How to Breathe Life into Employee Engagement Surveys, Part 2


Once your organization has gathered the feedback from the employee engagement survey, it’s time to focus on the critical components that ultimately determine the success or failure of the process: analyzing the survey results and following up with action plans. Together skillful analysis and targeted actions is what breathes life into the survey process.

Analyzing Engagement Survey Data

Simply stated, the goal of analyzing the survey data is to use the information to discover trends, truths and insights that are revealed through the employee feedback. In other words, the numbers will tell a story and it is the role of those involved in analyzing the results to find the story behind the numbers. A skilled interpreter will use their intuition and curiosity as well as sharp analytical skills to uncover the truth in the data and hidden opportunities. Here are a few tips that will help get you started.

1.         Whether you’re looking at total organizational results or the results of a specific group or department, you want to look at the data on three levels: the overall results, the broad categories (benefits, satisfaction with supervisor) and each individual question.

2.         If you have multiple department-level reports, it is helpful to compare and contrast them.

3.         Don’t rush the analysis. Allow yourself time to ruminate on the information.  Go back to the original goals of the survey and see how you fared. Look at the data from the perspective of your personal experience of the organization for results that don’t fit that perspective. If something doesn’t make sense look for the pattern that brings it into focus even if it means looking through a different lens.

The challenges of analysis can be demonstrated through an experience I had while working as the HR leader for a global, geographically-dispersed business team. During our first year we had great results—or so we thought at first. The engagement scores had improved from the previous year and were generally higher than the overall organization, and in most cases higher than the external benchmarks. The reports also indicated that most of the functional areas and the business leaders had above-average overall engagement scores. However, when I looked at the results from a geographical perspective, there were wide swings in satisfaction. I then conducted an analysis of my business team based on physical location rather than reporting structure. Boy, did the picture change! Once I turned the data around it became clear that employees felt less and less satisfied in the quality and quantity of communication they received and the resources available to them the further they worked from the corporate office. People in the US who were located in smaller or home offices away from corporate had lower engagement responses. The folks in Europe and APAC also had lower scores that followed the same declining trend when their physical location moved further from a “central office.” The light bulb went on: if we were going to create an effective global business we had to improve our communication and processes for employees who worked outside of the corporate office. This insight turned out to be low hanging fruit and we were able to implement meaningful action to address the issues in less than one year. We just had to uncover the need.

Action-Planning and Follow-up

Ultimately, the success and employee trust in the engagement survey process will be evaluated by the actions taken by top leadership. Note that I did not say by the “action plans, “ because the plans are useless if they are not translated into sustainable, meaningful actions. The golden rule for action planning is: “You must have an unwavering commitment from the top leadership down to meet your commitments.” Some experts are using the term impact planning instead of action planning, a change we wholeheartedly embrace.  We believe this slight change of reference puts the focus on the fact that the actions must translate into meaningful results.

The importance of the follow-up cannot be stated strongly enough, as shown in a Gallup study on employee engagement surveys. In the study they measured responses to the statement, “Action Plans from my last survey have had a positive impact on my workplace.” Companies who had a score in the top quartile reported an overall increase in engagement of 10% over the previous year. Conversely, companies who scored in the lowest quartile had a 3% decrease in overall engagement and no doubt experienced negative knock-on effects.

In addition to the “golden rule” here are a few tips on how to turn action planning into impact planning.

1.         Keep it simple, focused and committed. Identify the top 3-5 items to which the organization will commit and execute on them, flawlessly. Don’t commit to making a long list of changes. Evaluate what the organization can do and is willing to do.

2.         Get clarification on any feedback you don’t understand. For example, if the organization scored poorly in the area of communication, ensure that you understand exactly where people perceive the communication gaps and focus your action on closing those gaps.

3.         Designate an owner for each action item. Ensure the person has sufficient authority and resources to handle the task to ensure full accountability.  It may also be beneficial to create an employee team to work on the task. Consider adding performance and participation on the team to the goals for all team members.

