Engagement Surveys: A little less data, a little more insight please

You are finished with your employee engagement survey.  All of the data is collected and reports are run.  Now what?

You are going to want to work on what will have the most impact over the next year? There are is only one way to achieve this goal. Connect your engagement factors to performance indicators such as revenue, profitability, productivity, and turnover. Some organizations turn to consulting firms like ours that have already facilitated this process in a generic manner across many data points, and others want to create a more targeted correlation based on their business. Obviously, the second and more pinpointed way to determine impact, a validation study, is more expensive. Either way, this is a very different avenue from choosing items based on whether they were rated low versus rated high. We break down engagement indicators into four key categories.

Top Targets (Low Rating, High Impact)

The items in this category represent what an organization will want to focus on during the next period; usually a year. These are items that receive low ratings from employees in a survey and also have the greatest impact on issues such as productivity, retention, and organizational results. Working on these particular issues will not only have the greatest impact on an organization’s employee engagement results, but it will also have the maximum impact on the organization’s success.

High Priorities (High Rating, High Impact)

These items are important to leverage or maintain and should be an organization’s next focus. These items received high ratings and also have significant impact on the organization’s success. Consider these items strengths that are working to the organization’s advantage. If these items fall backward in ratings, performance of the organization will suffer.

Average Priorities (Low Rating, Low Impact)

These items reflect low ratings and low impact. Essentially, they are organizational weaknesses that have little impact on the performance of an organization. These items typically will not influence productivity or retention a great deal. However, any item(s) rated low should be reviewed to determine if there is a pattern in the ratings that tells a story, or there is a need to shore up a real weakness because it is getting in the way.

Low Priorities (High Rating, Low Impact)

The items reflect strengths of an organization, because they are rated highly by employees on a survey, but they typically have little impact on issues like productivity, retention, and organizational results. While we try not to fall backward on these types of items, the impact of falling backward would most likely be negligible. We would not recommend an organization spend its time focusing in this area.

When we work with clients, there are times we need to steer them away from some of the items rated low because we know from our research that working on those items will not produce the results that addressing another item will.

Are you working on the right stuff?


Engagement as Culture—or Bust!

United States spends more than $720 million annually on improving employee engagement, according 2012 research from industry analysts Bersin & Associates. The Center for Creative Leadership, PerformancePoint, Kenexa, and Gallop also track engagement figures. Some of the recent stats include:

  • a majority of employees (58 to 90 percent) do not trust management
  • only 14 to 58 percent of employees believe that management is ethical and honest
  • only 15 to 30 percent of employees are actually engaged.

Think about it: If we spend more than $720 million each year, why is engagement so low?

To read the full article go to:


Why your employee engagement efforts don’t work

Bersin & Associates noted in 2012 that in the United States alone, we spend more than $720 million annually on improving employee engagement. According to sources such as the Center for Creative Leadership, PerformancePoint, Kenexa, and Gallup, between 58% and 90% of employees do not trust management, between 14% and 58% believe that management is ethical and honest, and between 15% and 30% are actually engaged. Think about it! If we spend more than $720 million a year, why are we getting
those results?

It doesn’t end with the survey We know engagement efforts work at times. Study after study demonstrates that engagement improves productivity, reduces absenteeism, improves customer satisfaction, allows organizations to be more innovative, creates a safer work environment, and improves retention. So why is it that only 16% of companies that use engagement surveys see positive results? Why is it that only 65% of employees feel they are thriving at work? There are several reasons that is happening:

(1) Leadership doesn’t recognize it as a significant problem. I realize it’s taboo to say that. However, if we were looking at a capital expenditure, such as machinery that was functioning at the levels we just described, leadership would do something and be committed to real results.

(2) People see engagement efforts as simply administering a survey. Surveys don’t solve problems; they give you information. Surveys are a view of the past, much like looking in the rear-view mirror of your car. They tell you very little about where you are going, but a great deal about where you have been. Surveys aren’t bad; however, many organizations misuse them, and they end up not serving any purpose or sometimes hurting the company.

