Written by Mary Ann Masarech, Lead Consultant, Employee Engagement Practice
Thinking about conducting an employee engagement survey? Great news! Survey findings can provide valuable insights for creating a thriving workplace and high-performance culture. Whether you’re gearing up to run your annual survey or tackling a survey project for the first time, we offer four tips for making the most of your investment.
#1 Know what you’re trying to accomplish.
Why do you want to run an engagement survey? The organizations that leverage survey findings best have a vision of the workplace they’re trying to build. If that vision is in place, you can bet that senior leaders understand how more engaged employees can turn business strategies into extraordinary achievements.
Thinking about running an engagement survey to uncover what’s going on in different parts of your organization? Think again if you do not have the commitment at the top to act on the survey results. Run a few focus groups if you just want to gather information. Our The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Employee Engagement Surveys eNews explores the downside of this approach in more depth.
#2 Remember strategic – not bigger – is better.
Building on that last point, this is not the time to gather opinions on the food in the cafeteria, a recent office move, or your total benefits package. It is the time to focus on items that provide actionable insights to drive maximum satisfaction and maximum contribution throughout the organization. If you are unfamiliar with BlessingWhite’s engagement model built on satisfaction and contribution, you can check it out here . It is also the time to explore the impact of other workforce initiatives designed to drive strategic priorities and explore barriers that exist to creating a high-performance culture (examples include corporate values and diversity initiatives).
Thinking about a 100-item questionnaire? Unless you’re writing a peer-reviewed academic treatise on the subject and don’t plan to use the findings to change your organization, cut that list in half! Avoid the temptation of “It would be nice to know…” Instead ask yourself, “What can a manager do with this information?”
#3 Get into the weeds of demographics.
In our survey projects, demographics files can have as many as 30 columns. Your demographics determine the reports that can be run and dictate access to online reporting and action planning tools. Carefully thought-out demographics ensure that executives, managers, and teams receive the most accurate and most relevant findings – so that they can make the most informed decisions about how to increase engagement.
Although most HRIS systems can export the bulk of your survey demographics, reporting relationships need to be checked and all managers need to be accounted for. A good survey provider will have a system to minimize the human effort needed. But as long as you’re working with the file, you might want to tag respondents by performance ratings, high-potential status, strategic workgroups, or recent L&D initiatives so you can obtain reports that inform (and even measure) other talent management efforts.
Thinking about allowing people to self-select their demographics? We don’t recommend it. Even if no one intentionally picks the wrong responses, we’ve seen plenty of well-intentioned respondents misrepresent themselves because they don’t know how HR categorizes their function or role. And even if no one selects the incorrect response, skeptical managers will argue that their team’s finding are “polluted” with respondents who are not part of their workgroup: “How do I really know this is my team’s data?”
#4 Spend more time on action than on measurement or analysis.
During our book tour for The Equation: Leadership Strategies for an Inspired Workforce an audience member in London quipped, “weighing the cow won’t make it any heavier.” Got the picture? Measuring engagement won’t change anything. People taking action – based on survey insights – will. That means your engagement survey plans need to extend beyond analysis and cascading communications of the findings.
Top-down action planning makes sense if your survey results reveal one or two organization-wide opportunities. This approach demonstrates senior leader commitment, can reinforce existing organizational imperatives, and may address broken operational practices or cultural norms that are getting in the way of building a high-performance organization. The challenge, of course, is making sure there are executive owners and advocates who will keep the projects on everyone’s radar even as the months pass and the urgency of day-to-day work challenges threaten to overshadow engagement priorities.
Thinking about stopping there? Don’t! Organizations that get the most out of their engagement survey efforts provide managers and employees with the insights and tools they need to take control of their engagement. We encourage clients to hold managers accountable for team meetings to discuss team findings and identify what the team can do in addition to – or in spite of – whatever the organization is doing to increase their engagement. Think of this approach as “taking action, not action planning.” It is not about task forces or plans that require requests for resources. It is about brainstorming ways to help each other learn and grow (even when training budgets have been slashed) or how to better partner with other teams. It is about the team telling the manager, “Do more of this, less of that.” It is about commitments that influence how the team gets their work done every day, year-round.
For another view on avoiding engagement survey pitfalls, check out Don’t Teach the Test… And Other Engagement Questions.