Few things limit the heights a customer-facing business can achieve like the quality of the employee experience. When your employees are the faces, hearts, and hands of your brand, everything they think, feel, and do affects your customer, or guest, experience. While it’s easy to attribute setbacks in recruitment and retention to outside factors (the pandemic, stimulus, growing apathy towards work and ambition), the fact remains there are simple and real opportunities to earn customer loyalty and employee engagement by intentionally listening and acting on employee feedback.
Engaged and Thriving Employees: What is our North Star?
Usually, the conversation around feedback turns to engagement. Understanding engagement tells the story of our team’s commitment: their thoughts, beliefs, intentions, and ultimately, behaviors. While this is valuable, what about setting a different north star? A destination that creates an employee experience that sets you apart from your competition: nurturing an environment that supports thriving employees.
Thriving at work means we’re energized by those around us and confident we’re achieving something meaningful and worth doing. Our sense of purpose and drivers of engagement encompass goals for ourselves personally, our career, and a larger sense of connection to what we’re providing for others.
We support a range of customer-facing businesses across across the employee journey, including building retention and results through ongoing feedback. One joy of these partnerships is learning, and then nurturing, the many and varied sources of purpose and meaning frontline employees and leaders foster from their work. Cases from our work -
- Customer-facing frontline leaders shared the huge sense of accomplishment they receive from creating a positive work environment that people love coming to each day and supporting the growth of their team.
- Restaurant servers explained how creating core memories and comfort for others strengthens them with purpose.
- Retail distribution teams shared the meaning they derive from supporting operational excellence that betters the day-to-day of a team, and the needs of customers, they will likely never meet.
In this way, ongoing feedback supports our ability to understand and connect not only how we're meeting employee needs (i.e., satisfaction) with aspects of work like pay and the customer experience, but to understand what matters to each employee and our ability to craft an experience that provides the right ingredients for them to thrive.
To this end, here are some of the opportunities and obstacles we’ve uncovered from partnering with customer-facing businesses on feedback, engagement, and the employee experience:
- Knowledge of how preferences for specific employee benefits were linked to intentions to stay and retention
- A key opportunity to build confidence and belonging in the first six months of customer-facing employee tenure
- Action to improve new employee training because of the strong influence new customer-facing employee performance has on tenured employee intentions to stay and retention
- An appreciation of how missing or ineffective equipment that was interrupting the intended guest and customer experience
- An understanding of how trust differed across, and within, members of the leadership team within a region and the specific daily actions that would likely increase that trust
- Concrete knowledge of the most powerful aspects of the employee experience, and retention, by store, district, and company-wide (equipping store managers with the ability to focus change on a few concrete areas for action planning and accountability)
Listening, and feedback gathering, is a multi-step, ideally ongoing process. My goal here is to share specifics for spark ongoing feedback loops for customer-facing leaders. To this end, once employee feedback is gathered, you might feel a strong sense of urgency to equip your team with insights like those above. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and often there’s pressure from department, regional, or store and location leaders and employees to see, and begin acting upon, the results. The importance of a planned process for reviewing initial feedback, further listening and input, and building realistic action plans at all levels is the framework on which all change stands. I’ll share how we approach employee feedback as a cycle and the steps we use to guide leaders through understanding and putting in place successful results-building action plans.
Employee Feedback: Beginning Results-Building Action Planning
Begin with the end in mind.
Time has passed since you began the survey or listening strategy. Feedback is multi-faceted; and a meaningful employee listening and feedback strategy connects multiple types of feedback. This could include:
- A quick pulse survey focused on a specific concern
- Feedback on a new process, tool, or benefit, as part of change management;
- 360-degree feedback to guide their growth and development
- A fuller survey to understand the intersection of diversity, equity, and inclusion across stores and regions
- Exit and stay interviews gathered over several months
- Or, any planned listening and information gathering, like a series of focus groups or conversations, to guide meaningful action.
What were your main objectives? Also, consider what other stakeholders wanted from the survey. What will make the experience a positive win for each stakeholder group (e.g., customer-facing employees, General Managers, multi-unit leaders) and earn their trust and commitment for future feedback and their openness to change?
Digest all employee perspectives and feedback.
Make sure you’re provided with analytics and a complete review of all employee feedback. Whether this is an internal initiative, or you’ve partnered with a firm, you should have every open-ended comment that was written, if applicable, as well as descriptive statistics on every quantitative (e.g., Likert, multiple-choice) item that was administered. Make sure every employee group is represented in the overall and breakout reports you’re reviewing.
Then, review the reports in full. In some cases, like 360-degree feedback or a survey across every restaurant or store leader, it may not be realistic to review each report, but we recommend our clients use the aggregate reports and tools we provide (e.g., reports by region, role, or tenure) to seek to understand the feelings, thoughts, observations, and intentions around the questions asked.
Let's walk through some examples of how to make sense of everyone's perspective. Below are a few mock data visualizations built to simplify qualitative feedback on feedback surveys that assist leaders with understanding the path to building an engaged and thriving workforce.
The above shows a breakdown of constructive open-ended feedback. At first glance, we might notice Total Compensation as the most frequently mentioned topic; however, a closer look and read of this particular customer-facing organization's summary shows significant concern around operational consistency: having the resources needed to perform, the ability to execute, communication processes, and change management. Investigating those areas for common challenges would likely result in some simple and realistic positive changes to the employee (and potentially customer!) experience. Using intentions to stay and turnover data, we also discovered that the employees with the greatest intentions to stay said changes to increase their well-being would have the biggest influence on their potential to stay with the company long-term.
