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.


champagne on iceWhat is the purpose of employee recognition? It is to express appreciation for and validation of a person’s extraordinary contribution, extra effort or other accomplishment above and beyond the daily expectations. This is a simple concept. After all, one of the first things we teach our children is to say, “Thank you,” to others. So why, is showing appreciation or saying, “Thank you” so difficult in organizations? I believe the answer is that many organizations focus on implementing Employee Recognition programs instead of working to create a culture of high performance standards and sincere appreciation. And, since most of the programs are designed, implemented and managed by the Human Resources department, all too often the action being recognized and the moment of recognition becomes diminished by red tape, committee review, final approvals and the passage of time.

One of the most mind-numbing meetings that I have ever attended was a presentation by a Director of HR at one of my former employers. She had been leading a task force comprised of managers, HR Business Partners and employee representatives throughout the company to create a new Employee Recognition Program. While I don’t remember the details of the program, I vividly remember the two-hour meeting in which the team talked about their proposal. I sat there as they reviewed detailed categories of the types of things employees could do to merit recognition and how the various contributions aligned to certain levels of recognition in the program. This was followed by pages of guidelines that defined who was qualified to be recognized and how often; the specific categories of allowable recognition; and how it was all going to be managed and monitored to ensure the program wasn’t abused. I remember thinking, “Geez, employee recognition should be a lot more fun! It should be a heart felt “thank you” to the person receiving the recognition. Recognition should create a buzz that inspires others, not be one big blob of bureaucratic red tape!” My mind drifted to the words, “Encouraging the Heart,” which is how Kouzes and Posner describe employee recognition in their book, The Leadership Challenge. This program had no heart! I left the meeting depressed.

As life’s lessons often go, I walked straight from that meeting to my monthly one-on-one with the SVP of Product Development. One of the topics he wanted to talk about was a special recognition bonus for an employee who had just completed a complex project that was of great value to the company. He was seeking my support to recommend a large spot bonus cash award. Given the details of her work and contribution there was no question the award would have been approved, and I told him that. However, I was still thinking about meaningful recognition, so I suggested a different approach. Drawing on the principles of “Encouraging the Heart,” I saw this as an opportunity for the leader to really do something special, something personal, something that would have greater impact than a check. So I helped the manager brainstorm some other ideas that might have more of a wow-factor. I asked him what the employee liked to do and he said she was an avid hiker. I thought we were on to something, so I suggested he do something along those lines. In the end we agreed to give the employee an extra day off for a long weekend and a significant gift card to a local sports store. He really embraced the idea and off he went.

The following week I received a visit from the manager who was brimming with excitement. The employee had been deeply moved by the personal recognition. She had told him it was the most meaningful “thank you” message she had received in her career, even though she had been the recipient of many cash bonuses in the past. Furthermore, the impact of that personal and heartfelt recognition stayed with her through the years. She went on to be one of our top managers and carried that same level of thoughtfulness as she led her teams. (By the way, the final cost for this personal recognition was less than one-tenth of the amount the SVP original wanted to pay in the cash bonus—a win-win).

I have since used this approach many times with my own teams, or when designing organizational recognition guidelines and coaching leaders. It’s simple, it’s meaningful and it is often more impactful than cash. Why? Because personal recognition is sincere. It demonstrates to the employee that their unique contribution deserves unique appreciation and that you have invested some thought to make the moment special.

Of course, there are other aspects to developing a culture of appreciation, and there are budget, guidelines and governance issues that always need to be considered. But you will never go wrong if you remember the following tip: “While recognition programs and similar organizational rituals have their place, the best encouragement is always given personally, according to the individual’s own value system. Find out what your direct reports, leaders and peers find meaningful and recognize each individual accordingly.”

Running Track

What better way to reward and recognize a superstar employee than putting them on a career track to management?

Hold that thought!

That myth still holds power in many organizations. The reality of a modern workforce contradicts that assumption. The lure of a management position no longer holds the appeal it had decades ago. Many employees have no desire to go into management, particularly those in technical and scientific fields. They like the work they’re doing, they care more about work-life balance than status and they really don’t want to deal with the hassle of managing people.

The more important truth is that most employees seek validation for their contributions in the form of career growth. Countless articles and reams of research identify the lack of internal career opportunities as one of the top reasons employees leave an organization, and that data applies to those who want to go into management and those who are management-averse. For the management-averse, it’s a matter of providing career paths based on the continuing expansion and application of the technical skills the field demands.

For those who want to give management a shot, the path up the hierarchy seems relatively simple. However, research shows it is a much more complex situation than simply entering the person’s name in a different box on the org chart. As Kouzes and Posner demonstrated in their research on the subject, eighty percent of the people promoted into management are promoted for their technical skills, but seventy percent fail because of a lack of people skills.

