Taking Engagement Beyond The Survey


By Ken Oehler, Global Engagement Practice Leader, Aon Hewitt

Friday, April 8, 2016

Let's be candid: If you aren't going to take action from your engagement survey, don't bother doing one. On average, employees who are confident that action will be taken are seven times more likely to be engaged than those who aren't, and failing to take action is frequently one of the most disengaging factors when examining an individual employee's responses over time.

The objective of measuring employee engagement is to make engagement happen -- not to make a survey happen. The latter leads to engagement being viewed as just one more compliance-driven HR program that fails to deliver value to the organization.

With the goal of understanding how to make engagement happen, Aon Hewitt set out to find what the best organizations are doing, prioritizing and learning in their quest to build a culture of engagement. We spoke with leaders, HR executives and managers at 49 companies across the globe and in various industries, and found that many, even those recognized as Aon Best Employers, struggle with similar challenges when executing engagement surveys:

  1. Organizational complexity,
  2. Lack of managerial capability and capacity for making change, and
  3. Managing engagement in a way that is disconnected from the broader people strategy and culture.

So, how do the best overcome these barriers and achieve success? Real results happen when engagement is tackled as a culture-change effort. These leading organizations have a clear engagement strategy that is aligned to the broader people strategy and have goals that are tracked to create accountability. They recognize that communicating with employees frequently, consistently and in a very transparent way must be a key priority. In fact, 90 percent of the organizations we talked to have an employee-engagement strategy. This is no surprise. Having a strategy is critical to any change process, and is certainly critical in moving engagement from a yearly compliance task to an integrated part of the culture. Many organizations view their engagement and people strategy as critically linked to attracting, developing and retaining talent and leadership.

Our conversations also highlighted the existence of four key stakeholders who become important when taking action from an engagement survey. An over-reliance on any one of these groups may actually inhibit change.

  • Senior Leaders. Conventional engagement surveys require follow-up action by managers. However, at top organizations, leaders are primarily responsible for driving action. For example, many of the companies recognized as Aon Best Employers see their engagement strategy as inexorably linked to their employee value proposition, and look to senior leaders for driving this message. Leader buy-in is critical: When leaders appear half-heartedly committed to the importance of engagement, their direct reports will likely feel the same way and inadequate feedback loops will permeate the organization.
  • HR. While HR plays a significant role in driving action related to organizational policies -- from workforce planning to work/life balance -- that impact engagement, they shouldn't be the driving force behind an engagement strategy. Putting heavy weight on to HR reinforces the impression that engagement is an HR initiative and undermines the role of senior leaders. HR can play an important part in the engagement strategy by ensuring that the organization has the right tools and technology, allowing for more regular pulse surveys with the speed and analytical insight to jump-start timely conversations.
  • Managers. Managers play a critical role in being on the front line of keeping communication open after an engagement survey. They are the primary sources of actions focused on rewards and recognition. Considering this is a top driver of engagement, managers should be enabled with the right training and skills to have effective conversations with their employees.
  • Individual Employees. There is an increased focus in the individual employee owning his or her own engagement. This marks a paradigm shift in engagement, moving from something that the organization "owes" its employees to something that is under the control of the employee.

But even when an organization pulls all the right levers, it is difficult to make engagement happen. Many of our clients referenced the changing generational makeup of the workforce. For example, millennials are demanding a different conversation and level of speed and transparency. Awareness of shifting stakeholder needs will continue to increase in importance.

It is all about taking action.  Make the choice, and build a culture of engagement:

Align the engagement strategy with the people strategy.

Manage engagement as a holistic culture-change process through senior leaders.

Use technology to simplify, focus and enable all four groups of stakeholders.

For more information, visit aon.com/beyond.

Copyright 2016© LRP Publications


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