How to turn employee feedback data into action: 6 steps to useful continuous improvement

By Ben Smit  |  2018-11-28T16:46:08
There’s no doubt that data is the new oil. Companies the world over have become heavily focused on collecting data in ever increasing quantities, from their customers, their markets and their employees.

employee data
But what do we do with all of this data, apart from harassing all of our stakeholders with surveys?

A recent study estimated that a mere 0.5% of all data collected is actually analysed. Let that sink in for a minute. Less than 1%. No wonder we feel overwhelmed in this digital age.

Perhaps the root cause of this issue is our need to “tick the boxes” without having a goal in mind. I’ve seen many companies run annual employee surveys purely to be able to say they did it, or so they could achieve a benchmark against their competitors. But what is your goal? Often the clue to the organisation’s motivation comes by looking at the data they collect. In the case of employee sentiment and engagement that means whether they are asking something actionable and specific, or generic and vague. The vast majority of organisations sit in the latter camp, asking about metrics that consultants drool over, but that provide little to no value to the employee.

Conversely, organisations that want to improve will focus on areas that matter to that organisation, department or team, and will put that data in the hands of those that can action change with as little time lag as possible. Similar to great product teams, great organisations don’t care what their competition is doing, all they care about is incrementally improving what’s important to their customers (employees in this case).

employee feedback
So in that vein, here are 6 things you can do to improve your organisation and culture more effectively:

1. Figure out what to measure, and keep it small and manageable

This is the most important first step that will make or break your entire strategy. Don’t just blindly follow metrics that the industry tells you is textbook “best practice”. I’m not suggesting that organisations don’t share similar problems, but you will get much higher value in measuring and improving a version of those metrics that can be uniquely addressed by your organisation.  

Measure what matters this quarter. Measure what matters to YOUR people. Is it a project milestone, is it a new product or service, is it a system being implemented during a digital transformation project, is it a new facility that’s being rolled out? Whatever it is that’s actively affecting your teams and to which they can take actions to improve, measure that. Measure safety culture in a mining company, measure growth mindset and innovation in a technology company, measure pride in that special product or service that you offer.

Most importantly, keep the scope tight and focussed. You can always change your focus in subsequent quarters, but the danger of metric bloat and dilution cannot be understated. Do one thing really well, then start working on the next thing (without letting the ball drop on what you’ve just improved of course!).


2. Put the data and insights into the hands of those that can understand, use and improve the results

This is where the magic happens. Too many organisations treat feedback like a company-owned blackhole. Feedback goes in, never to come out again. To be clear, this strategy is WORSE than not measuring at all. Not only have you taken up your people’s valuable time to give you the feedback, but now you are ignoring what they said.

The key is to give the data back to those that created it. Let teams work on their own issues together. Often they are the best placed people to understand the problems they face on a day to day basis, particularly with operational issues. Allow managers to act as facilitators, helping teams to own and solve their own roadblocks. It might not sound like much, but watch the difference in motivation between someone that has to rely on someone higher up to solve problems vs someone who can be empowered to drive improvements themselves.


3. Reduce the feedback lag time to as close to real-time as possible

Get the freshest insights into the hands of those that can make a difference as quickly and often as possible. Realtime is the holy grail, but if you can’t get there then reduce it as far as you can. The older the data gets, the less reliable it is. Things move quickly these days, and stale data will undoubtedly lead you astray.


4. Preach a bias toward action in small steps

All the insights in the world won’t move the needle unless you act. It’s tempting to make improvement projects feel bigger and harder than they need to be. Too often a good suggestion gets buried into a 6-12 month project that needs budget approval.
Start thinking on a faster timeframe. Use the MVP (minimum viable product) approach to improvement. What is the minimum effort you can put in to test an idea or improvement? What can we prototype in 3 days, 60 minutes even?

Part of the secret here is to embrace failure. If your teams don’t feel safe to fail they fail to improve.


5. Follow the data without bias

Our brains betray rational thought more often than we would like to admit, and one of the hardest concepts to follow is to remove your own biases and motivations from a decision and just follow what the data says rationally. For more info check out the cognitive biases codex (and I highly recommend reading Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow).

Don’t be afraid to break precedent, and make sure you evaluate a decision PRIOR to making it, rather than making a decision first then trying to justify it with parts of the data.


6. Create a culture of fixing what’s broken and improving what works

This will work wonders. If you’ve ever worked in a team that says things like “that’s the way it’s always been” you’ll know the feeling of being defeated by process. Create teams that ask “how could we make it better?”


Ben Smit is the CEO and co-founder of Teamgage, software that helps organisations solve their people, culture and process issues and embrace continuous improvement. Find out more at www.teamgage.com