Engagement Surveys: Building a case for alternative solutions
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Employee engagement is defined as a heightened emotional connect with the organization resulting in a willingness to extend ‘discretionary effort’ in your work. It is an extremely important measure which drives positive organizational outcomes like higher productivity, lower attrition, lower absenteeism and lower shrinkage (ask a manager in a shopping mall or a shop floor on the role ‘shrinkage’ plays in deciding profitability and you will get my drift).
One of the most preferred tools for measuring engagement is through a survey, an annual process, where employees respond to a set of questions on parameters like role clarity, recognition, care, progress discussion…
While I agree with the logic of gathering numerical data on engagement factors, HR managers have to deal with a few issues/obstacles:
1. Focus on a numerical figure: Imagine going for a medical test and being told that you are a 3 on 5 on the health index. What would you do with this data? How do you decode this number? You need inputs on the finer details like ‘how is the haemoglobin level’, ‘is the glucose level in the normal range’ and so on. An annual data gathering exercise does not capture the data accurately because either the information becomes dated, or the length of the survey does not allow you to go into too many details.
2. Time: The basic steps of conducting a survey are a) Data mapping for the survey, b) Survey administration, and c) Report generation
This process itself takes anywhere between 2-3 months.
3. The survey reports are usually very detailed and the organization takes a lot of time in digesting the data. Post this reflection phase, a few of the organizations go to the next phase of communicating the survey outcome to the employees. A smaller fraction moves to the next phase - action planning. Very few out of this diminished fraction are able to conduct reviews on the progress made.
Kudos to the organizations which show commitment to the process, and are able to conduct the survey, communicate the results, do action planning, and systematically review progress on progress made. You have the status of a demi-god. Please stop reading any further and continue with the good work. For the rest of the mortals, this usually does not progress as seamlessly as mentioned above. I would like to suggest an alternate model that can work in their favour. Instead of giving up the good cause, we can look at a few alternatives:
1. Dip-stick surveys: Dip-stick surveys are brief succinct surveys intended to gather data on a specific topic. Let me cite a few examples:
· An HR manager is breaking his head thinking on what recognition tools to offer to his employees. He can do secondary research on the internet or get a green-horn summer intern do a benchmarking study. He has another alternative…use a complicated, sophisticated, intricate tool-- ask them what they want!
· A CEO has conducted a town-hall, where she has shared her plans for the year ahead. She wants to know how it was received by the employees. Are there any concerns that need to be addressed? She can get a quick dip-stick done with a set of 4-5 questions. She can use the responses in creating a better employee experience in the next town-hall.
I have had the opportunity to work with a group CEO who used this technique very efficiently, and invariably thanked employees for their feedback and then told them about the changes he made to his presentation. Imagine the positive impact on employees!
· An M&A process results in a heightened sense of insecurity in both organizations. Will there be forced attrition? One position two contenders. Lack of clarity on policies/processes. A dip-stick survey can help gather the concern issues, which can then be dealt through a town-hall.
A major advantage a dip-stick survey has over a regular annual survey is that it is easier to action upon, and communicate. Once you communicate the results of the survey, and the actions you have taken, it creates an immediate feedback loop. Employees feel positive about the intent of surveys, and the belief that their opinions are valued (Q.7 of the Gallup survey).
2. Stay conversations/interviews: These are conversations that you have with employees while they are still working for you. It’s a much better alternative to an exit interview process, which I prefer to term as a ‘post mortem’. It would be ideal for the stay interviews to be conducted by the line managers, but in case if they are not ready, HR managers can conduct sessions and ask employees on what they would engage them better. Stay conversations are not very complicated. The end objective of the discussion is to understand what makes the employee(s) tick. For that, one can create a simple set of questions: what makes you get up on a Monday morning (Sunday morning for my Arab friends) without pressing the snooze button, what can the manager do to recognize/praise their team members, and so on. Once you have received feedback, it makes good business sense to act upon the feedback and report back.
HR managers, who cannot find time to do individual conversations can conduct focus group discussions. Those who cannot do focus groups across the organization, can do focus groups for the top 20% (take rating as a parameter). Those who find even this difficult, can conduct a dip-stick using an external partner. The point I am making is- make an attempt. It can bear rich dividends and free up time from all the exit interview conversations you may be currently having.
3. People development programme: You don’t need a survey to tell you that immediate line managers contribute most in how the employee perceives the world around him/her. If you wish to create a culture where managers take responsibility for the engagement of their team, it is ideal to institutionalize a strong people management programme in the organization. It should have the basic elements which help the manager give role clarity, recognize, develop and conduct development conversations with team members. The training head is well-advised to add this as part of the training calendar, and a mandatory one for employees taking on people management roles.
In conclusion, I would like to share the parable of the blind men and the elephant. In the story, the blind men touch various parts of the elephant, and share their version of the truth. In one of the versions, a sighted man passes by and gives the blind men the complete picture. In another version, the blind men sit together, discuss and collaborate to ‘see’ the full elephant. I have visualized a third version where the sighted man shared the complete picture and in turn gets a deeper understanding of the perspectives shared by the blind men. The annual survey can be equated with the sighted man, and the perspectives shared by the blind men can be equated to the dip-sticks. Both add significant value in creating a feedback loop, which can go a long way in creating an engaged workforce.
Disclaimer: This is a contributed post. The statements, opinions and data contained are solely those of the individual authors and contributors and not of People Matters and the editor(s).