(3) We use survey results to fix symptoms and create action plans. Action planning lasts for two to three months, and then most managers go back to “business as usual.” There are no long-term substantial changes in the organization. Even when the survey concludes that there are issues with work relationships or lack of training and development, organizations respond to what they see in the data, which typically has to do with an item or a question in the survey. The problem is that the results tell you what to focus on but usually don’t tell you why it’s an issue. It’s impossible to address the issue unless you find out why it became a problem. To determine the cause, you have
to dig, and that’s uncomfortable and challenging.

(4) We spend most of our money measuring, not changing. If we are going to change, we need to look across the organization at the cultural attributes that cause us to struggle with achieving engagement. Send the right message Culture is in the stories people tell, the symbols people hold up or see, and the rituals we follow in our organizations. For instance, some organizations assign parking places based on seniority or level in the
company. That describes a culture in which certain people are valued more than others and employees’ value isn’t built on their productivity or work product but on their status. There are organizations with beautiful, well-tended corporate headquarters, yet their manufacturing plants or retail branches need significant repairs or contain broken equipment that hinders employees’ performance. That sends a message that corporate is more valued than the people in the field doing the work.

What are the messages you’re sending your people through your culture?

Originally published in Words on Wise

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Freedom is not free, and neither is engagement.

man-free-signThe 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.









Is there a right time for an Engagement Survey?

TimingDo you have an interest in running an Employee Engagement survey, but worry if it is good timing?  Chances are it is good timing.  Here are some of the excuses we have heard for postponing surveys and why they don’t hold water.

Is it a good time if we have a new President or CEO?  

It would be a great way for a  new President or CEO to let employees know that it is a new day and that they are interested in them. It should be very impactful if it is rolled out properly.  Also it may help the new leader in developing a strategic plan that has buy in across the employee based if the questions are strong.

We have had a lot of change going on, maybe this is not the right time?
With all the changes that are occurring it would convey to the employees that the Company recognizes this period maybe difficult, but also indicate to them that even though we can’t solve all of their problems with patience on their part we will be developing plans to address various employee issues. 

We have so many HR priorities I am not sure the survey should be at the top of the list.

A survey would contribute to various HR related priorities such as an HR audit by helping identify what the HR goals should be and the organizational structure and strategy to attain those goals. It would also clearly indicate the type of support from HR that managers need to be more effective leaders.

A survey could contribute to the development of the new policy manual/handbook in that you would hear about any policies, benefits, communication programs, etc. that are a concern and need to be addressed. You might also learn about the consistency of administration of these policies and programs. 

We have some initiatives coming up, maybe we should wait until after they are complete and people have had a chance to see what things will be like. 

If done correctly employees will feel they have had input into the future of the organization.  People react better to change when it happens with them rather than to them.  And times of change typically reduce productivity.  This process has the ability to improve productivity or at least stop the productivity drop.

And as management demonstrates responsiveness a heightened level of credibility will be achieved.

You see there is rarely a good time or a bad time for an Engagement Survey.  Survey results are just news.  How we interpret the news makes it good or bad.  If we see it as data, information we now have we can do something with it or about it.  Without the news we are running our companies blind.  Some people think that the news won’t exist if a survey is never done.  But I have news for them…it does.  The news is there hiding in the darkness.  It is shared in the break room, at the water cooler, and in gossip which can now be shared with many via technology.  They know what is going on.  They know the news.  Don’t you think it is about time you do too!

What other excuses have you heard?  Share them in the comments section.

