How Listening Programs Helped Nissan Boost Employee Survey Results

 Nissan saw dramatic improvements in employee survey results thanks to listening efforts.
Nissan saw dramatic improvements in employee survey results thanks to listening efforts.

Employee Engagement Employee Listening Employee Surveys Listening

Impressive progress meant the company became Certified™ for the first time with 77% of employees saying the carmaker is a great place to work.

At most companies, annual employee survey results don’t change dramatically from year to year.

So, when a company sees dramatic improvement, you have to ask: What secrets have they uncovered about work in 2023?

One such company is Nissan Group U.S. The automaker became Great Place To Work® Certified™ after impressive leaps forward on their most recent survey compared with their first survey in 2021. In 2023, 77% of employees say Nissan is a great workplace.

“Employees are truly the heart of our business,” says Jeremie Papin, chairperson for Nissan, Americas. “Their voice shapes our culture. Their purpose strengthens our communities.”

Taking time to listen

Nissan prides itself in having an open-door culture, where employees are invited to talk to leadership via phone, text, email, or in-person.

“It is important to be genuinely interested in listening to people and being open to receiving feedback, both positive experiences and areas that require improvement,” says Laura Gillespie, director of talent management, Americas, for Nissan.

Getting feedback from employees requires a multifaceted approach with different tools and tactics to reach different types of workers. A message sent to a worker in a corporate office might not make it to an employee on the factory floor.

“We don’t rely solely on surveys for success,” says Gillespie. “We believe in adapting to different situations and audiences and maintaining proximity with our teams.”

At the executive level, monthly Management Information Exchange (MIE) sessions and small circle meetings ensure that top leaders have the resources and information they need to communicate effectively with their teams.

Papin and the executive team host “Ask Us Anything” sessions and executive leaders hold small roundtable sessions or conduct skip-level meetings (a 1:1 with someone who’s a level or more above your direct manager) to ensure they hear from a range of employees. The commitment to get employee feedback starts with Papin, but all leaders in the company have embraced the practice. Most leaders hold monthly or quarterly town hall meetings where employees can ask questions in an open forum.

At Nissan’s manufacturing sites, leaders shift their tactics. 

Employees still have one-on-ones, skip-level meetings, and intimate conversations with leaders to surface issues facing the organization. In addition, these leaders and HR representatives walk the factory floor regularly and hold focus groups with employees.

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Building the feedback loop

It’s easy for leaders to lose sight of what impacts the daily experience of individual contributors. In a poll from Ipsos and GE, 40% of entry-level employees said top leadership doesn’t embody the values of their organization. While 85% of top leaders said they effectively communicated the company’s values, only 62% of junior employees agreed.

The gap is an indicator of just how hard it is to effectively listen.

“True listening requires humility, vulnerability, and empathy,” writes Michael C. Bush, CEO of Great Place To Work. It’s the most important of the nine high-trust leadership behaviors that Great Place To Work’s research has shown have a dramatic impact on employee experience, and in turn, business performance.

“You may have a lot of opinions, but to be a for-all, inclusive leader, you must put those opinions aside,” Bush says. “If you’re having a conversation and you’re not willing to consider other points of view, what’s the point of having the conversation at all?”

Nissan recommends HR pros build feedback loops to shortcut the structural barriers that keep some employees from ever finding an attentive ear.

“It is essential to work closely with the communications team to develop a robust strategy based on transparency,” Gillespie says. “To facilitate this, we recommend establishing feedback mechanisms and creating opportunities for staff teams to connect with senior leaders of the organization. This enables them to receive firsthand feedback on what is happening in the company.”

Focusing on inclusion

Even if you have a robust employee listening program, some employees might not feel safe raising an issue with their management team. That’s why Nissan also thinks about its diversity, equity & inclusion strategy when thinking about listening efforts.

“Inclusivity is key,” says Papin. “Every employee must feel that they have a connection to their workplace and feel safe to be themselves at work.”

A key tool Nissan uses to improve feedback from underrepresented voices is its employee resources groups — or as Nissan calls them, Business Synergy Teams (BSTs).

For Papin, the ability to connect multiple Nissan locations via virtual meetings allows BSTs to be great connectors. “Through the BSTs, you can connect with others at Nissan with whom you may have never come into contact otherwise,” he says.

These efforts are bearing fruit, with an 11-percentage point gain in the share of employees who say their workplace is psychologically and emotionally safe on Nissan’s most recent survey.

Papin wants to capitalize on the momentum, and he’s putting his focus on transparency and building trust with employees.

“I think we need to continue to increase our transparency in leadership communications, whether the news is positive or challenging,” he says. “Leaders need to continue to allow work flexibility, recognize employee successes, and lead proactive conversations about growth and development.”

His advice for other leaders looking to improve employee engagement is to start by looking in the mirror.

“It may seem trite, but it truly must start at the top,” he says. “Executive leadership must be genuine and transparent and hold their teams accountable to do the same.”

Business results

Nissan is already seeing clear results from its efforts to listen and connect with employees.

For a start, more employees say they want to stay long-term with the company — an increase of 10 percentage points from its 2021 survey. Eighty-three percent of employees are proud of where they work, a crucial driver of employees to recommend their workplace to others.

For Papin, the rewards are seen in higher levels of productivity and engagement across the organization.

“Our team has seen some of the highest percentage success sharing payouts in their careers over the last two years as a result of their efforts,” he says. “Now that vehicle production has begun to increase, employees are excited to see Nissan and INFINITI gaining market share.”

“Instead of ‘quiet quitting,’ I see active engagement and enthusiasm that is very contagious.”

Benchmark your workplace

Discover what employees value about working at your company, and how you can boost retention rates and increase productivity and performance with Great Place To Work Certification™.

Ted Kitterman