The 2x2 table above is a framework (using a hypothetical case here) we often use to show the areas that exerting the greatest influence on engagement and whether they are experienced as consistent strengths, or opportunities, across the organization. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by all the areas of opportunity, and this framework helps leaders focus on the few knobs they can turn in the experience of their employees that will most strongly influence core outcomes: like engagement and retention.
Shared Understanding: The Beginning of Feedback Loops
As a customer-facing company, your teams may be dispersed geographically with regional, or multi-unit, leaders supporting several locations, Or, your business could be in one location operating across different shifts with departments owning their area of operations and experiencing unique challenges.
From reviewing the feedback you should have a sound idea of the main concerns and strengths company-wide - and what are unique to specific departments, stores, and regions. We often recommend a task force, or core group, of leaders that champion the feedback gathering and action planning process. A group like this is a helpful sounding board for sharing your initial take on feedback.The next step is to begin sharing the results with leadership. This step could involve multi-unit, or department, leaders exclusively, or you may include store leaders right away. When we partner and consult with customer-facing businesses on feedback, we share the reports ahead of time and guide an open-discussion, or working session, of the results. By including multiple leaders in a meeting that share the similar challenges you can strengthen shared understanding and a shared mission across the organization. Topics, and areas to review, for this meeting might include:
- Connecting the Employee Experience to Hard Metrics. There’s significant value in connecting hard metrics and results relevant to your business with employee feedback data. This could include check averages, safety measures, on-time training completion rates, store turnover rates, measures of customer loyalty, or any lagging indicator relevant to the bottom line. When we do this for our clients we’re able to provide all levels of leadership insight on what aspects of the customer-facing employee experience are statistically supporting both profitability and a thriving and engaged workforce.
- Intentions to Stay and Refer. Related to the hard metrics, for employee experience and engagement surveys, we also recommend including intentions to stay and refer the organization both as a place to work as well as recommend. Our surveys always include these questions allowing my team and I to share the strongest predictors for these critical leading indicators.
- What does employee feedback say about your culture? We also include questions relevant to your core values, beliefs, and promises to customers. You have a culture – but is the culture your customer-facing employees perceive the one you're intending to create? What strengths are emerging? Are there surprising areas where specific groups (e.g., hourly team members, employees at newer stores) aren’t perceiving your values? We share how gaps and strengths are linked to engagement, thriving and well-being, and intentions to stay and refer – as well as your lagging indicators of success, the hard metrics shared earlier.
- In addition to the highs and lows, what areas are okay (or 'meh' as we sometimes like to say), but not exceptional? Often we can overlook parts of the employee experience that fall in the middle, where the average might be around ‘Somewhat Agree,’ or ‘Undecided.’ These areas are often critical to the story of what parts of the employee experience are executed inconsistently – and are part of the solution for driving engagement and retention in a customer-facing business. These can also be a source of 'easy wins' for your team to gain momentum early as the action plan is shared and implemented.
- Shared commitment and next steps. At this meeting come prepared with a realistic timeline for sharing the results of the feedback across the organization. How will regional leaders support a consistent process for store leaders building plans and enacting change? Encourage regional and store leaders to to think of the survey as just the start of actively seeking feedback. Often small group conversations and one-on-ones are needed before a store-side meetings to discuss the results. Come prepared with easy goal-setting tools, like the one below, and your expectations for how leaders should use them as part of sharing the results with their teams.
- Feedback loops. We’re limited with how much change a survey can create if we only talk about a few times. We spark change and results by using the process as a tool for kickstarting ongoing feedback loops and making the disciplines of feedback part of how we lead. Your store managers share sales metrics with their teams – how can the employee experience, retention and culture become part of those conversations? What if the customer-facing employee experience were a regular agenda item at weekly store and multi-unit leadership team meetings? Several companies we partner with created a People P&L (Profit and Loss Statement) that’s reviewed regularly – just like store or regional performance. This intentionality can spread forward to frontline and hourly employees. making the survey a launching point for regular conversations and building feedback loops that spiral across your stores.
Ongoing Employee Feedback and Growth
Each store and department should leave the action planning process engaged around their own unique plan that connects their feedback to a realistic path forward. The more communication mechanisms for sharing the plan and forward momentum the more likely employees will recognize progress and buy-in to change. This could be through company-wide meetings, regular text messages and email, HRIS and schedule platform communications, and internal newsletters.
Connect your culture, strategy, and what was heard to the plan. If possible, find some easy wins or fixes you can act on and celebrate immediately. In our work we often find a simple operational fix that can be made almost immediately. This could be a piece of missing or difficult to manage equipment, a supply chain challenge, or a policy that simply isn't working. Making an easy change early on earns buy-in and generates excitement for the, perhaps more challenging, improvements you have to come (that might require more investment of time and effort by employees).
Monitor progress, spark ownership, and adjust the plan as needed
Connected to communicating, intensely monitoring progress at all levels supports meaningful communication - and allows you to make adjustments as needed. For each objective, what are the specific and measurable ways you'll evaluate your success? Measurement allows you to stay flexible and responsive to changes in the organization or the external environment that might impact the plan. We often implement an action plan ownership and progress tracker like the one below at the store level that provides clear direction for frontline and management employees. A template like this is useful for leadership 360-degree feedback where leaders can connect broader actions (like cross-training or increasing sales) to specific steps.
Regardless of size, leading one store or location, or 500, the ability to drive results, and spark a thriving workforce, depends on an intentional action planning process. Beginning with a thorough review of all employee feedback, connecting it to your culture and strategy, and using the feedback as a springboard for positive ongoing feedback loops will spark incremental and powerful progress for your team, culture, and customer experience.
How is employee feedback sparking positive change within your operations and culture? We'd be delighted to connect to learn from your experience and share our recommendations. Seeking a deeper understanding of the knobs you can turn to craft a remarkable employee experience? Explore our Employee Experience Map to learn more.