Recently, there are media reports on how the annual Employee Engagement surveys have outlived their relevance and that organizations should monitor staff sentiment more regularly through either pulse surveys or even social media. Organizations want some indicators in place to measure the effectiveness of their organization. Moreover with the challenges stemming from a multi-generation workforce, organizations feel a compelling need to know how to continuously keep their workforce and talent engaged – a vital insight which could be revealed through Employee Engagement surveys.

It is evident that real in-depth understanding of the drivers of Engagement is now more important than ever. Given the increasing challenges that the organizations and the economy as a whole, are facing, it’s critical to control the internal factors that influence employees’ willingness and ability to deliver on the strategy.

The results are in

In the recent Korn Ferry research into the future of Engagement surveys, we asked organizations what is most valuable and what is currently missing in Engagement surveys, as well as what are the most pressing issues businesses are facing today. The results show that Engagement surveys are still very much alive.

Just over half of all respondents surveyed indicated that their organization conducts employee engagement surveys on an annual basis, with a further 30 percent doing do every two years. A few respondents still survey every six months, whilst others were surveying for the first time this year. Pulse surveys were generally used by organizations that do a full survey every two years. The more interesting finding concerns social media. Currently just over 10% of respondents use it to track employee sentiment but 30 percent believe they will use it in the future.

According to the respondents, employee surveys provide insights in three main areas:

  • Employee’s understanding of and connection to the company vision, strategy and values,
  • How and how effectively leaders and managers are engaging their teams, and
  • Staff retention and what it is influenced by.

However, when we asked about how the data is generally used, we uncovered some mismatches. We found that almost everyone is focused on improving weaknesses or perceived gaps. Although this is obviously important and it is our role as leaders to improve performance, this absolute focus can mean we are missing one of the greatest benefits of an Engagement survey; to highlight the best practices and learn from them.

A CEO of a major financial institution commented that he used to invite his top 10 engaging managers to lunch so that he could learn what those best Managers were really doing. This also proved to be very motivational to all people within the organization as it highlighted the fact that the CEO really believed that the people were the greatest asset they had.

Many also commented that the survey results were used to set targets. Although the intent here is good, this can lead to gaming of results or a ‘vote 5 to stay alive’ mentality, which focuses on the particular score rather than the behaviors that lead to that score, which are more important. For instance, are managers rewarding a positive score on the survey for formality’s sake or are they recognizing good performance and having career discussions with their teams?

We then asked respondents to comment on what was missing from their current survey and again, answers were mixed. The majority mentioned that results were often not disseminated through the organization or if they were, they were out of date. Many also commented that nothing was actually done with the results, which does highlight some prevailing issues. All organizations should release data to all Managers as soon as possible, preferably within one month of closing the survey. Employees have provided their opinions and this needs to be acknowledged by organizations.

Finally, we asked about challenges that organizations are facing and the results were significant. Two issues clearly stood out:

  • Resourcing; having the right people with the right skills, in the right roles, and
  • Managing through ongoing change and business transformation.

The interesting thing to note here is that if we have the right people in the right jobs, whom are well-managed and understand and believe in where the organization is heading and their role in it, the change becomes manageable and the transformation has a greater chance of success. More importantly, organizations should view the Employment Engagement surveys as a part of improvement, and ensure that the employees are not being skeptical about the survey.

So where does this leave us in relation to the future of Engagement?

There are two key findings to take away from this research. Firstly, measuring Engagement annually makes logistical sense, given most business metrics are measured annually and have yearly budgets. Secondly, the right interpretation and follow-up survey results can also help leaders develop implementation strategies that are more likely to be successful. Next to this, I have a couple of suggestions to increase the ROI on engagement surveys.

We should not have to wait a year to find out if our engagement strategies are working, or how successful action planning has been. My first suggestion is to ask all employees one question 3 months after the survey results were released, using a platform of your organization’s choice, be it twitter, yammer or even survey monkey. The question is, “The action planning session l attended with my team had a positive impact on my workplace”, and scale the responses from strongly agree to strongly disagree. This will quickly highlight whether action planning is occurring and how well it is working.

The second suggestion is to measure the effectiveness of communication, particularly around change. You want to know whether people understand where the organization is heading and how they fit into the strategy. The CEO can lead, but all Executives and leaders need to continually communicate the what, how and why of the strategy. You can ask your employees about the extent to which they understand and believe in the direction.

The third suggestion is setting your engagement results as the manager’s targets for improvement. By doing so, organizations will then have a systematic process in place to monitor the progress of all results at the end of the year. This would also allow the organizations to focus on results that are aligned with the organization’s objectives.

In summary, l believe Engagement will remain a vital measure into the future, and it will be supplemented more often with new technology, to take advantage of and cater for a rapidly changing environment.

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