[2014 trends] Significant trends in employee engagement

The South African employee engagement sphere is an exciting space to work in as we accommodate both international trends and local nuances. The combination of a growing awareness of the necessity of fully integrated employee engagement practices, and an increased willingness on the part of corporates to step out of comfort and complacency zones, makes stimulating and ground breaking working possible for employee engagement specialists.
2013 saw some definite shifts which give indications for 2014 – some necessitated by economics, others by the changing world of technology. There are clear and significant trends that are being seen in the employee engagement world and then there are gut-feel changes that we take into account in our forward planning for clients – in the past we have invariably been proven right.
  1. Infobesity

    The approximate number of advertising messages that the modern consumer sees in a day is 350,000. And your internal marketing messages are added onto that. Is it any wonder that they get lost if they aren’t strategic, carefully planned and highly engaging? Recipients want short, sharp messaging; which brings us to…

  2. Simplosion

    Make an impact by keeping communication clear, single-minded and simple. Word-heavy is out.

  3. Pic your messages

    Infographics, Instagram, Vine, Video, Vimeo , YouTube…Graphic messaging is still growing, moving steadily from leisure-time social media into corporate messaging.

  4. Digit-all

    Off desk and into hand. Internationally, employers are recognising that cross-device digital participation is essential to reach on-the-goers and Generations Y and Z. It is the most effective way to reach employees in a non-alienating way, in their private space and downtime. Noticeboards are disappearing and emails increasingly ignored or fast-scanned with reduced absorption and engagement. The increased integration of digital devices means single messaging reaching all touch points.

  5. Democratise

    The HO big brother’s voice is fading. Effective and engaged internal communication means integrating the function across all departmental silos and allowing organic dissemination of messaging. Clearer meaning and stronger buy-in is the result. Employees need to own a piece of the pie.

  6. Toss the cookie cutter

    This need has grown beyond the tailored-communication savvy under 35s, to most employee groups. Horizontal and vertical customisation of messages have become strategically essential across job level, age, technology adoption and line function. Individualisation is the entry point to effective communication.

  7. Face to face

    An interesting and perhaps ironic retro-trend: The expressed need for mindful, one-on-one communication and messaging interaction. In the face of the reality of distance communication, electronic contact and mass messaging in all its forms, engaged employees value ‘me-time’: having their voices heard in a real-life context.

  8. Breaking news

    Distance working and a need for instant buy-in necessitates dual delivery strategies: long-term strategic rollouts as well as instantaneous messaging. Employers cannot be perceived as slow in providing information – it’s a race against Twitter, Facebook, BBM… Wikileaks has nothing on employee grapevine information.

  9. Socialise

    If you’re not in, employees will believe you are ‘out’. Honest, effective, 360-degree integrated communication across all social media is more of a necessity than a ‘nice-to-have’.

  10. Intrapreneurship

    A growing engagement trend is the encouraging of employees to innovate and grow their own business ideas alongside their mainstream duties, giving them permission and support to grow.

  11. Hardcore

    Soft issues have become core issues – and hard issues. Employee engagement is being seen as a necessity and being placed high on executive agendas as a strategic imperative.

  12. Measurement

    ROI impact is widely recognised and now more actively and accurately measured as a cross-section of industries adopts employee engagement as a priority. EE measurement must be part and parcel of every other monthly measurement by a business.

Originally published in Biz Community

Employee Engagement Surveys…Junk?

Survey PictureBack in the 90’s employee engagement surveys became the rage.  Of course many of the surveys and the data were being collected in the 80’s.  One of the seminal studies was made famous by the Harvard Business Review demonstrating a connection between employee satisfaction and revenue/customer purchasing.  It was about Sears in their heyday.

While US organizations spend over $700 million attempting to strengthen employee engagement, most of it is spent on surveys that do not work and not on efforts that do.

The Journal for Quality and Participation says that in many cases you are wasting your money. “The dirty little secret of employee engagement surveys is that they’re largely junk science.”

There are a number of problems with these surveys.

  • The models were born in the 80’s and people still think they are relevant.
  • Benchmark data can lead you astray by comparing your organization to averages and organizations that are either not relevant or face different challenges.
  • Consulting firms provide recommendations that for problems that do not exist or have little impact.
  • Action planning, the way it is handled, does not promote engagement principles.
  • Organizations spend so much getting a picture of what their organization looks like from the survey, they invest little in actually impacting engagement.
  • Survey companies have difficultly offering practical advice or understanding their client’s business.