4.         Once you have communicated the action plans, be sure to track the progress made and provide timely and periodic updates to the larger organization. Celebrate milestones whenever possible.

5.         Ensure that the actions you take link to business priorities and are stated as measurable goals. Remember: the goal of an engagement survey is not just to get better score next time! The actions you take should have clear objective, metrics to measure success and tie to the organization’s business in a meaningful way.


Alternative Training Design

Instructional designers and training professionals use some common models and philosophies to design learning experiences for adults. ADDIE is the one that corporate professionals know; Bloom’s Taxonomy is found more often in classic educational institutions.

There are significant problems with both approaches. They completely ignore the artistic considerations that make any training program worth sitting through and the design process fun. The thinking behind both is linear instead of holistic. The structure of both emphasizes categorization and definition, which creates a great deal of stress in those whose Myers-Briggs type falls clearly on the feeling, intuitive and perception poles instead of the thinking, sensing, judging poles.

As one of those types (ENFP), I find working with either ADDIE or Bloom to be a time-consuming, tedious drag. Yes, I think needs analysis is important (the first ADDIE step), but the truth is many people don’t know what they need and neither does anyone else in the organization. Training objectives (Bloom’s big contribution and a part of phase two in ADDIE) are important, and yes, I care about what people will learn by the end of a class, but I also care how people feel at the end of a class and whether or not they had a good time.

In a world where people now have access to very compelling entertainment on the iPhones they peek at during training sessions, you had better make sure that you give them a good time.

I also want to raise consciousness whenever I do a leadership program, a goal that eludes the behavioral emphasis of the classic approaches. I want people to meet the behavioral objectives and I want to give them plenty to think about after the class is over.

The process I use is non-linear and hard to structure in a series of steps. Sometimes it begins with a needs analysis, but one that is far more open-ended than the one you use in ADDIE. ADDIE assumes that people know or can divine the “desired behavioral outcome,” but any study of successful leaders will tell you that there are many possible “behavioral outcomes” that can be effective, depending on the circumstances. In fact, I want there to be many possible behavioral outcomes because the act of leadership is never effective unless it is genuine, and you can’t engage in genuine behavior unless you personalize it.

Once I figure out what the people in an organization really need, I immerse myself in the topic from as many angles as possible. Using the subject of leadership as an example, I might re-read the obvious choices like The Leadership Challenge, Principle-Centered Leadership and Now Discover Your Strengths and the like, but I’d also find different biographies of famous leaders throughout history and assimilate those lessons into my thinking. I’d also check business and political sites for current material on successful and unsuccessful manifestations of leadership. The point of doing this is that if I’m going to be in a room with twelve intelligent adults for several hours, I better know my stuff and that knowledge has to go deeper than the model I’m presenting . . . because no one’s reality ever fits perfectly into any model. This immersion is equally important in the design stage, for it adds a richness and depth that I’d miss through a linear approach.

Once I’m ready to design, my approach is more like music composition than classic instructional design. I identify the key themes and make sure those themes are echoed throughout the program. I pay due attention to the techniques of build-up, modulating highs and lows and resolution of tension: the core elements that make music interesting and memorable. All of this happens while I’m simultaneously working with slides, exercises, multiple forms of media and engaging in a back-and-forth internal dialogue with the objectives I’m trying to achieve. While I never stray far from the objectives, I’m always open to the possibility that the objectives can be improved as I go and find more powerful ways to express the intent of the program.

The end result I’m trying to achieve is shared engagement in the world of leadership. It’s important for me to be passionate about helping leaders and it’s important that the participants feel that passion. My “process” may not be the standard approach to training design, but it has worked for me and for the participants in the programs I have designed . . . many of whom still call me years later to bounce around ideas and discuss leadership challenges.

Kouzes and Posner said, “No one can teach you how to lead. You have to write your own book on leadership.” I feel the same way about training design. Don’t limit yourself to what the experts define as proper design procedure. You have a heart, a mind and imagination that you can put to good use for the people you serve.

