There has been a lot of noise in the media recently about the future of Employee Engagement. One viewpoint is that annual Employee Engagement surveys have outlived their relevance and that organisations should be monitoring staff sentiment more regularly through either pulse surveys, or perhaps using social media. An example of this is the daily happiness question. The alternate viewpoint is that a real in-depth understanding of the drivers of Engagement is now more important than ever. Given the increasing challenges that our organisations and indeed 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 recent research into the future of Engagement surveys, we asked organisations what is most valuable and what is currently missing on Engagement surveys, as well as what are the most pressing issues facing businesses today. The results show that Engagement surveys are very much alive.

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

According to the respondents, most value from employee surveys comes from gaining insight into three main areas:

  1. Employee’s understanding of and connection to the company vision, strategy and values,
  2. How and how effectively leaders and managers are engaging their teams, and
  3. 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 miss 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 organisation 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 behaviours that lead to that score, which are more important. For instance, are managers rewarding a positive score on the survey or are they recognising good performance and having career discussions with their teams?

We then asked respondents to comment on what was missing from their current survey and here again, answers were mixed. The majority mentioned the point that results were often not disseminated through the organisation 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 organisations should release data to all Managers as soon as practical, preferably within one month of closing the survey. Employees have provided their opinions and this needs to be acknowledged by organisations.

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

  1. Resourcing; having the right people with the right skills, in the right roles, and
  2. 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 organisation is heading and their role in it, the change becomes manageable and the transformation has a greater chance of success.

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 most organisations have yearly budgets. Secondly, with 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 whatever platform of your organisation’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 organisation 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.

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.

Just as this topic is ongoing, so is our research, so we would love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below.

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About the contributor

Chris Mayler is a Senior Client Director for Korn Ferry Advisory, Australia. For the last 15 years, Chris helped organisations maximise the potential of their workforce to drive business performance.

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