You’ve done an engagement survey – now what?

by Matt Grimshaw
December 27, 2016

If you work in a central HR team, my guess is that…

  • You do an annual engagement survey
  • You distribute the results to line managers (which takes you a while)
  • You ask managers to talk about their results with their team and you expect them to develop action plans to improve engagement (but you’re not sure if this actually happens)
  • You repeat the process again next year, but you’re not sure if it’s actually helping you improve engagement!

If so, here’s 4 things you could be doing to sharpen up your approach in 2017…

1. Identify your pioneers, find out what they’re doing differently and why

When you look at your survey results it’s almost certain that you’ll have some managers who significantly outperform everyone else. They’re working for the same company and in the same context as everyone else, but they’re getting a much better result. If you want to improve engagement it’s critical to start by understanding exactly what your pioneers are doing differently and why.

Speaking to your pioneers is a start, but it’s not sufficient to get an accurate understanding. Often you’ll find your best people struggle to articulate what makes them successful. This is because, as with any expert, the underlying skills and behaviours have become intuitive and instinctive. So you need to try to observe your pioneers in action. Try to identify the attitudes, behaviours and ways of working that are getting your pioneers a better result (and try not to focus on personality differences).

Then you need to look at your average and under performers to check they aren’t also demonstrating these behaviours (otherwise you’re at risk of a sampling bias).

2. Share what you find

Once you think you’ve identified the critical differences between your pioneers and everyone else, share these insights with all your managers so they have tangible examples to copy.

In our experience, the most common shortcoming in the way large companies respond to their annual engagement surveys is that they don’t make it easy enough for managers to learn and improve their scores. Communicating what your organisation’s best managers do differently signals that the company values and recognises outstanding performance, it (subtly) encourages others to emulate them and it gives people a template for improving.

3. Empower managers to be able to experiment

Instead of simply telling all your managers to ‘improve engagement’ in their teams, encourage them to pick a few engagement factors that they want to focus on for the next year. If you have sufficient data, you can do a correlation analysis and suggest the engagement factors that are most likely to correlate with (but not necessarily cause) improvements in customer feedback or business performance.

Once managers have picked a focus area, get them to experiment with a different way of working or management practice for a month. Measure that engagement factor at the start and the end of the month to see whether there’s any improvement. If there is, stick with the new practice (keep measuring it) and look for a new innovation to build on it. If not, drop it and try something else.

This approach encourages managers to take responsibility for improving engagement in their teams by discovering what works for them. Because you’re not telling managers what to do, it preserves their sense of autonomy and accountability. At the same time, by sharing the example of your pioneers and insisting on an iterative, evidence based approach, it’s difficult for them to do nothing or to adopt new practices that make engagement worse.

4. Produce monthly or quarterly reports on these experiments to senior leaders

One of the biggest challenges with annual engagement surveys is keeping people management issues on the agenda all year round {link to other blog}. To help mitigate this, you can switch to more regular surveys, but it doesn’t take long for a 50+ item survey that goes out every month to become quite burdensome.

So our advice would be to make sure senior leaders get a report on the experiments being completed by managers each month. Simply reporting the % of successful innovations and the most significant areas of improvement, will keep the conversation alive and will encourage senior leaders to play a role in promoting the pioneering practices.

If you want to go one step further, you can supplement this report with a regular survey of a randomly chosen sample within your organisation. This will give you a reasonably accurate idea of overall engagement and whether it’s moving in the right direction.

Enjoyed this blog? Sign up to our monthly newsletter to receive more great content just like this.