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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.

 


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It seems that one of the core competencies an HR professional must develop, particularly in smaller organizations, is the ability to handle frantic, panicky, anxious managers who feel victimized by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

No other HR law creates as much angst and confusion as FMLA. The law is simple in explanation, elusive in practice. Everybody who works 1250 hours a year after their first year of employment is entitled to twelve weeks of leave to cover absences related to serious medical conditions involving self or family members. Pretty simple on the surface.

The problem in really understanding the law is the use of the phrase “twelve weeks,” because that implies chunks of time that a manager can easily plan for, like vacations. It’s more accurate to say that everyone covered has 480 hours of leave, because the law allows for two kinds of leave that give managers fits: intermittent leave and reduced-schedule leave.

Intermittent leave seems to be the most difficult to deal with. Essentially, an employee with, or caring for a family member with, a serious medical condition that involves occasional flare-ups or continuing treatment can spread those 480 hours over the entire year, often at very inconvenient moments for managers. Although the law asks that employees give notice of potential absences, the phrase “when practicable” applies to FMLA. Sometimes a condition (migraines, for example) is inherently unpredictable and may even prevent the employee from calling in. If the medical practitioner writes something like “may be absent 2-3 days per month at unpredictable intervals,” that means that all of those absences are protected absences that the employee has the right to take. This can give managers migraines as they try to deal with the impact of slipping deadlines and coverage issues.

Equally problematic in the small organization is reduced-schedule leave, which occurs when the medical provider indicates a person can only work a part of his or her weekly schedule. Managers who had been counting on a key person being there for an important launch or to finish a critical project on time find themselves in a difficult spot.

These two situations invariably cause the frustrated manager to storm into HR and interrogate the HR professional about loopholes, exceptions, second opinions and suggestions to hire private detectives to see if the employee is really does have a “serious medical condition” or is just trying to avoid work. Some managers even go around HR and try to get people to work from home in defiance of the medical practitioner’s restrictions.

While I have known a few employees who have used FMLA improperly, the vast majority of people on FMLA don’t want to be there. They don’t want to have a serious medical condition and live in constant state of anxiety. They want to work and they want to get back to work as soon as possible. The last thing these people need is a flipped-out manager who cares only about getting the work done and shows little or no concern for an employee who needs care and compassion.

The problem isn’t that people go on FMLA. This is life; stuff happens. The problem is managers who don’t know how to plan to save their lives.

My advice to HR professionals on how to deal with managers who make FMLA more difficult than it needs to be is as follows: when you train managers on FMLA, open your talk with a single slide free from graphics that contains one message: “FMLA is the law. Get over it.”

Once they’ve recovered from the shock, explain to them in simple terms how FMLA works. Then tell them how to prepare for it:

  • Plan your overall staffing needs based on the assumption that at least one person in your department will always be out on FMLA.  Double that number for every ten people in the department.
  • Ensure that all processes in your department are documented and easy to follow so that anyone can step in and do the essential job requirements with a tiny bit of refresher training.
  • Make sure you have at least one (preferably two) backups for every job in your department. Implement a cross-training plan and stick to it. Make sure the backup is regularly informed of what’s happening in the job they’re assigned to cover.
  • List all of the resources you have available to fill a position temporarily: temp agencies, temp pools, interns, floaters, borrowing people from other departments.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your fellow managers for help when you’re tight on staffing.
  • Learn how to do all the jobs yourself. Particularly when it comes to intermittent leave, you may find that you are the backup.

The law expects that management will make whatever preparations are necessary to comply with FMLA requirements. With a little planning and forethought, managers can avoid panic, keep things running and focus their energies on encouraging a person with a serious medical condition to take the time to get better soon.

And that’s exactly where they should be.


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.”


