Stop asking me if I’m engaged at work if you don’t care

Lewis Garrad

Managing Director Asia Pacific

Right now we’re seeing a surge in on-demand pulse surveys in many organisations. Improvements in technology have dramatically lowered the bar for collecting employee feedback and reporting it back to managers. We are really excited about these innovations and huge advocates for ensuring a regular cadence of employee feedback. However, we are also very thoughtful about their implications.

The reason is that most companies see significant under utilisation from their employee survey or feedback process already, even when they do it once or twice a year. The pulse survey idea is that more regular data collection and delivery will help to create a more fluid and actionable process; usually inviting employees to multiple surveys during the course of a year. In many cases, this is the wrong response to the right problem.

We’ve worked with lots of organisations using a huge variety of employee feedback techniques. In more or less every single situation more regular surveys do not improve the way the data is used for a number of reasons:

  1. More regular data does not mean better insight. In fact, shorter surveys are often used, limiting potential action and analysis. I’m not against succinct survey instruments but we need to make sure we are measuring the right things in the most efficient way possible.
  2. Managers (particularly ones that really need the feedback) don’t take more interest because the data is more frequent. They just continue to ignore it.
  3. There is a lack of systemic analysis meaning that organisation wide issues are not identified easily.
  4. Leaders, managers and employees still have no idea what to do with the survey data and many find it irrelevant to the day to day work they do.

If we really want to address the problem then we need to tackle the root cause. Often there is very little understanding of how surveys link to individual behaviour and performance making it difficult to figure out what to do with the results.

Here is what we think you should do:

  1. Improve leader self-awareness. Our work with Hogan Assessments has found that some managers are just naturally more engaging because of their personality. Others are not and have no idea they are not. Using a robust personality assessment to improve self-awareness can be a powerful tool for connecting engagement to the behaviour of individual leaders and managers.
  2. Ensure senior leaders and individual line managers understand their role. Often engagement initiatives fail because they have poor senior level guidance. This is because top leaders, who do not see individual employees very regularly, struggle to see how their own behaviour and decision making directly impacts the engagement of employees further down the hierarchy. We need to help leaders of all levels understand they have a role a in the engagement of all employees. This means giving them powerful analysis of systemic issues as well as helping them connect employee survey data to organisational challenges.
  3. Create new habits. Driving employee engagement is about improving the day-to-day behaviour and “habits” of people in the organization. Leaders set the tone – they are role models and so they need to be acutely aware of how they impact those around them. This is where periodic 360 assessments can be helpful. They can give the leader important feedback about how they behave at work.
  4. Consider the “engaging component” of organisational initiatives. This is something that many companies are now doing by creating interventions that excite people while adding business value. Example: Hackathons – this wave of large group interventions are getting employees excited about innovating while actually generating good ideas for the business. They connect business value to employee engagement and energy.

Pulse surveys are valuable tools for tracking progress on key initiatives and getting local level and quick feedback on certain issues. There is no doubt that they are useful tools for many companies. However, we also need to recognise that they are limited and if we really want to build more engaging organisations, the answer is in how we link attitudes, behaviours and performance. This means measuring the right things only as often as we expect them to change, while bringing sharper focus on the reason why surveys happen at all – to create improvement.

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