It’s Not About Satisfying Your Employees:
10 Best Practices for Conducting an
Employee Engagement Survey
Summary: Employee engagement is the unlocking of employee potential to drive high performance – and is very different than having merely ‘satisfied’ employees. Employee engagement surveys help organizations measure how engaged their employees are, and where they should focus improvement efforts to create a more engaged culture. Below are 10 best practices that will help organizations get the most from their employee engagement survey effort.
“I don’t care about satisfying employees, and neither should you.”
With the economy continuing to boom, and talent acquisition and retention a top concern of most C-suites, many would think you’re crazy for saying this. However, it is not the responsibility of companies to satisfy their employees. You can throw money or offer the best perks to your employees as a means to boost satisfaction levels. However, the last thing any employer wants or needs are satisfied but underperforming employees, or satisfied employees working in a business that is underperforming. Employee satisfaction can and will be an outcome of a great culture, but it should never be your goal. Rather, employee engagement should be your goal.
Employee engagement is defined as “the unlocking of employee potential to drive high performance.” It is this linkage between company performance and employee potential that will drive performance with both your employees and your business. In fact, organizations with higher levels of employee engagement report 147% higher earnings per share (EPS) compared with their competitors. Companies need to focus efforts on building a mutual commitment between employee and employer – a commitment that is the foundation of employee engagement. Only when this foundation is in place will organizations experience the secret sauce of a high performing business – the discretionary effort of employees.
Will I Stay Or Will I Go Now?
Are your employees engaged? In a global study, only 15% of employees felt fully engaged in their workplace. Do they want to be working at your organization? Do they plan on being there a year from now? A recent Gallup study found that only 50% of millennials – compared with 60% of non-millennials– strongly agree that they plan to be working at their company one year from now. This restlessness creates huge organizational challenges for companies. For this reason, it makes sense to determine the engagement levels of your employees sooner than later.
How are you going to identify issues that are leading to lack of engagement? Why may some of your employees be looking for greener pastures? How do you know what’s working? What’s keeping your engaged employees from looking for new positions? Employee engagement surveys tell you just that –they measure employees’ engagement and not their satisfaction.
As we’ve been conducting employee engagement surveys with large and small companies for a number of years – through the recession and into our current boom times – here are some best practices we would like to share to ensure a successful employee engagement survey program that will lead to actionable results.
Do not conduct a survey without a committed leadership team. Your leadership team must be committed to understanding the survey results and acting on feedback. If you ask your employees what they think and then do nothing with the results, you will foster cynicism and skepticism with your employees. In fact, you will be worse off than if you didn’t conduct a survey in the first place.
Partner with an expert. If you attempt to design and implement an employee engagement survey in-house, you will lose some level of confidentiality (or at least, that is what your employees will fear). A consultant will create a survey that is specific to your organization, and assist with the delivery and roll out of results. The savings you may experience by not hiring an outside firm will be offset by internal administrative efforts, diminished trust with our employees, and a lack of credible external benchmark data. Also, most outside firms have access data on industry averages, giving you the ability to benchmark your results with your peers and competitors.
Set the stage with a good communication plan. This starts with letting your employees know that they will be surveyed, and how the results will be used. For companies who are conducting a follow-up survey, this is where you can promote specific actions, successes, and progress since your last survey. View this exercise as a branding opportunity – key if you want to capture high employee participation levels.
When the results of your survey are summarized, roll out the information to your organization from the top down. Your survey vendor can be leaned on to deliver an overview to your top leadership team, and will be able to provide the proper context to minimize leadership anxiety – common with senior leadership teams who often take potential “less than positive” results personally.
After this meeting, work with your internal communication team to outline the results and next steps to your employee base. Your employees need to know their feedback was heard, analyzed, and action is being taken. This will help to build trust and credibility.
Establish a task team to determine your action plan. The task team should be between 10-20 employees (depending on company size) and include an equal mix of leaders and respected employees (who are not members of the leadership team). The diversity of this team will reinforce the mutual commitment of an engaged culture. The committee will evaluate the company wide survey results and make priority recommendations to the CEO and leadership team. This should be done shortly after your leadership team receives the survey results. Consider keeping this task team together for a 12-month window to help guide and monitor progress of key initiatives.