Copley Square, Boston

Copley Square, Boston

Over the past ten days I have been following the stories about the Boston Marathon Bombing. Like so many others, I have felt the shock and anger at the brutal murders and senseless carnage, but have also been touched by the countless demonstrations of courage and support for every one whose life has impacted. Whether it was a runner in the London Marathon donning a black armband, or a survivor from the Boston Marathon returning to the blast site to leave a pair of running shoes, many people were trying to answer the questions, “What can I do in the face of this tragedy? How can I show solidarity and help people begin the healing process?”

For ten days I have been trying to answer those same questions, and as I sat in front of my computer to write this blog, I found my mind drifting to the times in my career when incomprehensible tragedy hit near or within an organization where I was the HR leader. I started to recall the actions my team and I took to show people that “the company” really cared and supported their employees in a very personal way.

I have been the HR leader more times than I care to count when a tragedy has impacted my organization. Each situation was different, each one was heart wrenching and none of them were easy to work through. In my case, each situation took place in a remote location, in an office or community located some distance from the corporate location where I worked. What was common to each situation is that HR was called upon to provide support designed to help the employees cope and set the stage for the healing to begin. It is from these experiences that I learned that HR must show leadership in the face of tragedy.

Below are some actions to be taken following an event. This is not intended to serve as a full business continuity plan but to summarize some key things HR must do:

Contact the senior manager of the impacted location to ascertain the status of the workforce.  Is everyone accounted for? Has anyone been seriously injured or had a family member or close friend seriously impacted? Is she/he aware of any specific issues that need personal follow-up?

Anticipate obstacles, barriers and disruption that have impacted the team and intervene. I cannot list all of the possible issues that an employee may have to deal with, since each event is unique and employees will be impacted differently. However, as you gather information, repeatedly ask yourself, “How can we make this easier?”  Be proactive and creative. If an employee is having trouble with approval for a benefit, call the carrier. If transportation has been effected, organize car pools, make Zip Cars available or offer telecommuting options.  A word of caution:  if you do offer “special benefits,” make sure to communicate that they are temporary, and establish an end date if possible.

Make grief/trauma counselors available and convenient. If you have an Employee Assistance Program, contact them and arrange to bring a counselor(s) on site or to a convenient location for several days. If you do not have an EAP you can find a qualified counselor through your health care provider or other resources. People will need to talk about their experience and emotions in a safe and confidential environment.  A professional will be able to help people process their feelings. He/she will also be able to offer suggestions about how the organization may best support the employees.

Develop and distribute communication to the impacted employee group, to the overall organization and to clients, if appropriate.  Act quickly to facilitate a communication strategy. At a minimum you will want a communication piece from the most senior leader to the impacted employees, using a method that is accessible and as personal as possible. Communicate with the non-impacted employees to provide them with the facts of the situation, any near-term changes in the operations, an overview of the support the company is providing and suggestions about how they can help. Develop any external communication that may be needed for clients, vendors, job candidates and others. Finally, be certain that key personnel understand any instructions or protocol for dealing with the press or investigators.

Allow employees the time to grieve and heal with their families and communities. Here’s where you will need to balance flexibility with reason. People will need time to heal and may need time to reorganize their daily routines for themselves and their families—give it to them. You may also need to make some personal exceptions and accommodations for unique circumstances.

Plan or participate in a group event that offers closure and sets the stage for healing.  In the case of death, this may involve time off to attend a memorial or holding your own special memorial time on site. If the company chooses to sponsor its own memorial service, use a professional counselor as a facilitator and make sure to avoid any religious overtones.

Stay in touch. Do not assume that once the initial event has passed that everything will return to normal.  Of course, the organization and the people will eventually need to move forward, so stay in touch with their progress. Talk with the local manager frequently. Provide support and follow-up as necessary for as long as necessary.


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After working in the field of organizational development for several years, I have had to learn many hard truths about organizational change in business.

The first hard truth I’ve had to accept about business is that the good guys don’t always win. I know of several massively dysfunctional organizations that make tons of money and are recognized as the darlings of Wall Street. In these organizations, vision and values have no connection to reality, and people remain primarily because they get a piece of the action in the form of “sticky” compensation plans or relatively rich benefits. While these organizations may advertise themselves as places where people matter, or as collaborative environments where people can make a difference, the truth is that their employee relations strategy is to pay off the people they need, and replace the rest whenever it’s convenient or practical to do so.

