Are You Getting the Most Out of Your Employee Engagement Survey Results

Jim Concelman & Annamarie Lang Article

There, sitting on the corner of your desk like an enormous paperweight, are the bound results from your organization’s annual employee engagement survey.

You’ve been staring at them for a while now, consumed with one pressing question:

What in the world are we going to do with this?

In many instances, the survey results will be released with great fanfare as proof of an organization’s commitment to engagement. A broad plan for improving scores will be unveiled. But after the initial flourish, the survey results and action plans often get relegated to the bottom of management’s ‘to-do’ list. Eventually, all that enthusiasm wanes, and the action plan dies from neglect.

Despite the fact that engagement surveys are expensive and time consuming, many organizations simply fail to translate them into positive results. In far too many organizations, employee engagement scores show little sign of improvement year over year.

Why would an organization spend money on a survey and then fail to implement an effective strategy to improve engagement? In some instances, HR professionals charged with executing the survey find they have little time or resources to launch an effective action plan. The survey results get lost in the relentless flow of other day-to-day tasks.

In other cases, companies try to do too much. Having discovered numerous areas of need through the surveys, they try to deploy several different engagement initiatives – sometimes multiple programs across several different departments - all at once. This almost always ends with none of the initiatives being brought to fruition.

It’s important to remember that not acting to address the results of engagement surveys can be, in most instances, worse than not doing the survey in the first place.

Employees wonder why they were asked for their input in the first place when nothing positive came from their participation in the survey. The absence of a clear action plan can undermine leadership and erode confidence in the organization.

This is a worrisome trend, in large part because employee engagement is a critical element in the success of any business. Engaged employees are more productive, less likely to leave, and more likely to encourage others to join their organizations. It is no secret that many of the most successful and profitable companies are also those with highly engaged workforces.

However, driving engagement requires a combination of a thoughtful employee survey and a clear plan on how to put the survey results into action.

A properly executed engagement survey can serve as a road map to locate pockets of disengagement. It can also help predict future areas of concern, allowing companies to get out in front of sagging engagement before it begins to create bottom-line consequences.

This is not an easy task. Should we deploy an organization-wide engagement initiative, or just focus on a few pockets of extremely high disengagement? Who will be responsible for taking action on the frontlines of the organization?

The only way to properly address an engagement deficit is to confront some essential and difficult questions that require frank, honest responses:

  • Have we aligned the survey questions with our overall business strategy? The greatest flaw in most employee engagement surveys is a failure to connect the questions with the goals and imperatives of the organization. This positions the survey, and any action that comes from it, as an “HR” initiative with little connection to the overall business strategy or performance of the organization. This is a shame given that engagement is a critical element that drives employee performance and, ultimately, bottom line results. HR needs to ensure that all survey questions, and the results, are directly connected to business strategy so that everyone in the organization understands that engagement is a business issue, not just an HR issue.
  • Who will be accountable for acting on the results? HR may design and conduct the survey, but managers  are ultimately responsible and accountable for acting on the results. Managers need to be prepared to discuss the survey results with their employees. However, it is not enough just to share the results; managers must be encouraged to make engagement a top-of-mind priority on a daily basis. Managers should also play an important role in designing solutions for pockets of low engagement within their spheres. If HR doesn’t have the bandwidth to work directly with managers, a trusted consultant and partner can be brought in to support HR and work with management.
  • Have we drilled deep into the survey results?  In the aftermath of a survey, it is very easy to focus solely on organization-wide results, ignoring specific pockets where engagement scores are lowest. Many organizations miss the fact that addressing specific pockets of low engagement will have the greatest impact on organization-wide results and – ultimately – business performance. This is a challenge where an engagement consultant or partner could provide valuable advice to help devise the strategies to address those areas of lowest engagement. It’s important that in addition to organization-wide engagement strategies, managers of low-engagement units be allowed to devise their own custom solutions. The results will always be better when the people most affected by low engagement are brought in to design the solutions. 
  • Have funds been earmarked to invest in boosting engagement? The best way to demonstrate to your employees that you are truly committed to boosting engagement is to set aside resources to make a meaningful impact on their working lives. In some instances, organizations believe that investing in a survey is enough in and of itself to boost engagement. The reality is that focused investment in impactful engagement initiatives is a must if any improvement is to be achieved. Career pathing, leadership development, skill upgrading and education are all examples of programs that can move the needle on engagement scores. They are also initiatives that require an investment.

Not every organization does an engagement survey, but just about every organization needs some sort of strategy to keep employees engaged and productive. It is nearly impossible to be successful if your employees are seriously estranged from their employer.

However, those organizations that do spend the money and time on a survey should most certainly plan ahead for how to act on the results. Otherwise, all you are creating is a very expensive paperweight that will do nothing to help improve the bottom line.

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