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The Culture of Feedback and Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace

By: Claire Schmidt The world of work is rapidly evolving. Due to the pandemic, organizations are searching for new ways to create an engaging, fun, and inclusive workplace without the ability to offer free meals, coffee, and nap rooms. Instead, employers are looking for sustainable ways to build trust and offer benefits such as mental […]

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By: Claire Schmidt

The world of work is rapidly evolving. Due to the pandemic, organizations are searching for new ways to create an engaging, fun, and inclusive workplace without the ability to offer free meals, coffee, and nap rooms. Instead, employers are looking for sustainable ways to build trust and offer benefits such as mental health perks and work from home stipends. 

But one thing that matters perhaps even more than benefits, is building trust with employees. Even without remote work and a global pandemic, building a feedback culture and sense of trust within large organizations is a challenge, but this is especially the case now, when new hires are onboarding remotely. How do you build trust with your manager or HR business partner if you never meet them in person? How can you as a leader change new employees’ perspectives if they’ve worked at other companies where there was no culture of feedback? 

When there is distrust and low employee engagement in companies, people tend to leave. And this is a costly problem to have. According to The Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), on average it costs a company 6 to 9 months of an employee’s salary to replace them/her/him. 

AllVoices raised a seed round of funding in January 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic caused many businesses to shut down their physical office locations indefinitely. With COVID-19 and the tumultuous political year, companies are searching for answers on how to create psychologically safe workplaces. 

Today, PeopleTech Partners sits down with Claire Schmidt, the Founder and CEO of AllVoices. Claire has a variety of experiences in social impact and technology, from helping found Ashton Kutchen and Demi Moore’s nonprofit, Thorn, focused on fighting the sexual exploitation of children, to working on social impact at Thrive Market and technology and innovation at Twentieth Century Fox. 

She was inspired to start AllVoices when she read Susan Fowler’s story of her experience at Uber, and knew that unfortunately, there were other people at organizations who were experiencing similar workplace issues. The main issue she wanted to solve was: how can employees safely report issues at work and provide feedback in a psychologically safe way? 

After months of research and prototyping, she built an always-on employee listening platform used to ensure a culture of trust, inclusion, and transparency. Current customers include forward thinking companies like Box, Buzzfeed, Scopely, and Zillow. 

What was your goal in starting AllVoices? 

I wanted to build trust between companies and employees by making sure that every employee had a voice in their organization and was able to speak up in a way that felt comfortable to them. I believed that if companies were able to hear transparent, direct feedback from employees and use that information to support that individual employee and make change on a more holistic level benefitting all employees at the company.

Were there any other tools in the space doing this when you started? When I dug into the tools that were already in the space, the only thing I could find that came close to what I was envisioning were traditional whistleblower hotlines. Built and implemented largely for compliance purposes, I saw across the board that these were incredibly clunky for the employee, often felt to them like filling out a police report, and often had little to no engagement. Employees were choosing to use external options like, talking to the press, posting on Glassdoor and social media rather than using these hotlines. I didn’t see companies or employees benefiting from having these tools in place, and felt like there was an opportunity to reinvent this mechanism to benefit all employees and companies. 

Who benefits from AllVoices? 

Employees and companies! If employees are empowered to speak up, and they know they are being heard, this can make all the difference for them. Nothing makes me happier than an administrator sharing a story of an employee using AllVoices to raise and resolve an issue that made it difficult or impossible to do their job. Companies benefit from having more accurate and real-time information about the needs and challenges of their employees because they are able to shift the culture in tangible ways as a result of this input and feedback. 

What are some examples of feedback sent to the platform? 

Anything from positive feedback or input about the culture, to more serious concerns such as safety issues in the workplace or harassment. Sometimes it’s something that the company just hasn’t communicated to employees yet, but they’re already working on. HR leaders have told us incredible stories about employees using the platform to speak up about an issue, that information being taken directly to the CEO, and changes being made immediately to address the concern company-wide. One company recently shared with me that an employee reported that their religion was being made fun of on a company Slack channel and the company was able to message the employee back using AllVoices to get more information and address the issue right away. 

How do companies use AllVoices to take action if the information is anonymous? 

A lot of the feedback can be resolved directly through the platform because of our messaging feature, even without the reporter coming forward. In other cases, employees are comfortable coming forward directly and talking to HR leaders after starting the initial conversation through AllVoices. If multiple employees report about the same issue, the company can see that data in real time and address it proactively. 

How does AllVoices help build trust with employees and their employers?

Different people feel different levels of trust in their leadership and in their HR teams. Sometimes people are very senior or very tenured in the organization and don’t fear retaliation if they were to speak up about an issue. Other employees might be more junior or not have those relationships with HR yet. So it’s important to provide a number of different channels so that everyone feels like they have a safe way of speaking up. Over time, we’ve learned that employees using AllVoices become more comfortable with leadership and more willing to resolve issues internally and even come forward after having positive experiences speaking up through our platform. 

How does AllVoices support companies’ Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategies?

Without hearing directly from employees, it’s impossible to know where the gaps and issues are in the culture. People who are more marginalized may struggle more to speak up, as we know implicit biases are already present against people of certain genders, ethnicities, or other qualities. For example, Adam Grant recently wrote an article in the Washington Post about meetings. He wrote: “A growing body of evidence reveals that when women (and racial minorities) advocate for diversity, they tend to get penalized for being self-serving and nepotistic. When (white) men make the same case, we’re more likely to get heard.” 

This is why platforms like AllVoices are so important. By giving everyone an equal opportunity to speak up without being judged, we are able to help employees bring issues to light that might have otherwise been ignored or caused them to experience retaliation and judgment for speaking up.

What would you like to say to People leaders who are thinking of using your platform?

I always like to have potential customers speak to existing customers about their experience in rolling out to employees. We have been lucky enough to have incredibly thoughtful leaders in culture and DEI be among some of the earliest companies to implement AllVoices to build trust. Our customers are incredibly happy with the cultural shifts they are seeing in their companies, their employees are happier and are given more of a feeling of psychological safety. Glassdoor scores have increased for 76% of our customers since using AllVoices, and 20% have stayed the same. That means that for the vast majority of our customers, we aren’t only helping their culture internally, but their public reputation. 

What are your plans for AllVoices this year?

We want to continue to support companies build and set the standard for best in class people strategies. We will do this by continuing to replace outdated compliance and HR tools with tools that actually drive meaningful and positive change for employees and their companies.

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