Giving employees more voice and acting on their feedback has a huge impact on innovation, according to leaders from the Best Places to Work list.

At Avenue Dental, innovation starts with a workplace culture of upward communication, says CEO of finance Eli James.

“We found very early on that we could have the very best plans and the most amazing strategy, but if no-one was sticking to it and no-one wanted to be a part of it, it wouldn’t go anywhere.”

The dental practice had about four years of “butting our heads up against the wall before we really tried to listen as hard as we can”, he told a recent WrkPlus event.

The organisation has now broken down its five-year goals into smaller one-year and 90-day “acorn” goals, and it’s the latter that “drives performance at the team level”.

“It’s really about engaging with the team to try and get them on board with the bigger picture and the long-term goals, and a lot of that comes back to innovation.”

The process begins with a quarterly team survey, in which employees anonymously rate their leaders and the practice.

“So that’s one point of feedback. After that, and before the acorn is launched, we have a quarterly strategy meeting where we get together with all our management team, all our partners, and we sit through and work through the biggest issues.

“They give us feedback, we bring in feedback from the team, and we also have our bigger goals that we want to achieve as well and we develop something that will engage people, make people feel connected to the purpose of the organisation, make them feel like they’re contributing, but also ensure we’re achieving our business goals as well.”

The short-term acorn goals revolve around clinical outcomes, culture goals, cost initiatives, and customer service goals, “and they always relate back to our core values”, says James.

He notes that for a dental practice, innovation is all about culture, because there’s not much you can change about dental practices, and the organisation doubled down on this area during the height of the pandemic.

“Everyone was overworked. People were doing double shifts, overtime was through the roof, and we had a few resignations from people not wanting to put in the effort. It’s a very hard job, particularly for the support staff.

“We listened to the feedback, and instead of going for a high accountability, cost-based goal, we went back to values and culture.”

Feedback as a differentiator

In a tight talent market, listening to feedback can be a powerful attraction and retention tool, says recruitment company Bluefin Resources‘ people and culture manager Jack Pattra-McLean.

Candidates’ and employees’ share of voice matters, and it’s imperative to solicit their feedback, he notes, adding that hiring managers can play a critical role here.

For example, during interviews, hiring managers provide insight to the kinds of experiences a candidate might have in that organisation.

For this reason, Bluefin’s interview process includes questions such as, ‘how do you like to give feedback?’ and ‘how do you like to receive feedback?’.

Employers can find “great value and great shifts and insights” when hiring managers ask such questions, because it gives them a voice on their own terms and provides a glimpse into what feedback looks like at the organisation.

Pattra-McLean says Woolworths, for example, listened to feedback and insights from talent and the market when it launched WooliesX in 2017.

WooliesX is a subsidiary of Woolworths, and operates as a start-up to drive e-commerce and digital innovation through data-led transformation, he notes.

“Where Woolworths obviously has a brand of being a larger organisation, which has its own merits, values and proposition, WooliesX has positioned themselves as a really nimble start-up which is acutely focused on innovation and transformation.

“Through doing this, they’ve been able to attract the kind of talent they need to scale this digital and data side of their organisation.”

Article originally published on hrdaily.com.au