Early in my career, I had to learn this lesson through personal experience, as I tried to correct a situation involving an internal promotion that was going bad—fast. I worked for a organization that had multiple locations, each location had a their own Customer Service Team led by a Customer Service Supervisor. Jim was a Customer Service Representative (CSR) at one of our largest branches and he was fabulous—an über-CSR.  Jim could handle any customer and every technical problem that came his way and was the person who trained all of the new CSRs, sometimes even for other locations. When the supervisor of Jim’s team retired, he was selected as her replacement.

At first, the team was proud and supportive of Jim. They were a close-knit team who often socialized together. But it didn’t take long for the friction with team members to develop and not much longer for the complaints to start flooding into Human Resources. Comments that he made to people to improve their work were heard as excessive criticism. Changes he wanted to implement were resisted. The productivity and morale of the team plummeted. One female team member actually complained of harassment when Jim invited her to lunch, even though he had extended similar invitations when they were peers.

What Jim missed was that the dynamics between Jim and the team had changed. Jim’s words and actions were no longer viewed through the lens of peers, but through the power of boss-to-subordinate. Jim hadn’t changed, but his role and the meaning his old friends attached to him had shifted. He was now Management, and people have different expectations of someone in Management. Jim failed to perceive that the boundaries of his relationships with his former peers had fundamentally changed.

Within a couple of months this high-performing team began to experience significant turnover and the quality of work plummeted. Jim soon resigned. While this situation occurred over fifteen years ago, I have never forgotten how sad and defeated Jim felt when he gave up. I felt badly that we hadn’t done a better job to help prepare him for a successful transition into management.

Unfortunately, the story of Jim is not uncommon. Glassdoor recently published an article titled Why Employee Quit Their Jobs. The most common cause is bad management, particularly bad management involving an internal promotion: “A lot of companies pride themselves on promoting from within, but sometimes that strategy can backfire if the person they are giving a management role to isn’t up to the task. “ Fortunately, an organization can take some very simple steps that will improve their internal promotional practices and help the new manager be successful.

First, help them understand the new dynamics between the would-be manager and the team they will lead. Talk to them about the change in the nature of the relationships and be candid about how boundaries move when a person takes on a leadership role. Include case-study interview questions that focus on how to handle management tasks and people situations that are common in your workplace so you can both educate them and identify learning needs.

Second, develop and adopt a process of “inboarding.” Inboarding is simply onboarding designed for internal promotions. Most organizations wouldn’t think of bringing in a new manager from the outside without a plan to get them up to speed. Yet internally-promoted managers are often moved into new roles and left to figure it out by themselves.  A good inboarding process will help the newly promoted manager be successful, so that their teams can be successful. An inboarding process cannot be one-size-fits-all because each person and situation will have different needs, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be costly or complex. The best inboarding is a thoughtful, tailored plan that includes these five ingredients:

1)   Pair up the new leader with an internal coach and mentor from within the organization and follow-up with them to make sure they are connecting.

2)   Make connections for the internally-promoted manager. Identify the key relationships the manager is going to need to foster and establish the connections. Make sure that they are on the mailing lists for key meetings and announcements.

3)   In addition to learning the new role, identify other technical areas in which they may need training, such as systems or processes that may be used differently by managers than by employees (for example, the performance management and attendance systems).

4)   Identify areas where they need leadership skill training and train them. Help the employee identify the areas that will enhance their leadership skills and connect them to training resources. Create a development plan with a timeline.

5)   Schedule time for the new leader to meet with an HR representative to review critical policies and legal obligations. The goal is to ensure that the new manager has a manager’s perspective of things like FMLA, ADA, employment discrimination and harassment.  This will help the new manager identify risky situations, so he or she can get the “experts” involved early.

Following these five simple steps will go a long way to set up the newly promoted manager for success and make your internal management promotions the win-win you meant them to be.



As a leadership trainer and organizational development facilitator, I get lots of requests for training. Usually the requests are in the form of “those idiots working for us need training,” because many executives believe they already know everything. I don’t bother to point out the obvious need for self-reflection, but instead dig deeper to find out the real needs and figure out what training (if any) is truly needed, within the bounds of the general thrust of the client’s request.

Over the years I have taught all aspects of leadership, management, communication, collaboration, group dynamics, diversity, strategic planning—you name it, I’ve probably taught it. But there is one topic I avoid like the plague.

I’m talking about Time Management.

If you want to learn how to organize your files and clean up your inbox, there are plenty of books that will help you do that. If you want a comprehensive appointment system, there are competing companies who will be happy to sell you all sorts of tracking tools and devices to help you feel like you’re really on top of the time thing. But until you absorb one fundamental concept, all the day-timers and Stephen Covey facilitators in the universe won’t help you.

The concept is this: time management is a choice. Your choice. You choose how you manage your time.

The reason why I resist teaching time management is that most people strongly object to the idea that they have a choice in the matter. They whine about the 2000 emails in the inbox, about the additional duties they’ve had to take on due to staff cuts, about the unreasonable demands of upper management that must be met and about the unreasonable clients who want everything yesterday.  They want somebody to give them a magic wand to make it all go away.

