The 4th of July – Independence day. It is the day we commemorate the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. From there, The United States of America went on to form a government and agree to a constitution.
However, the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution by themselves are just pieces of paper. Many other countries that suffer from coups, military control, and sectarian violence have had similar pieces of paper. If you look beyond the documents and think about history the real work and tests were in the political upheavals and wars such as the American Revolution and the Civil War. And we are retested throughout our history.
We paid highly for our freedoms. We paid dearly for those pieces of paper. And in the end the spirit of “One Nation” won out. Those pieces of paper reflect work, pain, sacrifice and the choice to rise above oneself or a particular group.
Engagement is no different. Survey time – It is the day we commemorate the adoption of the idea that our employees are valued. Here is the difference between American History and corporate history. Too many organizations, leaders, and managers see the survey as the work, the pain, the cost. We are interested in results and fixing items, or as I like to call it, treating symptoms.
The real work and the significant investment come after a survey. Most companies spend 80 cents on the survey and 20 cents on follow up. That concept needs to be turned upside down. An easy way to test my theory out is to look at survey results of companies. One of the lowest scoring items on any engagement survey is…
“I had an opportunity to discuss the previous organizational survey results with a member of management.”
In fact, in a recent survey we just completed only 21% of employees felt that they had a real opportunity to discuss the previous results with a member of management. If a company cannot even meet this threshold there is no way they are supporting an engaged culture.
Let’s put a stake in the ground and change our approach to engagement.
- Start a conversation. A conversation is a two way dialogue. Engagement follow ups and action planning needs to be a conversation. Unfortunately, most managers are held accountable for having a plan not engaging their employees. Managers comb through the results, diagnose the issues without really understanding them, create an action plan on how to fix engagement levels, and then share that plan and work with their employees. Employees bless the plan because they do not want to be seen as questioning their manager’s thought process and ideas. Hey, they are not stupid, and the employees feel less engaged after the survey follow up process then before.
- Fix the problem. One reason we talk with our employees or hold focus groups is to better understand the “Why” behind the ratings. If employees don’t feel recognized it could be for any number of reasons. Maybe the recognition is not specific. Maybe you rely too much on programs rather than making it personal. It could be that you are not providing enough recognition. Or it could be that you are counteracting the recognition by your ability to find things wrong more than you do right. I could go on. The point is, knowing the “Why” is what helps you move forward.
- Execute a strategic, disciplined approach. If you want employees to believe that the company truly cares about employee engagement then make sure you have a plan. When will they hear about the overall results? How? Will they receive anything in writing? When will they hear directly about their team or department? This effort should be run like a military campaign from the top down. It should be as transparent as possible and ensure that everyone receives the same or similar messaging.
- Make the invisible visible. You will not get credit for actions your employees cannot see or connect to the survey feedback. It is critically important to tie an organization’s, department’s or manager’s decision and actions back to the survey feedback. Too many times organizations make positive changes, but do not get credit for them. Marketing is a part of responding.
- Create a culture. What happens after 2-3 months when the action plans are finished? Back to business as usual. And all that progress is lost because employees see the survey and action planning as an event. But nothing really changes. Creating an engaged environment is more about creating a culture that breeds trust, reduces fear, creates connections between employees and the organization, promotes the ability to focus on the right things in the right way and to work with pride toward something that has meaning. In order to create that culture and maintain it everything changes. The way we talk, behave, our meeting structure, our organizational structure, who we hire, who we promote, how we hire and promote, the things we measure, the stories we tell and so on.
Surveys tell us how well we did last year at creating and maintaining that culture. In the end, responding to the survey is not the answer. Why? Because those survey results reflect the work, pain, sacrifice and the choice to rise above oneself or a particular group, or our inability to do so. It is not the paper that matters. It is price we paid for that culture.