There are many employee engagement surveys and examples available in 2017. Some of the surveys are useful and some are not. The dividing line is often whether the survey questions themselves are actionable. We have been helping leaders engage and inspire employees since 1975. Based on our years of experience with employee engagement best practices, here are our top recommendations for what to do with your survey results, along with several examples and resources.
Start with Good Employee Engagement Survey Questions
The old caution of “Garbage in, garbage out” is particularly appropriate with surveys. We must ask good questions if we want useful data. The following is an of example a good employee engagement survey question: “Do you have the resources you need to do your work?” This question works because it is actionable. Low scores tell managers to take steps to make the right resources available to employees.
Another good survey question is, “The information I need to do my work is easily accessible.” This item is useful because low scores tell managers to ensure information is not merely available, it is also easy to find and use.
Feedback from questions like these is actionable because it can highlight knowledge management and information technology problems that affect employee engagement. For example, at one of our clients, the managers often ask employees to answer questions by doing queries in a 40-year old computer system. Many of the employees are younger than the legacy computer system, which seems designed to frustrate people, not help them. In cases like these, one solution would be to modernize the computer software. The new system would pay for itself in a few years. But the boost in employee engagement could be even more valuable in terms of better productivity, customer satisfaction, and employee retention.
Use Survey Questions that Lead to Action
We found a set of survey questions online that are good because they lead to action. The 9 Questions that Should Be in Every Employee Engagement Survey offers a short list of useful items covering important dimensions in engagement surveys. We like the items because they point to specific areas for managers to focus on. For example, the first question is “Do you understand the strategic goals of the broader organization?” If scores are low on this item, managers have work to do. They could…
- Revise the mission and vision statements to make them clear and compelling
- Examine how high level goals are cascaded down to departments or divisions
- Improve performance appraisal systems so that individual efforts are tied to strategic goals
- Explore opportunities for cross-training
- And so on…
In his online article for Harvard Business Review titled A Primer on Measuring Employee Engagement, Ryan Fuller argues in favor of measuring actual versus self-perceived engagement. Instead of asking employees how willing they are to put in extra effort to get the job done, Fuller suggests asking employees to indicate the “amount of work that occurs outside of normal business hours.” This can be a useful indicator of “discretionary effort.”
Again, the question becomes what do you do with the results?
Examples of How to Use Employee Engagement Survey Results
In the example about discretionary effort, it might be that managers look at incentive programs such as gainsharing. Gainsharing plans provide financial incentives for employees to cut costs, solve problems, and hit performance targets. As organizational performance improves, employees share in the financial gains. These programs have been effective in supporting employees who go the extra mile. Managers could also look at performance evaluation systems to gauge how well the organization rewards extra work.
Another place to look is at the employee recognition programs. Such programs range from formal (Employee of the Month posters) to informal (thank you notes from the boss). However, there is a tipping point with this example, so beware of going so far that employees lose their work/life balance.
The bottom line is that using the survey results to make changes in your organization requires effective problem solving. Leaders must do what they can to get to the heart of the matter, and then look for creative solutions that will engage and inspire employees. For more on this, see How Leaders Can Enhance Employee Engagement.
Effective Practices in Using Employee Engagement Survey Results
Let’s assume for now that your employee engagement survey uses actionable items, or that it measures actual instead of perceived engagement. The question remains: What do you do once you have the results of a survey? Here are some rules of thumb and examples about putting survey results to use.
- First, if you do not plan to use the survey results to make changes in your organization, don’t do the survey. Asking employees for their opinions and then ignoring their feedback is practically guaranteed to lower morale.
- Second, before you launch your survey, have your action plan ready. Don’t make the mistake of conducing the survey, and then scrambling to pull teams together to review the results and do something with them. For example, use the steps outlined in this section of our blog post for a plan framework, then fill in the details based on the needs of your organization.
- Review and understand your results. This can include prioritizing your efforts. The table below is a simple way of doing this. For example, your survey might have a dimension on team effectiveness, or an item such as, “Does your team help you to complete your work?” Low scores suggest this area is a moderate priority. However, if your organization relies heavily on teams to get work done, and you also see customer satisfaction going down, the business impact might be high, making this area a high priority. The result is that you would want to pay close attention to improving the health and performance of your teams.
- Share the results with your leadership team. Facilitate discussions for problem solving, root cause analysis, and identifying key areas for action. Focus your efforts on one or two high-priority changes that affect most of the organization. For example, one client of ours discovered that employees felt uninvolved in decisions that affected them. Even worse, decisions seemed to take forever, resulting in missed opportunities. The leadership team realized they were not clear in how they laid out decision making processes and responsibilities. We suggested they read Who Has the D?, by Rogers and Blenko. By focusing on one important area, the leaders improved both decision making and employee engagement.
- Share the results with the rest of the organization. Departments or units can also do root cause analysis, solve problems, and offer solutions. We recommend focusing on just one improvement opportunity per unit or department. Another client of ours is working on internal communications, so we took them through an exercise designed to highlight communication problems and identify improvement opportunities. Their trust scores on their surveys went up significantly as a result of their work, and organization performance followed. Again, the point is that they focused on one area, rather than spreading themselves too thin trying to fix several problems at once.
- Document action plans to hold yourselves accountable. We have seen hundreds of action plans in our years of consulting, and the best are almost always captured on one page or one white board. One example is the “Ready, Doing, Done” approach described in Jim Benson’s work on Personal Kanban. Another example is the “quad chart” approach used widely in companies and government organizations.
- Monitor progress and adjust your plan accordingly. We often recommend the Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle introduced by Deming, as a way to continuously improve and learn. With one client, the managers determined they needed better training for their supervisors. After bringing in one trainer, the supervisors revolted, saying the trainer was out of touch with their work. Management responded quickly, found a new and better qualified trainer, and things went smoothly from there. As you apply this approach to your action planning, remember that data gathering is crucial and positions you and your leadership team to quickly respond to new information.
- In this post, we have shared specific examples of things you can do to improve employee engagement in your organization using surveys. The good news is that there is almost always something you can change or improve to boost engagement. The challenge lies in choosing from a long list of potential action items. Watch for upcoming blog posts on our website where we continue to explore specific actions you can take based upon your survey results. Or just give us a call. We are here to help leaders engage and inspire their employees.
Benson, J., & Barry, T. D. (2011). Personal Kanban: Mapping Work/Navigating Life. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Deming, W.E. (1994). The New Economics: For Industry, Government, Education. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA.
Fuller, Ryan. (2014). A Primer on Employee Engagement. Harvard Business Review.
Rogers, P., & Blenko, M. (January 2006). Who Has the D?: How Clear Decision Roles Enhance Organizational Performance. Harvard Business Review.