Truth #1: Cynical, sad, but true: organizational success, defined only in bottom line terms, has nothing to do with whether or not people are happy, fulfilled or have the opportunity to find meaning in their work. If people believe that profit is all that matters, whether you’re talking about business or personal profit, there is little you can do to change the belief if they can “prove” that it’s true and their needs for money and status are satisfied.

Another hard truth I’ve had to learn is that what people believe is more important than “the truth,” and that even distorted beliefs can have enormous staying power. All of the dysfunctional organizations mentioned above have a core of “true believers” in leadership positions who, as long as they perceive themselves as favored children and continue to get a piece of the action, will defend the organization and hold the vision and values as gospel, in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Much like the Communists of old, they constantly and publicly proclaim their loyalty and commitment to the organization’s direction and dogma, and root out non-believers who fail to get with the program. Generally they avoid the “show trials” used by the Communists and instead use stealth and secrecy to maneuver non-believers out of the organization. They do this because deep down inside, they know that the foundation on which they’ve built their beliefs is a very fragile thing, so they feel threatened by anyone who questions that foundation.

Truth #2: Organizational success depends more on the strength of the belief system, no matter how distorted that belief system may be. “If we believe it, it must be true” is a very powerful force. As long as an organization possesses a few leaders with the ability to effectively respond to opportunities and threats in the marketplace with crystalline clarity, its chances of bottom line success remain high if those leaders can convince the people that do the work that the direction has a payoff. The process of convincing people of that does not require in any way that leaders tell the truth. “If they believe it, that’s good enough.” Distortion “works” if enough people believe in the distorted information.

The third truth is the most important, because it opens the door to positive change. Sometimes leadership’s sales pitches don’t work and people don’t get with the program. The frustrated response of leadership is to “clean house.” These efforts are rarely successful because the belief system has a life of its own. If you talk to people who have served in the Navy, you’ll find that many are absolutely convinced that there’s such a thing as a “bad ship.” This is a ship that is so cursed and unlucky that even if you replaced all the officers and crew with new ones, the curse would remain in place and it would continue to be a bad ship. They’re actually right! The myth of the bad ship spreads like wildfire through the ranks, so anyone transferred to the ship goes in believing that they’re in for an unlucky experience. It’s a classic example of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The same is true for organizations with a bad reputation in the employment market: if “everyone knows” that an organization is a mess, they’ll either avoid the place entirely or, desperate for a job, join the organization with teeth clenched, prepared for the worst.

Truth #3: Belief systems can become myths and myths have a life of their own. Ignore myths at your peril! The key to successful and healthy organizational change is to identify the myths, expose them as myths and reeducate people to deal with the world as is rather than what they would like it to be.

That last truth is connected to another truth: organizations move away from a bottom line mentality only when its members, especially those in leadership, feel enough pain to motivate them to change their beliefs and habits. When everyone’s making money and feeling flush, it’s easy to ignore the distortions, waste, inauthenticity and absurdity that characterize a dysfunctional organization. Only when an organization experiences failure will its members become willing to face the truth and begin to create an organization that is something more than an entity that exploits and is exploited by its members.

The final truth involves something every organizational development practitioner has to accept: not everyone shares your values! While you may believe in the importance of creating a humane workplace where people collaborate to create a truly meaningful and productive work experience, that belief may not be shared by people grounded in the hard world of profit and loss. This is why an OD practitioner has to assess each consulting opportunity with cold objectivity, and determine whether they’re hiring you to help create positive change or engaging in a window-dressing exercise.

Still, even if you think the odds are a long shot, go for it if there are few slivers of tangible evidence that positive change may be possible. There are few experiences in life as satisfying as helping people face the truth, learn how to deal with it and choose their own directions.

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