public ones. I would add that they private and public groups can complement each other. Sensitive ideas can be generated in private groups and then brought into public ones for open debate.

The audience asked what bottom line impacts have been found by listening to employees? Leslie said that retention seems to be on the rise when employees are listened to. This is an area that needs more work. Leslie said this is a next frontier for content and collaboration professionals. I would certainly agree and add that in my view it is one of the more exciting ones.


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Topics: Enterprise Awareness, Content Discovery