10 Engagement Survey Mistakes Part 1

There are many mistakes made by organizations when deploying an engagement or organizational survey.  Here are just a few:

Norms, norms, norms.  What is a norm, but an average?  Why be average?  What about benchmarks.  Typically, benchmarks lack meaning.  Should an organization  benchmark by industry, location, demographic?  More importantly norms and benchmarks do not take into consideration the differences between businesses and their strategies.  In no way am I implying that norms and benchmarks are bad.  What I am saying is that organizations can become too invested and even distracted by them.  The best benchmark is knowing where you are and where you want to be.  Knowing what will have a positive impact on your people and your business.

Big Brother.  I am amazed by the number of organizations that brag about their internal engagement survey.  These organizations show great results and excellent participation rates.  I wonder why? Not really.  People participate because they know the company knows whether they participate or not.  And people rate the organization well because they know the company has access to their ratings.  If you want inflated ratings or participation rates then do the survey yourself.  If you want insights and to strengthen your organization do yourself a favor and use a third party.  Shoot for real and perceive confidentiality!

The Big Event.   Viewing engagement as an event is a common mistake.  Typically, this is triggered by a change in the organization such as a new president, a request by someone in the organization, or because an organization has come out of difficult times and wants to do a survey because it seems safer now to take on the effort.  The trouble with this approach is that it typically lacks a real champion and a reason to keep the effort going.  Because the original exertion was situational, the future of the event will most likely diminish.  This can be even more damaging than ignoring engagement altogether, since expectations are raised when an organization starts such an effort.  Starting an engagement effort, especially a survey, is not an objective event, and employees watch to see what changes will occur based on the launch.  If an engagement effort is short-lived, employees tend to believe the organization does not care about them.  In some cases, outright backlash and animosity will occur.  Starting and stopping engagement efforts will lead to at the very least to reduced trust, and possibly a complete breakdown causing turnover and in some cases sabotage by certain employees.

It’s someone else’s fault.  Clearly, the manager or direct supervisor is an important factor in the employee engagement equation.  The direct supervisor, however, is not the entire footprint of employee engagement.  When we place all of the responsibility on the manager we send the message that responsibility for engagement is not shared.  We simply give permission to our employees to play victim.  While the HR community has fixated on the manager much of the compelling research says that colleagues have a great deal of influence on engagement.  It is a shared responsibility.

Asking the obvious and leading the horse.  Poor survey design is often a source of problems.  Many companies struggle with questions that are always answered in a negative manner.  Some questions actually cause employees to become more dissatisfied.  And other questions do not relate to a large number of employees causing a drop in participation.   Poor survey design, including bias toward a particular aspect of Employee Engagement such as the direct supervisor, can mask larger issues and cause employee engagement to decrease over time.


5 thoughts on “10 Engagement Survey Mistakes Part 1

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  2. Pingback: 10 Engagement Survey Mistakes Part 2 « The Engagement Factor Blog

  3. Pingback: Employee Engagement Mistakes « Mumblr

  4. This is a great summary of some of the pitfalls of doing this kind of work. Amen on nearly everything. I am extremely interested in the benchmark comment, listed as # 1 above. When I was very actively involved in doing surveys, I dropped benchmarking all together for clients because I had no confidence in the validity of my benchmark data, even though it was extensive. When I wrote a recent book I only used them for general background data, and recommended caution otherwise. Benchmarks often vary widely between each other. See my latest blog (www.moraleatwork.com) on the trends in engagement, comparing what Gallup and TW say has happened in the last year.

    One thing I would like to comment on is this issue that “The direct supervisor, however, is not the entire footprint of employee engagement”

    I agree: not the whole issue but certainly a lot of it. For many clients I could predict the outcome of a 100+ item morale survey from one question’s response: how they rate their immediate manager/supervisor. Correlations were often close to +0.9…..having said that, that person acts within a culture, which is (consciously or unconsciously) developed and perpetuated by the top management. That culture decides who gets to be that local manager/supervisor, how they function, etc. If it’s a dog eat dog culture, everything, supervisor and colleagues, will tend to act that way, to survive.

    Take care and all the best, David

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