Living in the "Ratings Economy": Are You Ready to Get Feedback from Employees?

Are you ready for a world of constant feedback? I hope so, because it's coming.

We live in a world where everyone with access to the Internet has a voice - including the ability to rate things they like and don't like. This is all coming to business.

Consider what feedback and ratings have done for our lives as consumers. We can "like," "rate," or "evaluate" almost everything we buy - often leading to a better shopping experience, better customer service, and products that more quickly adapt to our needs.

Just as customer feedback has helped transform the customer experience, open, anonymous employee feedback is transforming the employee experience. But, in the case of employee feedback, the tools being unleashed are likely to have a long-term impact on how we run our businesses and how we think of "employee engagement."


Why Do We Care about Employee Feedback?

We care about employee feedback because we live in a market where "candidates are now in charge!" If you aren't tuning in to how your employees feel and aren't addressing their concerns and needs, they will probably have no problem picking up and leaving--or, worse yet, they could stay and undermine you, possibly contaminating your culture.

It's no wonder why most CEOs are bending over backwards to make their company a "great place to work." Free food, unlimited vacation, yoga classes and lavish educational benefits are becoming common. But even as attention shifts toward the health and happiness of staff, employee engagement remains surprisingly low. Gallup tells us that only about 1/3 of employees are actively engaged, Glassdoor data shows an average engagement of a C+ (3.1 out of 5), and Quantum Workplace believes engagement is at its lowest level in eight years.

The reason for this is clear: building a highly engaged workforce is difficult. Highly engaged companies are doing a lot of things right, but for many, the problem is getting harder to address. Today employees are more empowered, mobile, and demanding than ever. This is why it is especially important to stay ahead of employees' sentiments and to identify issues and trends before they can start negatively impacting morale and culture.

The word "feedback" usually has a negative connotation in the workplace, as it is usually provided when there's a problem. But feedback--given in a respectful, kind way--can be a true source of innovation, engagement and empowerment. Is it scary to ask employees for feedback? Sure it is! But many employees are already using online sites to voice their opinions about their employers to the whole wide world. So, why not get ahead of them and learn about their frustrations before their friends and personal networks do?

Employee Feedback as the Killer App

The good news is there are many applications in the marketplace that allow HR managers to collect feedback from employees. For example, vendors have created an employee net promoter score (eNPS), which simply asks "how well would you recommend this company to a friend?"

Moreover, as more startups enter the space, we are now able to further optimize the feedback mechanism. For example:

  • As ratings and text feedback comes in, people can often Upvote or Downvote others' comments, creating a "double-loop" dynamic. The organization can see which suggestions are highly regarded, helping to prioritize input and which actions to take.
  • Employees can also self-rate their own comments. One vendor lets employees rate their employer in categories and then asks them to go back and prioritize each answer - forcing the employee to prioritize his or her input.
  • There are also social systems that "Rate the Rater," a mechanism which shows what kind of evaluator you are. People who write highly valued ratings on Amazon, for example, become "Hall of Fame Reviewers" - making their voice more credible than others.

With a slew of new tools in the marketplace, it is easier to seek employee feedback, but there are a few critical things you should consider to help elicit feedback that is rich and honest--and that can be used to generate the desired outcomes.

Things to Consider As You Seek Feedback

1) Keep Feedback Anonymous

While ratings in a consumer website may or may not be anonymous, at-work anonymity is critical. In the consumer world, if you poorly review a restaurant or "down rate" a driver, there are likely no major consequences to you - in fact, it can be a good thing. At work, however, if you "down rate" your boss or say something critical about the company (even in a constructive way), you may be labelled a "trouble maker," which is bound to reflect poorly on you.

The answer to this is to make the system anonymous, and reassure employees that the company absolutely will not know who they are. This means that you, as a business or HR leader, may have to bend over backwards to make sure you never let the system expose anyone's identity.

2) Simplify the Process

One of the most important aspects of giving ratings is that great feedback usually comes when the process is incredibly easy. If we make giving feedback easy and embed it in the workflow, the feedback is generally richer.

For example, new feedback apps let you mouse over a five-star box to provide a rating. Modern pulse surveys appear in your email and let you answer without clicking a link or opening a survey. Some vendors are starting to attach their ratings to emails or other systems, letting us give feedback in the flow of work - and the questions they ask are simple and short.

There are dozens of startups entering the employee feedback space--such as Culture Amp, TINYhr, Glint, and TemboStatus--and they are winning over customers because their tools are generally easy to use, inexpensive and designed for mobile use. They use a variety of methods to engage people (some surveys, some online dashboards), but their #1 focus is making feedback easy.

3) Listen and Act

Before you jump into the employee feedback loop, I have a warning: Get ready for some unfiltered information, be humble enough to listen, act on suggestions, and thank people for their input, regardless of its nature.

My experience with these systems is that they are most effective when you establish the rules, create a listening culture, and take action on what you learn. This can then open a deep well of innovation and ideas, giving people a sense of empowerment and ownership.

Employees today are like volunteers -- willing to tell you what we can do to make the business better. We just need to give them the right opportunity to speak up, then listen and take action.

About the Author: Josh Bersin is a leading analyst in HR, talent, leadership, and HR technology. He is also founder and Principal of Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP, a leading research and advisory firm.