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Ford Foundation and a Coalition of Nonprofits Announce Launch of Corporate Guide for Employee Listening

Listen to Lead: Raise Retention and Boost Business helps C-Suite and other management leaders prioritize employee voices to maximize business success and improve workplace conditions and culture


Today, Ford Foundation and a coalition of nonprofits released Listen to Lead: Raise Retention and Boost Business, a guide that helps C-Suite and management leaders understand the value of employee voice for business success and provides a step-by-step framework for listening to build more resilient and competitive companies. The Ford Foundation partnered with the Center for Democracy and Technology, Institute for the Future, Good Jobs Institute, JUST Capital, Partnership on AI, PolicyLink, and TechEquity Collaborative – as well as leading for-profit corporations – to develop best practices for listening to employees and acting on their input.

Shocks to the employment landscape such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the rapid deployment of advanced technology, and the shift toward the gig economy have reframed the future of work, posing challenges to business leaders and employees alike. Employee churn represents a trillion dollar problem for businesses and continues at an alarming rate. Effectively capturing employee voice is essential to reducing costly employee turnover, improving employee engagement and job quality, securing customer insights, and identifying gaps in business operations. Many business leaders are already taking note: According to Russell Reynolds’ annual Global Leadership Monitor, more than half (51%) of global executives identified employees as a top three stakeholder, an increase from 41% of global executives in 2021. 

“Employees are a corporation’s most valuable asset,” said Ritse Erumi, Program Officer, Future of Work(ers) program at Ford Foundation. “Listen to Lead: Raise Retention and Boost Business is a tool for companies to increase productivity and long-term growth. Step by step, the guide helps companies incorporate employee feedback in corporate decision making, leading to a more engaged workforce and smarter business operations. Together with corporate leaders, we can strengthen the link between good work environments and business outcomes, supporting a more inclusive and resilient economy.”

Listen to Lead: Raise Retention and Boost Business offers evidence-based actions business leaders can leverage to continue paving the way forward. Central to this is the LAB (Listen, Act, Be Accountable) Framework, backed by workplace experts, Fortune 500 chief executives, investors, and qualitative research on different approaches to workplace culture and employee engagement. The LAB Framework introduces proven steps to support employee engagement and, critically, provide accountability. In addition, case studies and testimonials from companies such as Best Buy and Siemens make the business case for engaging employees tangible, illustrating the connection between implementing the framework and increased shareholder returns.

“Listening is so important in these fast-changing times. It’s how we learn where our employees are thriving, and how we can best support them,” said Barbara Humpton, CEO of Siemens.

The LAB Framework consists of three core ideals to help employers understand and address employee needs:

Listen: Develop strategies and activities that encourage input from employees to improve company retention, culture, and profitability goals.
Act: Analyze insights captured from listening activities into digestible, presentable data. Then, translate this data into measurable actions.
Be Accountable: At all levels, create shared ownership and responsibility to employee feedback.
“Leaders often forget the power and importance of a simple coffee, a simple question, and just listening before we make assumptions about our team members. Listening not only helps to retain existing employees, but also helps with onboarding new employees,” said Dr. Rachel Pacheco, PhD, Management Faculty at Georgetown University McDonough School of Business. “Finding the time to commit to listening strengthens company culture by showing that you care.”

Companies across the nation are struggling to find and retain workers, while Americans across every demographic group are united in wanting companies to prioritize their employees as the most important stakeholder. Listen to Lead: Raise Retention and Boost Business provides proven approaches by some of America’s most successful companies on how improving employee conditions in the modern workplace creates more successful, resilient, and attractive companies. Ford Foundation and partners aim to build a coalition of employers, employees, academics, and advocates to expand upon these insights, generate new ideas, and promote action.

“Frontline employees are closest to the customer and closest to the work,” said Sarah Kalloch, Executive Director of Good Jobs institute. “They have invaluable insights on how to improve service and operational execution. Companies that set up systems to listen and act can gain a competitive advantage and show respect for their workers’ knowledge and judgment.”

“In 2023, there is a heightened level of communication and transparency expected from corporations when it comes to their employees. And both consumers and investors increasingly want to know that employers are paying fair wages, providing healthcare and paid leave, and ensuring safety in the workplace, so that they attract and retain the best talent,” said Martin Whittaker, CEO of JUST Capital. “To compete successfully today, maintaining leadership in employee engagement is critical. This starts with listening, and it continues with action.”