Skype engagement chief: all feedback is an asset

Skype engagement chief: all feedback is an asset

September 16, 2013

Never fear employees who are outspoken because all feedback is an asset, according to Skype’s Head of Employee Communications and Engagement.

Jo Hay believes sharing employee opinions can only strengthen workplaces – as long as you know you can drive decision-making and improve the situation in the long term.

Her role and job title demonstrates the value that Microsoft-owned Skype places on a close link between internal communications and employee engagement.

“We’ve always had a high participation rate in employee surveys, with lots of opinions expressed, because people are very passionate about Skype as a place to work, and we’ve always seen feedback as a positive thing, whatever it has said,” explained Jo, who joined the company three years ago.

“The majority of our team are product engineers and product managers who are used to dealing with data to inform product design.

“By applying the same philosophy internally, we have created a data-driven model, co-owned by IC and HR – allowing us to drive leader-led communications – and that has worked very well.”

Jo Hay, Head of Employee Communications and Engagement for Skype.
Jo Hay, Head of Employee Communications and Engagement for Skype.

Jo says she has always taken a very active role in the survey. “It informs so much of the communication and engagement strategy.

“I’d encourage IC people to get hands on with data, insights and action. What is important is acting and being seen to act on the results, so we reflect this in our internal communication plan.”

As an example, following several internal change cycles Skype had a dip in levels of understanding vision and strategy.

Jo and her team introduced more leader walkabouts and ‘whiteboard’ videos, updated the intranet and were very overt at town hall meetings about how they had acted on people’s feedback.

“We saw a 20-point increase by the next quarter’s survey, which was great,” said Jo.

“Of course, if you are going to have data-driven decision-making, the challenge is to keep this up.”

Since Skype was acquired by Microsoft, its staff have been taking part in the annual HR-led global employee survey, aimed at 90,000 people who work for Microsoft.

However, Jo and her IC team still play an active role in the annual and half-year polls and they also use quick-fire one-question polls to trigger dialogue between surveys.

“We need to get better at telling the story so that people can see what has happened between pulse checks – and when we look at the story we see we have actually done a lot,” Jo continued.

“The trick is telling this story in an authentic way. It’s important that polls and surveys are not seen as separate initiatives, but as something woven into the organisation’s fabric, and that’s why it’s important that IC has a close involvement, even if the survey is owned by HR.”

Throughout its nine years, Skype’s scores have stayed consistently high in terms of pride in the organisation and people feeling their work is meaningful, reveals Jo.

She said: “We’re very lucky to have been able to maintain this consistency through many changes in our organisation.

“We know people react differently to factors that are often beyond our control, including external influences and the operating environment.

“The best thing you can do in this situation in my opinion is listen.

“Keep beating the drum with key messages and doing stuff – and be realistic enough to recognise that even if you can fix things in the short term with prompt action, it can be hard to sustain longer term.”

Company profile:

Who: Skype connects more than 250 million consumer and business users globally each month through its online communication application.

History: Established in Estonia in 2003. Following the acquisition in 2011, Skype is now a division of Microsoft.

Employee base: 2000 FTE employees, spread across regions which include the US, UK, Central and Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Asia Pacific. Core employees are product engineers and product managers who are used to dealing with and acting on data.