Employee-centric programs: 3 strategies for gathering inclusive employee feedback on HR programs

Corey Hatcher | September 23, 2022
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“With more and more organizations going to a work-from-home or hybrid setup, there’s a greater need to ensure that people can feel a sense of belonging and community,” says Ben Russo, L&D Program Manager at UserTesting. “These experiences must exist outside your normal, in-person, water cooler talk and team building.” Enter employee-centric programs into the picture, which serve as the new building blocks of company culture. 

Gathering consistent employee feedback is necessary to co-create something that your current (and potential) employees will engage with. Ultimately, this will help your programs evolve over time to better align with your employee base. You should even consider anchoring employees in the center of the creation process to provide more diversity of thought and further explore different opportunities. 

By placing the employee at the center of your design and bringing them along in the creation process, you’ll ensure that you’re prioritizing their needs and developing solutions that add the most value. This leads to the habit of creating ongoing feedback channels and programs that are able to adapt and flex, based on the needs of your employees and the business. The creation of a mindset of continuous improvement and evaluation ensures that your programs are still performing as intended or makes apparent anything that needs adjustments to get the results back on course. 

Incorporating employee feedback throughout the program development process is the best way to gain this alignment. However, if you’re strapped for resources (including time), then you may want to get more creative on how and when to request feedback to make the most of their involvement. 

Table of contents 

1. Include employee representation on project teams

When it comes to program creation, it’s important to have an employee representative on the project team as a key stakeholder. From concept (ideation and brainstorming) to initial prototypes to final rollout, these can (and should)  be shaped by employees, who can help guide you in what resonates most with them. They know themselves and the company culture best, so getting their feedback will help support the behavior-changing impacts you’re trying to make. 

For example, if you’re planning on launching new peer feedback questions for your performance management cycle, test the questions first with employees who are participating in this year’s cycle. Be sure to include a variety of voices from different departments, tenures, and levels so that you’re getting a diverse perspective representing your employee population. They’ll provide valuable feedback on everything about the questions—including some things you probably didn’t consider. Employees can share their thoughts on everything from the number of questions asked, to the verbiage of the question, to the topics covered. Understanding how your performance questions resonate with employees ensures that your intention is clear and employees understand how it will support their development within the organization. 

Your workforce can also identify any empathy gaps that may exist between the experience you’re trying to create and how employees perceive it in real life. From ideation to launch, including employees in key discussions means that you’ll have a direct line to employees to get their perspectives. 

2. Gather continuous feedback from employees

Similar to having an employee on your project team, adding consistent points of feedback when building your program—and after rollout—helps you keep the employee's voice centered amid whatever you’re doing. But, with this version, you get different employee perspectives throughout the process instead of relying on one representative to speak for the group. 

Employee experience testing with a human insight platform is a great solution for this kind of feedback as it easily transitions from testing the operationalization of a concept to even the sentiment of a rollout email. By creating different studies, whether via interview or self-guided, and inviting our employees to participate, you’re able to gain their unique and valued perspective in a structured, yet informal setting that marries qualitative and quantitative feedback. Here at UserTesting, we’ve built this testing into our project plans to ensure that we understand where pain points are—and have our employees' voices lead the way for change. 

To help illustrate how your team can implement these practices, check out the video below to see some highlights from a test that we recently ran to get some clarity on our recruiting process for hiring managers, through the creation of a training guide. 

This type of feedback showed us that our managers valued the transparency of the guide, and were willing to contribute to help us improve. A surprising bit of feedback (which often happens when you test with your target audience) was that some talent team members accidentally left out portions of the process when explaining the hiring journey to managers. This allowed us the opportunity to take a closer look at our talent enablement materials to ensure that they were being given the tools and guidance they needed to better equip the organization for success.  

Gathering real human insight enables your team to capture not just quantitative feedback, but also the gaps in empathy that our employees may be feeling. The best results are the candid, magical feedback moments you can’t get from a survey. 

3. Pilot test programs with smaller teams 

By piloting new programs or processes, or training in smaller teams before a company-wide rollout, you could potentially save yourself a lot of the wasted time, budget, and loss of confidence from leadership and employees that comes with a failed rollout. Here, you can frame the project as a “pilot” to note that your team is still learning what works best for your organization. 

“Piloting with smaller teams allows you to zoom in on the process and get closer to the experience,” says Russo. He concludes, “Just the idea of calling something a pilot and setting it up with a smaller team also sets the expectation that A) it doesn't have to be perfect and B) you actively want feedback to make your program better.” This lets employees—and the organization as a whole—know that you’re open to their feedback by actively soliciting their perspectives.

For example, imagine you want to roll out a new manager training. Start with a small team of managers to get their perspective on what you should include while benefiting from hearing about their past experiences with other training methods. Not only will they be able to shine a light on what’s important for them, but they can also call out things that may work in theory—but may not pan out in practice. You can then receive more readily available feedback, as the employees know that they’re the first pair of eyes and that the intent is to make changes that fit and address their needs. 

With this approach, you’re able to not only get buy-in from employees prior to your rollout, but you’ll have some great examples of the program in action from your pilot testing to showcase. The adage, “show, don’t tell” applies well here, and these real-world examples from your own employees can help promote the change you’re trying to implement, further amplifying the impact on behavior change. This early engagement helps turn employees into advocates who can not only help evangelize the new programs and highlights to the employee base—but demonstrates that you practice what you preach and take employee feedback into consideration, which drives more engagement.

Make your employees your North Star

Launching a new program or initiative only to receive low adoption rates is a costly mistake when it comes to time and resources. To prevent this, ensure that you’re making your employees the focus at all times throughout the process. 

Employees can help guide you through the creation process by letting you know what works and what doesn’t—and pointing out blind spots you might not have identified otherwise. If you intentionally add them into the process and adapt to their feedback, this creates a stronger program that’s primed for engagement from the get-go. As noted earlier, employees are an organization’s most valuable asset—be sure to let their feedback and engagement be your team’s North Star to guide your organization toward employee-centered success.

Read next 

To learn more about employee-centric programs, read the other posts in this series:

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About this author:

Corey is a Principal People Experience, ESG and Social Impact Strategist at UserTesting. She currently leads our ESG and Social Impact efforts while helping to develop and scale strategic People programs at UserTesting.