I must confess that when employee engagement surveys started to become popular, I was skeptical about their value. I chalked them up as another passing fad that created lots of sizzle, but little substance.
As luck would have it, I joined an organization just as they were launching their annual survey process and I had the responsibility to lead the process for my business units. Since I was new to the company and this would be one of my debut projects, I had to replace my skepticism with a determination to ensure that the survey process contributed high value and high impact for my client leaders and their teams.
It worked! I am now convinced that employee engagement surveys can be an excellent tool to gather relevant data about how employees feel about their organizations. But the potency of the process is not in gathering the information or even understanding the results—the heart of the process is translating the information into meaningful action. Employee engagement surveys will only make a difference for your organization if you support them with realistic action plans to which leaders are held accountable.
The use of the employee engagement survey is a fairly common practice for many organizations. This is no surprise, since the link between employee engagement and company performance is well established. According to Gallup, companies with highly engaged employees have 3.9 times the earnings per share (EPS) growth rate compared to those with low engagement scores. Yet there is no common agreement on many aspects of the process, what to measure or even the definition of engagement. However, there are some guiding principles that will greatly enhance the effectiveness and value of using engagement surveys.
Confidentiality and Anonymity: People must be able to complete the surveys anonymously without exception. Use a third party to distribute and collect the surveys and to compile the data. Remember the power of engagement surveys is to obtain candid, unfiltered feedback, which is easier to gather when employees aren’t concerned about being identified.
Leadership Commitment: Be absolutely certain that the leaders from the top executive down support the survey process. This means that:
- You must clarify how the leaders define engagement and what they want to measure. Identify any issues on which they do not want to solicit feedback. A general rule of thumb is never ask a question when you don’t intend to address the issue.
- Leadership must be open to “listening” to the feedback, be willing to communicate the results (both positive and negative) and translate those results into action. There may be situations when the organization does not choose to act upon specific feedback, but the reasons for those decisions should be honestly communicated.
Timing: There are three primary considerations when it comes to timing:
- First, talk to your business leaders to evaluate the “rhythm of the business. “ Are there segments of time when a significant number of people will be out of the office, when key product launch deadlines or tradeshows are looming, or other events that will impact participation? Schedule a time that is best suited to your business cycle.
- Second, look at the HR calendar. No one wants to be inundated by HR initiatives, and you don’t want to overload your team. Avoid scheduling the engagement survey on the heels of other significant HR work.
- Don’t assume that you have to conduct a survey every year. The real value of the process comes from employees trusting that their organization is listening to and acting upon their feedback. It is far more effective to space the surveys at intervals that allow the organization time to have great follow-up, than to rush through actions to meet the next year’s survey deadline. An annual survey may work for some organizations, but eighteen to twenty-four months is the guideline I prefer.
Identify the Employee Groups: While this may seem obvious, it may require some thought. Remove contractors from the distribution (including contractors in an engagement survey may jeopardize their non-employee status). Are there specific business units or categories of employees that are too different from the overall organization and should be handled differently? Once you have identified the people to be surveyed make sure everyone receives a survey—even if it means using different delivery methods.
Designing or Selecting the Right Survey: Now that you have the basics sorted out, you are ready to make the decisions about the survey content. Whether you design the survey in-house, select a product off the shelf or hire a survey company will depend on several factors, such as the size and complexity of the organization; internal skills, resources and budget; the need for language translation; in-house availability of people trained in survey development and similar issues. One consideration that is often overlooked in the decision process is the need for benchmarking. Regardless of what survey form you use, you will want to include a number of core questions that you will use in subsequent surveys. These core questions will become your internal benchmarks to monitor long-term trends.
Some organizations may also place a premium on external benchmarking in key areas. If this is the case, you will be best served to hire a vendor who specializes in employee engagement surveys. They will be able to provide core questions and results from other organizations that you can use for external benchmarking. If you are interested in external benchmarking, be sure you define the kinds of organizations against whom you want to be compared and select a vendor that can give you that data.
Next week we will take a look at finding the “hidden gems” as you review the survey results and the all-important Action Planning process.