Photo Credit: © Orangeline | Stock Free Images &Dreamstime Stock Photos

Turning Around the Unwilling, Part 3

Our previous post dealt with various ways you can lessen the impersonal nature of an engagement survey and gather critical information about what’s really going on in your organization that engagement surveys often miss.

Even with our recommended enhancements to the engagement survey process, there will still be something missing. In the first post of this series, we made the argument that unless you are serious about engaging each individual employees, you are not serious about engagement. Unless every individual matters, no one matters. If you diminish one, you diminish all. To have a truly engaged organization, every individual needs to matter and everyone needs to feel that the work they do, the talents and energy they bring and the things that make them a unique human being also matter. Even when you have to fire someone, that person deserves respect and preservation of dignity.

Given the sheer size and complexity of organizations today, this seems like a daunting task. This is why selecting and training leaders who are oriented more towards lifting people up instead of dragging them down is critical to engagement.

If you hire and develop leaders who truly believe that each individual matters and that they have responsibility to every person on their team—and, most importantly, back up their beliefs in words and deeds—you will astronomically improve your odds of achieving an engaged workforce. They will engage with employees because they want to, not because they have to. They will do it because for them, it’s the natural thing to do—it falls into the “of course” category. These leaders will make time for each person on the team, because they know in their hearts that every individual makes a meaningful contribution to the team’s performance. They will help people survive the rough patches in organizational life because they care what people think and how people feel. They’ll listen, give honest feedback and provide helpful suggestions because they know that doing those simple things keeps the team strong and healthy.

So, what can you do to ensure you have great leaders in your organization? Even though we sell leadership training services, we have to be honest and tell you that training alone will not get you there. Here are the key things you must do to create a great team of leaders in your organization:

  1. Make your hiring and succession processes for leaders challenging and educational. You have to hold leadership candidates to a higher standard because their decisions have greater potential for good or harm. Identify the real competencies you need, develop specific behavioral questions and don’t let the candidate get away with a non-answer. Use multiple sources to assess candidates: assessments, simulators, tiered and cross-functional interviews. Focus heavily on decision-making, communication and collaboration skills while probing hard for compatible values. Avoid the tendency to use soft interview techniques (all too common at the executive level, of all places!) and feel free to challenge the candidate’s thinking and engage the candidate in debate. Your stance has to be, “If you want us to give you the responsibility to lead in this organization, you’re going to have to show us that you’re the best—because we want to be the best.” Don’t settle for less. When the process is over, give all the final candidates honest feedback about what they did well and what they could have done better, and don’t let any employment attorney frighten you out of that obligation. Remember, every individual matters—and that includes people who want to work for you.
  2. Provide forums for discussion, debate and education. Organize monthly sessions for leaders to talk about leadership and its challenges. Select participants for each session at random so that you mix leaders across functions and levels to expand their perspectives and forge bonds between leaders across the organization. With advances in video conferencing technology, even global organizations can hold these forums regularly. On the education side, use a competency-based blended learning approach and combine assignmentology, online courses, professional memberships, knowledge sharing portals and classroom training to keep leaders engaged. On the classroom side, leaders should have at least one classroom course per year, because face-to-face communication is still the most powerful and effective form of communication . . . and leaders need to be especially competent in interpersonal skills.
  3. Never compromise, but make sure you have a back-up plan. There are always strong forces in an organization that will drive you towards making sub-optimal decisions based on convenience or compromise. Don’t let this happen in your leadership selection process and don’t let this happen in your leadership correction process. Bad leaders have a toxic effect on an organization and the higher they are, the more poisonous they can be. If a leader is in trouble, act quickly to get them help or move them on. This problem can be almost entirely avoided through an effective succession planning process because knowing you have a good back-up candidate will allow you to take the time to work with the non-performing leader.

We do not have to live in organizations filled with people who don’t want to be there. With competent, honest and responsible leadership, with multiple opportunities for engagement and with a culture that lives by the belief that every single individual matters, you can avoid having an organization of the unwilling and get closer to the ultimate state: a place where people gladly choose to come to work each and every day.

Photo Credit: © Bellemedia | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos

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