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Jim Barnett



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HR technology: how smart feedback transforms employee engagement and retention


The traditional approach to gathering employee feedback is no longer fit for purpose in today’s ‘always on’ work culture. It’s time we reinvented this process for the modern world.

With a strengthening global economy and unemployment at record lows, today’s employees have abundant options when it comes to where they want to work and why they should stay.

Against that background, firms need to work harder not only to recruit, but to retain.

The best way to do that is to engage your employees – to thoughtfully and intentionally show your team that you value them and their feedback.

After all, today’s employees (and not just gen Y) are increasingly deciding who to work for based on whether a firm will help them develop and grow, as evidenced by the rise in importance of employer review sites such as Glassdoor.

Contrary to popular belief, ‘engagement’ means much more than letting people do lunchtime yoga or casual fridays. It’s about connecting with the team on a far deeper level — through development and training, a sense of purpose, or a commitment to diversity and inclusion, for example.

Introducing people-centric feedback

The best way to ascertain what matters to your employees is to maintain regular dialogue rather than rely on an infrequent annual employee feedback survey.

Most organisations go through the motions of an annual survey, crunch the data and return results to leadership teams and managers who implement changes far too slowly to be relevant.

This broad-brush approach misses the nuances of employee engagement and is too infrequent to create meaningful action.

A people-centric model of gathering ongoing feedback regularly ensures that all the information an individual provides during their tenure is connected and visible.

Instead, adopting a ‘people-centric’ model of gathering feedback can create a richer, more detailed picture of each employees’ experience, improving engagement and boosting employee retention.

Gathering and acting on feedback from employees frequently is one of the most important things organisations can do to maintain engagement and make sure employees are motivated. Yet many companies are struggling with this critical step.

Re-inventing feedback mechanisms

Most organisations gather employee feedback using stand-alone annual surveys, in addition to separate exit and onboarding feedback and 360-degree team effectiveness surveys.

These all provide some information about the employee experience, but the data from these surveys is rarely joined-up and therefore fails to paint a complete picture of why people are leaving, and how to encourage them to stay.

The standard approach (still used by most of the world’s large companies) relies on lengthy employee surveys.

With 50, 75, even 100 questions for employees to answer, these surveys seek to capture reams of information which is then analysed manually and returned to managers weeks, or even months later.

Recent advances in HR technology have made the process of collecting and deriving meaning from employee feedback much simpler and more intuitive.

That means team-level information is slow to make it to managers (if it does at all), diminishing the urgency to take targeted action to improve, and delaying engagement-oriented conversations.

Moreover, many companies measure engagement in the cadence of once every one or two years, which gives a broken and irregular view of what is really happening on the ground.

A people-centric model of gathering ongoing feedback regularly ensures that all the information an individual provides during their tenure is connected and visible.

While complying with confidentiality regulations, this approach gives HR teams and leaders access to information about the impact of every part of the employee journey, including onboarding, manager and team-focused experiences, which can act as significant indicators as to whether an employee might leave the company.

By receiving alerts for common warning signs of attrition in real-time, organisations can respond in real time to pull the most effective levers to improve engagement and ensure employee retention.

The importance of AI and sentiment analysis

Recent advances in HR technology have made the process of collecting and deriving meaning from employee feedback much simpler and more intuitive.

Real-time employee engagement analysis is possible, and it enables managers to see scores and trends as data comes in, encouraging timely action and conversations.

AI (Artificial Intelligence) takes this a step further by bringing an unprecedented level of personalisation to the process, helping leaders and managers derive even more nuanced and prescriptive information.

That’s because AI, in the forms of Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Machine Learning (ML), can extract meaning from open-ended feedback, identifying patterns and sentiment to put employees’ thoughts and feelings into context.

By revealing such themes, related topics, and trends in concrete detail across thousands of comments, important insights rise to the surface that may have otherwise been missed.  

AI can identify emerging problems by analysing historic trends and connections that are typically hidden, without needing data science expertise.

The analysis of a large volume of employee feedback can bring predictions about turnover, performance, quality, safety and more to the surface.

This ability to learn over time, making increasingly personalised and accurate predictions, empowers leadership with the data and insights to have more effective and relevant conversations and informed business strategy and planning.  

Connected staff are happier staff

AI-enabled, people-centric feedback mechanisms provide a detailed, real-time view of how engaged your employees are, enabling you to do everything you can to keep them happy and connected.

This approach gives holistic visibility into each employee’s ongoing journey, allowing you to intervene at the right time with the right feedback or action.

By embracing the people-centric model of employee engagement, your organisation will be well placed to tackle the challenges of the modern era.

Interested in this topic? Read How to create a healthy feedback culture.

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