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I am listening…what did you say again? Communication leading to employee engagement in the workplace

February 23, 2011

We all know that communication in the workplace is one of the more difficult organisational practices to get right. At Employee Feedback, we have found that where there is a low score on communication items it often follows that there is a low engagement score too. We are also aware that communicating with employees is not enough on its own. Factors such as the medium used, the quality and quantity of communication and ensuing there is enough opportunity for two-way communication also needs to be taken into consideration.

In a recent article on the Personnel Today website, the issue of two way communication was discussed. The piece looked at communication in a corporate giant such as Tesco. They employ around 250,000 people across many sites so communication is certainly difficult to get right. In order to get ‘listening’ and to promote two way communication, Tesco set up a ‘Listen and Fix’ programme whereby they asked two key questions "What do we need to fix?" and "What gets in the way of you doing a great job for our customers and supporting each other?". Employees were encouraged to respond by email or text and leaders responded via texts, voicemails, internet, blogs and via in-store communications. They received more than 40,000 responses and thereby had a rich set of data to use to inform where to plough their follow-up efforts.

What Tesco did particularly well was engaging the branches in the process. As results were anonymous (just store code was requested), each store could then receive feedback specific to their issues. The Store Managers were given this feedback and were encouraged to develop local level action, as opposed to being ‘told’ by head office. Around a quarter of the issues raised were fixed this way. The remainder of the issues were dealt with via ‘Helicopter View’ where they were viewed centrally. On review of the data, they found 125 issues which they could rank in terms of the number of responses. This provided a really powerful action plan!

To embark on a process like this takes a huge investment in resources, in terms not only of time but also in terms of people and monetary investment. Tesco were able to invest heavily into this process with the prevailing view that listening to their staff and responding would encourage engagement with the company as a whole:

"Listen and Fix is now a flexible brand with great recognition. We have not set in stone how we will use it in the future but we do know that we have a powerful tool for employee engagement and that everyone who works here is better off as a result." (Judith Nelson, International HR Director, Tesco).

This example from Tesco puts into practice a number of best practice behaviours that Employee Feedback suggest to our clients on a regular basis. Listen to what the employees have to say, create easy ways for them to respond, provide timely feedback on the results, empower those at local level to take some responsibility to focus on their issues and discuss how you plan to action some of the more global issues. All of these things will really help to connect with the workforce and, in the long term if the approach is consistent, improve employee engagement levels.

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