They conveniently forget that perception involves choice. We select perceptions from the thousands of stimuli at any given moment and ignore the rest. If you’re worried about the 2000 e-mails in your inbox, that is because you choose to focus on them and get your knickers in a twist. You aggravate the problem by keeping thousands of emails whose only purpose is CYA. The work continues to pile up, at least in your mind.

The common wisdom, “When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority” is true. Unless you have sufficient self-awareness to know when you’re responding from fear rather than from your native intelligence, no one can help you manage your time. Unless you develop the awareness that many so-called priorities are symptomatic of insecure people making a mountain out of a molehill, you’ll be trapped in reaction mode forever. And unless you have a clear idea of your purpose, both in your work and in your overall life, the stimuli generated by organizational fear and dysfunction will leave you helplessly flailing to manage priorities that aren’t really priorities at all.

So, stop playing the victim of the information explosion and take responsibility for your time. Organizations abound with fake priorities that have nothing to do with the alleged mission of the organization. Constantly ask, “Is this trip really necessary? Is this really worth our time, given all of the other things on our plate?” If the task is important, ask, “What current priorities are going to have to fall by the wayside? What additional resources will be available to help us with this new priority?”

I repeat: time management is a choice. Empower yourself and embrace that responsibility.


There are excuses . . . and then there are reasons. When it comes to helping a leader to delegate more frequently and effectively, both may come in to play. We’ll look at excuses first, then go into some of the more complex causes of failure to delegate.

Traditionally there have been three primary excuses that leaders have used to explain the failure to delegate, all of which can easily be dismissed in single paragraphs:

  • “They won’t do it as well as I would.”
  • “It will take more time to manage it, so I’m better off doing it myself.”
  • “My people are overloaded already, so why give them more work?”

“They won’t do it as well as I would.”

While that may be true sometimes, it’s just as likely that they will do it better! A person taking on a new task brings new perspectives to the work. They’re not stuck in the old paradigm or ways of doing things. In most cases, greater responsibility is a positive motivator that leads people to put more effort, energy and care into their work. If a leader is crystal clear about the desired outcome and stays in touch through regular (but not excessive) check-ins, this obstacle will likely prove to be more myth than truth.

“It will take more time to manage it, so I’m better off doing it myself.”

In the short run, perhaps. But when you consider that each task a leader chooses not to delegate is another task that won’t be subtracted from their workload, the person most likely to suffer is the leader. Failing to delegate compromises leader effectiveness and restrains leadership capacity.

“My people are overloaded already, so why give them more work?”

There are times when people feel overloaded because they have too much work, but it is also true that complaints about “overload” are really complaints about “I’m doing too much work that I don’t like to do.” When a job allows a person to fully utilize their talents, it usually winds up being fun and exciting for them—not an extra burden.

These excuses often mask deeper causes. The real reasons leaders don’t delegate present more of a challenge:

  • Organizational Culture: The leader works in a control-driven organization that expects leaders to be hands-on and hands-in. Leaders in such organizations who are not aware of every little detail of every trivial activity that goes on in their bailiwick can be subject to public humiliation. The need to CYA trumps the responsibility to delegate and empower people.
  • Ball Hog Syndrome: The leader is a control freak or has a hero complex that drives them to get in there and do it all. We call them “ball hogs” in basketball.
  • Personal Insecurity: The leader is insecure and feels threatened by the potential of his or her direct reports.

An individual leader will have a very difficult time changing an organizational culture of top-down control, so the choice a leader faces if he or she firmly believes in delegation is to either leave or “delegate by stealth.” To accomplish the stealth strategy successfully, the leader needs to have great relationships with his/her direct reports to be able to say, “Look. We work in a political organization where I have to cover my behind from time to time. This means I may ask you for more details about what you’re doing than you or I would like. I want you to know that this is not a trust issue, I’m just engaging in classic CYA.” This is not an optimum strategy, but can buy a leader some time to find another job while still leading in accordance with his/her values.

A ball hog is a more difficult problem. I don’t believe a ball hog can be helped through traditional coaching; the tendency to want to be the center of attention is too ingrained. I also believe that having the ball hog’s boss take the ball hog to the woodshed is counter-productive because it will simply reaffirm the ball hog’s belief in power and control. The only way a ball hog will change is by experiencing a failure so complete that he or she will be forced to re-examine and re-construct the self. That’s when you bring in the coach, because now he or she will need and appreciate the guidance.

The personally insecure leader can be helped through professional coaching. It has to be professional coaching so that the leader can explore causes of insecurity in a confidential setting. While there are leaders who are excellent coaches, personal insecurity is a difficult topic to discuss with anyone at work, but especially difficult to discuss with the person who establishes the expectations you’re supposed to meet. A professional has no position power and is much more likely to have the training and education in psychology and human communication needed to help the insecure leader overcome his or her fears of letting go.

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