Depending on company size, establish local cross sectional sub-committee to review local results (departmental, business unit, functional, etc.) and appoint local senior champions. Some business units, departments, etc. who score significantly better or worse than the company average may require an analysis at the local level, and the establishment of local action plans.
Share data uniformly. Have your local teams adopt a common action plan template. Post all action plans where employees can see (i.e. company intranet or other platform) to encourage the sharing of best practices, collaboration, and consistency. While transparency will foster trust in your employees, do not share localized rankings with all employees – embarrassing a particular department or manager will lead to distrust and disengagement.
Keep it simple and execute flawlessly. The tendency after a survey is to overpromise and underdeliver. Though stemming from good intentions, if you succumb to this temptation, you run the risk of creating a skeptical work culture (“they told us they would do _____ but we’ve seen nothing!”). Organizationalchange is a dimmer switch, not a light switch. Your agreed upon recommendations will take time to implement and will be competing with other organizational priorities. The same leaders who may have been reluctant to endorse a survey at the beginning stages get caught up in the organizational energy that follows a survey and eagerly want to change the culture overnight. An action plan which is too ambitious will create organizational fatigue (e.g. running a great 90 yards in a 100-yard race). Organizational follow up and follow through will be key in successful implementation – and key in how your employees will judge the success of your survey efforts.
Engagement is not free. A well thought out engagement action plan will require organizational investments. Implement a priority review process, which should include a budget to fund your survey action item engagement commitments.Plan for follow up feedback mechanism. How do you plan to solicit ongoing input from your employees? Your employee engagement survey task team, working in partnership with your human resources or organizational development staff, will prove to be an invaluable team to monitor feedback while ensuring effective action plan follow up and follow through. Department/team meetings should include a survey action plan agenda item for a minimum of 6 months to ensure employees are aware of follow though and able to give feedback.
Do not commit to another survey for 18-24 months. You need time to effectively act on the feedback from your last survey and execute your action plan. It will take time to see results, and if you conduct a follow up survey too soon, it is likely your organization did not have enough time to digest and understand the changes from the previous survey. If you have the need to do a survey at the 12-month mark, consider a pulse survey to quickly and inexpensively gauge trends.
Invest less in your technology vendor and more in post survey results. Concentrate on the interpretation, action planning, follow up/follow through and communication and branding. If your employee engagement survey fails, it will not because of failing to collect the right data. It will be because of your failure to properly interpret the results, poor prioritization, and a lack of action planning and follow up.
Other Items to Consider About the Results of Your Employee Engagement Surveys
During the analysis of your results, you will most likely discover many areas that require investments of time and money. Your engagement scores and needs will vary significantly across different generations (millennials are usually the least engaged). Scores will also vary by organizational tenure (engagement usually drops after an employee’s first year, and only increases after year seven). As you analyze your engagement results, reflect on where you want to concentrate your efforts, and if you would like to focus on a particular sub-group to increase engagement.
Another topic that should be given consideration in both designing your survey and analyzing your results is the growing importance of corporate social responsibility as an engagement driver. Employees want to work for a company that has a purpose and is committed to sustainability. Look for ways to leverage this engagement driver as you build your action plan. Workforce demographic studies and related research increasingly point to corporate social responsibility as something that can be leveraged in your engagement efforts.
You should not underestimate the importance of social media and engagement. As you analyze your engagement scores and prioritize your action plans, decide how you are going to build alignment by maximizing the different communication avenues available. Social media platforms can be leveraged in building your communication and alignment follow up.
In conclusion, it is vital to link employee engagement to high performance. An employee engagement survey is not an initiative to make your employees happy (although that is often a byproduct of engagement), but rather a commitment to engage your employees in your business, ultimately to help drive business success.
About the AuthorBob Kelleher is the author of four books including the best-selling Louder Than Words, Creativeship, Employee Engagement for Dummies, and I-Engage: Your Personal Engagement Roadmap. Bob is recognized as an employee engagement thought leader and was recently placed on the Top 101 Employee Engagement Influencer list. Bob travels the globe sharing his insights on employee engagement, leadership, and workforce trends. Bob is also the Founder and President of The Employee Engagement Group. Bob served as Chief Human Resources Officer for a Fortune 300 global engineering services firm with 45,000 employees, and COO and EVP of Organizational Development of an international professional services firm. At both organizations, he spearheaded award-winning employee engagement programs and initiatives.