Executives have spent the past two years listening, and workers have spent the last two years talking, but what comes next?
Companies launched surveys, forums and off-the-record round-table conversations about topics varying from race and safety to public health and burnout, but the resulting action has been harder to track. Employees are understandably frustrated with leaders for not responding to their solicited feedback, and frankly it seems like a lot of leaders are overwhelmed.
Protocol reached out to Dave MacLeod, the CEO and co-founder of ThoughtExchange, to find out how to have an effective conversation with employees and what comes after leaders have asked all the questions.
ThoughtExchange is an enterprise tool that enables employers to solicit anonymous feedback from employees through open-ended questions. The goal is to help leaders make quicker unbiased decisions. MacLeod spoke with Protocol about the trends he’s seen in the questions leaders are asking and what action he thinks should come next to get employees to stick around.
This interview has been edited for both brevity and clarity.
Walk me through it — an executive comes to ThoughtExchange and wants to get some data or some insight from their employees. What trends are you seeing right now in terms of what they're coming to you for?
They're trying to move past the modality of … just sending open-ended surveys. We're trying to evolve that into a collective intelligence conversation with the enterprise and I think technology has the promise that you can converse with 1000 people. And it doesn't mean just you talk, or just they talk, it's actually a back-and-forth, mutually beneficial interaction.
So what’s going wrong in the way companies are soliciting feedback and listening to employees right now?
I think listening means hearing things, but also means taking action. There's this huge report that came out that said people are leaving [companies] because of feedback that goes unheard. I actually think that's bullshit, because I think everyone's like, “No, no, you heard me, you just ignored me.” That's different.
I think that either you didn’t A) take action, or B) explain why you didn't take action in a way that satisfied [employees]. And I think that's the place where most businesses are falling over right now. They’re hearing, they have troves of data, open-ended survey stuff, but it's not organized in such a way that they can either take action or describe to you why [they didn’t take action].
People are leaving because they feel blatantly ignored, not unheard. Because everybody's tripling down on listening tools right now, but nobody's tripling down on action tools. What are we actually going to do about the fact that we just heard from everybody?
So what’s your favorite question for leaders to ask?
A new leader in a business just asked everyone, “I'm a new leader in the business. What do you want me to know?” It's kind of mind bending, but it's also like, that's a really powerful question. And that's the same thing you'd ask somebody in the hallway. And we just had a global Fortune 50 CEO ask that across 50,000 people: “What do I need to know right now about the business?”
What's the one thing you hope leaders ask more moving forward?
I wish that people would ask for perspectives on their strategy and be more respectful of the fact that anybody that works for the business has value and has the right to answer that question and will provide value in answering it for you. There aren't people that are more strategic than other people. Someone who just started yesterday working in a fast food place, they have an extremely valuable opinion because they work with customers every day. So I think the thing that's happened is that you can ask about what the organization is thinking about doing and you can grant people a right to their voice. There's no CEO in the world that doesn't want to hear from somebody at the edge of the company who just got feedback from a customer trying to make their life happier, so that's actually a strategic conversation.
What do you advise executives do this year to better organize feedback? What are the best practices to make sure employees don’t feel ignored?
They need to find a way to actually figure out what matters, they need tools to aggregate and make sense of those things and to keep your bias out of the process. So that's one, and it's kind of ThoughtExchange-centric. We feel pretty unique in our ability to do that as a brand. But whether it's using ThoughtExchange or their own tools, they have to be able to take what everyone has said and determine what matters within it and not just count responses.
I think we need to as a species [realize] having a conversation, changing our mind, empathizing, learning from each other is our competitive advantage. So how are leaders saying, “Well, hey, we've heard all these things, now how do we make sure we're not just going with the most popular things?” Diversity means respecting all the different points of view, even when people disagree. We're not trying to arrive at some beautiful consensus of the most important thing. We're trying to say we've heard a bunch of different things and we're going to deal with that, even if people don't agree.