The Three Most Important Words a Leader Can Say

To follow up on my previous article about the importance of communication, and for those of you that have worked with me in the past, you know how passionate I am around these three very powerful words:


What do those words say to someone?  That you listened, that you cared, and that you did something about what they said.  If you want to improve engagement and communication in your organization, seek ways to genuinely use these words.  Genuine being critical – as powerful as these three words are, they can be equally destructive if you say them but have no evidence that you actually heard them.

Let’s use employee engagement surveys as an example.  I am a huge proponent of reliable, valid and relevant engagement surveys as they provide a means of encouraging feedback, gathering insight, and if executed well, affecting change in the organization.  When I hear either HR practitioners or business leaders speaking negatively towards these surveys, its invariably because they didn’t execute them properly in the past and ended up with the destructive result I refer to above.  Multiple times, in multiple businesses, I used the same process for engagement surveys.  The survey tool used is not as relevant as is ensuring you use an external vendor to gather the information.  Trust and confidentiality are critical in getting relevant feedback and employees don’t view internally managed surveys such as Survey Monkey as confidential (even though they very well may be).

If you follow this process with engagement surveys, I am confident you will see great return on your investment:

    1. Choose a trusted partner/vendor to execute the survey.
    2. Ensure questions are relevant and tailored to your business.
    3. Communicate the heck out of the launch of the survey.
    4. Ensure your HR team is fully knowledgeable on the process and tools.
    5. Send teaser notices to employees that the survey is coming.
    6. Try to brand the survey. For example, at Workopolis, we called it “Workopinion”.  At Dell, we called it Tell Dell.  At Cardinal Health we called it VOE (Voice of the Employee).  At a plastics manufacturing business we called it MyVoice.  I’ve sometimes created contests with employees in helping name the survey which helps drive awareness of and engagement in the process.
    7. Send an invite communication from the CEO, stating his/her support for the survey and encouraging participation.
    8. Throughout the participation period (usually two weeks) send reminders encouraging employees that their voice matters and you want to hear from them. I’ve created intentional competition between different departments or business units by updating the leaders where they stand on participation so they can drive participation in their businesses.  The higher the participation, the more relevant and diverse the feedback will be.
    9. Send another CEO communication at the close of the survey, thanking everyone for their participation, announcing the participation rate, and advising of what they can expect next. Remind employees their voice matters.
    10. Upon receipt of feedback, plan for and conduct mandatory feedback sessions where all employees (max 20 at a session) attend a session. The local manager and HR practitioner will share the feedback specific to that group (surveys will allow you to drill down to feedback usually when you have at least five participants from one group complete it – less than five would roll up to the next level manager for confidentiality purposes).  It is imperative at these sessions that you seek insight into what the results are – ask probing questions so that you understand why a score is particularly high or low.  This is where the most insight comes from and allows for more relevant action planning going forward.
    11. One of the most critical steps but the least used, is creating action plans. Go to the lowest possible level in organization that the survey will allow, and have plans for each department or division.  This needs to be created and owned by the individual departments and their leaders and not at the senior level.  Hold them accountable for creating meaningful action plans based on their feedback/results and execute against those throughout the coming year.  Actions taken coming directly from the feedback equates to We Heard You.
    12. Communicate to the entire organization progress against these action plans and presumably positive outcomes. Again, saying We Heard You throughout these steps reminds employees that their voice mattered and any change is as a result of their feedback, and not random or irrelevant change.
    13. Do it all over again a year later.

If you follow these steps, the net result should be a positive change in scores as employees will now believe their voice matters and “We Heard You” was genuine.  Being able to attach these three words to any changes made in an organization facilitates the change management process, gains buy-in to the change, and holds employees accountable for the feedback they provided.

For help in how to genuinely say “We Heard You” in your organization,

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