Engagement Surveys Are Like Home Improvement Projects

Whenever I have started a home improvement project, checking my plans and measurements before I purchased materials or started the project, and as I continued with each step of the project was the difference between success and failure, being at budget or over budget, or one trip to Lowes versus five trips to Lowes.  My father in-law, Bill, helped me with many of the home improvement projects I took on.   He always planned everything out to the tiniest detail and checked his plan multiple times.  He made certain to analyze what he needed to do first, second and then third; and then he would revisit the plan and revise his efforts along the way.  Sometimes I was impatient with the process, but it was a good process.  Bill always would  say, “Measure Twice, Cut Once.”  What he was really saying was knowing what you want to do and doing it are two very different things.  I can have all of the information in front of me and execute my actions poorly.  However, if I take the time to analyze all of the information in an effective manner than I will most likely be successful.  Managing an Employee Engagement survey is very much the same. However, it is astonishing to me how often organizations plow through actions steps after the data comes back without even looking back.  When organizations utilize an organizational or engagement survey, most of the effort is spent on collecting data, and the process itself can take on a life of its own. 

Once the data is collected, organizations race to do something with it.  The old adage, “if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it” is true.   However, we must make sure we are managing the right things.  Most efforts to measure Employee Engagement are focused on surveys that show ratings results provided by the employees.  Organizations take a cue from those results and set action plans.  Typically, organizations look at the items on the survey that were rated the highest and the lowest, and focus on improving the scores that were low and marketing the ones that were rated more highly.  There are times when organizations become paralyzed by all of the data they are provided and cannot make sense of it because there are overwhelmed by too much information. Sometimes a consultant will provide intuitive advice, based on experience.  We must then trust that the consultant is right based more on intuition than on anything else.  Please do not misunderstand what I am saying, intuition has its place, but if you have just invested significant time and energy on a survey project collecting data, then we should be able to truly interpret the data and gain some inherent wisdom from that data.   

What do we really know when we get back the results?  How do we know we are working on the right initiatives?  Which efforts will lead to real impact?  Unfortunately, most organizations cannot answer these questions.

Adapted from Employee Engagement: A Roadmap for Creating Profits, Optimizing Performance, and Increasing Loyalty


3 thoughts on “Engagement Surveys Are Like Home Improvement Projects

  1. Interesting piece. I’m wondering though if surveys will not be as effective as days past? It seems as though trust is very low and to rebuild it, there must be a connection made with the people you want to engage. I recently posted about this and the idea that if you ask the right questions, your employees will show you how to re-recruit them. You can take a look here if interested. http://www.careercurve.com/blog/?p=184

    If this is true, will surveys, even if the data is understood, really assist in the basic need to reeastablish trust or will we be better served by a more individualized approach for the time being? I’m interested in thoughts on this.

    Great points here though regarding using any of the data collected. If you don’t understand it, it is a waste to collect it and nothing funtional will come of it.

    • Jen,

      I could not agree more about the re-rcruiting concept. We suggest the same thing to our clients. It is a great technique and we often suggest not only questions, but also activities and discussions that drive colaboration and engagement.

      As far as the surveys go, I see it differently than you. Surveys have been abused and misused. They were never meant to be a solution just a picture of what is happenning right now in the organization. When used correctly these tools are very helpful.

      Here are a few of reasons why surveys are still useful.

      1. The less trust that exists the more likely people will be less honest unless they have a confidential way of sharing information.

      2. Some people have a harder time verbalizing there concerns and surveys better match their preference of communication.

      3. Surveys can be viewed at an organizational level, cut up by demographics, location, etc providing insight on where to invest in certain efforts.

      4. Surveys can provide correlations that conversations won’t.

      5. Surveys can be utilized to determine how to support managers while conversations put all of the weight on a manager.

      6. Sometimes managers are not able to have that conversation. A survey will help you identify if you have a bench strength challenge as it pertains to your direct supervisors. I have seen the re-recuitment conversation become an kick out conversation in a matter of minutes. Sometimes encouraging that conversation can be deadly.

      At the end of the day both vehicles surveys and conversations are important and can be useful. It all depends on the situation, the company, and the talent of you managers.



  2. Very interesting piece! Companies spend a lot of time and money collecting data that ultimately does little or nothing to improve the way things are run. Whether it’s employees or customers the data is being collected from, it just makes sense to create surveys that are worth filling out. As this article (http://www.upyourservice.com/learning-library/customer-service-measurements/is-your-survey-worth-my-time) highlights, many surveys could stand to be better thought out.

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