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Hear Me Out translates qualitative data into quantitive insights with Dovetail

New York City, USA
Company size

This New York-based consultancy uses Dovetail to help its clients make sense of employee feedback and build more sustainable cultures.

Hear Me Out talks to employees one-on-one, confidentially, about their experiences at work. The interviews are structured to give employees a safe space to share detailed, nuanced, and candid feedback. The team uses Dovetail to find patterns that recur across interviews, and with insights from the research, partners with the leadership to design programs that make work more rewarding for everybody.

Ben Jackson, the founder, has been in tech for over two decades. He’s done everything from co-running an agency in Brazil, to working on the iOS team at the New York Times, to running mobile at Vice Media.

Employee feedback

There’s currently a problem in how organizations manage their employee feedback: Few practitioners tasked with making sense of the feedback have experience capturing, storing, and finding patterns in qualitative data.

This less structured approach to research causes all kinds of issues. To start, employees rarely know what they’re getting into: without an informed consent process, as far as they know, their data could end up anywhere. Some (or many) may not feel comfortable participating. Adding to that, interviewers rarely record or transcribe conversation, and often rely on notes or broad takeaways. Because of this, the insights often lack the necessary depth and context to make a real impact when presented to leaders.

The leadership challenge

Often when leadership teams get critical feedback about their team, it’s one or two comments from a survey or a second-hand recount of a manager’s check-in with their report. It’s difficult not to take that feedback personally. If you are a company’s founder and people complain about the company, aren’t they complaining about you? 

Because of this, when many executives hear one piece of critical feedback about their organization out of context, their first instinct is to delegitimize it. They might: 

  • Litigate specific language choices or terminology like ‘what does this person mean by bad management?’ or ‘What do they mean by toxic culture?’.

  • Try to guess the source of anonymous comments and dismiss them as coming from a squeaky wheel or employees with unrealistic expectations.

  • Question the frequency or the severity of the issues raised in the feedback.

The beauty of a tool like Dovetail, doing qualitative research with employees, and tracing those patterns across interviews is that at the end of the study, I can credibly say to the leadership team that 80% of your employees indicated this and 45% of your managers aren’t confident of that. When they hear that, the information takes on a different tone.

Qualitative analysis

When analyzing qualitative data, you want to bring structure to unstructured data through coding. Historically, researchers used large, unwieldy spreadsheets. But those don’t scale, they aren’t intuitive for collaboration, and they make it hard to keep track of everything. Ben stressed that:

Everything is faster when I’m using Dovetail, a platform built for this purpose.

To take the focus off specific comments, Hear Me Out presents a curated reflection of their analysis. The team typically records employee interviews in Zoom before transcribing the audio in Dovetail and redacting all identifiable information: names, office locations, project titles, team names, department names, and anything else that might be recognizable.

A tool like Dovetail helps you take data that is impossible to visualize and turn it into something you can visualize. Coding takes a long time. Even when I’m going at top speed, it typically takes as long as the original length of tape. Being able to quickly create, organize, reuse, and rename all of those tags is incredibly helpful. Without taking my hands off the keyboard, I can capture a highlight, find an existing tag, and then do that three more times in the space of five seconds. It makes a huge difference because I sometimes deal with hundreds of individual tags.

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