The evolution of employee feedback – Annual, Pulse… Always On.

Listening is often labelled as the most important skill and behaviour an individual can possess. When we listen we learn, when we talk, we only share what we already know.

The HR technology zeitgeist has been focused on employee feedback for a few years. Today, there is an ever increasing array of sophisticated online tools available to the HR buyer. SaaS based platforms that can deliver employee surveys, analyse and visualise the data, then offer suggested actions.

The annual engagement survey had been the staple for most large corporates for decades. Of its many limitations, a major issue is requiring employees to encapsulate 12 months of feedback and feelings in one survey.  Inevitably, an annual survey only captures feelings at the point in time the survey is completed. Insights gathered are really the individual’s recollections shaped by their mindset and mood at the time the survey is undertaken. Moreover, trying to cram all feedback into one survey with long and boring lists of attributes leads to a terrible experience for people completing, which in turn further undermines credibility of responses.  Managers and organisations taking action on feedback from annual surveys is questionable at best and downright dangerous at worst.  It is not surprising that many organisations are moving to more frequent feedback mechanisms.

The desire for more frequent feedback has led to the rise of pulse surveys. These usually take the form of more regular surveys distributed to employees to gather and track longitudinal data. This approach has led employers to feel more confident in the accuracy of gathered. However, new issues have arisen. This includes survey fatigue, lack of action from feedback and shallow insights.

The latest development in the world of employee feedback and engagement is the AI driven chatbot, or workplace companion. Taking pulses to another level, this technology has the ability to hold real-time conservations with individual employees and lead discussions in a completely free and open way.  Advanced text analytics allows the measurement of emotions, key themes and also supports managers to identify common themes for action and development.  In essence, these approaches become intermediated moderated conversations between employee and employee providing feedback but in also in and of itself increasing engagement through a sense of being listened to and being able to listen.   

Less transactional that pulse survey, with an ‘always-on’ conversational approach, the AI-driven chatbot prompts employees to spend time sharing thoughts, opinions, feedback, issues and opportunities. Research is proving that via this method, companies are improving the quality and depth of feedback from employees. This innovative tech is collecting  longitudinal employee feedback data that is creating the deepest and most actionable insights for HR and leadership teams to a level not previously available.

As an added advanced, this new technology also allows the identification of danger words, enabling physical HR to step-in if requested/required and to take a proactive approach to the issues faced by most organisations, including bullying, stress and in some cases, more serious people issues. It has long been the aim of HR to obtain some lead indicators for serious workplace related issues, continuous always-on conversational data could be the panacea. Realtime conversational feedback unlocks this capability for the first time.

Using the technology for employees has an additional level of privacy and hierarchical frameworks that need to be applied to ensure anonymity is guaranteed. Users of AI chatbots engaging with employees would be well-advised to test the solution in a control group before deploying organisational-wide, but the benefits of gathering key real-time actionable insights far outweigh any privacy risks.

With knowledge comes power, but also responsibility to act. In this new environment of real-time employee feedback and engagement data, HR and leadership will be responsible for acting in a timely manner. Does this create more work for HR? Yes, it does. Will it help reduce people issues in the workplace, definitely.  Not measuring or understanding issues with employees does not make the issues go away, it just leads to higher levels of turnover and lower engagement in the workplace.

Chatbots/workplace companions do not discriminate, do not have opinions and simply work to extract richer, more usable data. This data can be used by HR and leadership, human decision-making enhanced by AI, not human decision-making replaced by AI.

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