ESSAY Edelman Change & Employee EngagementWhy Engagement Surveysneither engage nor inform in a meaningful wayT he Holy Grail for globalbusiness executives today is studies indicate less than 1/3 of employees globally are activelyemployee engagement. And engaged in their jobs.well it should be. Recent studiesindicate that close to 85% of Engagement is about individualengaged employees (some behavior. People who have bothstudies as high as 88%) believe an emotional and intellectualthey can positively impact bond to the organization. Disen-quality of their organization’s gaged employees not onlyproducts and services. The sad exhibit less than satisfactorytruth though is that those same behavior as it relates to perfor-
Why Engagemnet Surveys neither “engage” nor “inform” in a Meaningful Way mance, they actually produce management, and the second less revenue for the business. approach is more often than not used as the impetus to establish It is for these reasons that meaningless “morale commit- leaders and communicators tees” or “culture task forces.” alike are spending signifi- cant resources to uncover the An Outcome Not a Goal elements of engagement. The reason for such misdirec-‘‘ tion is that often organizations This is apropos to any discus- define “engagement” as a goal sion on engagement surveys or even a strategy when in fact, The reason for such because, in too many organiza- it’s an outcome. misdirection is that tions, they’re a colossal waste often organizations of time, either knowingly or Real engagement happens as unknowingly designed to tempo- a result of a number of inter- define “engage- rarily deflect attention from more related actions including but ‘‘ ment” as a goal or even a strategy when in fact, it’s meaningful dialogue. How so? Rather than do what not limited to: management behaviors; open and transparent culture; participatory decision- they’re supposed to do – serve as making; clear and consistent an outcome. a means for employees to advise communications; team-oriented leadership on the effectiveness project management; rewards of its management or operating and recognition efforts; and model – they instead get used compensation policies. by HR and communications departments to gauge morale Once engagement is defined and awareness. as an outcome, organizations can stop chasing their tail, so The workforce, sensing this, to speak, and move their focus generally responds in one of from symptoms to the cause. two ways: by telling manage- ment what it wants to hear, or Check out the employee engage- by truthfully professing any ment survey practices of some of ignorance or confusion about the leading management consult- the company’s strategic direc- ing and research firms, and you’ll tion. The first approach accom- see that these surveys usually plishes nothing positive beyond aren’t really conceived to engage a back-slapping opportunity for at all; they’re conceived to gener-
Why Engagemnet Surveys neither “engage” nor “inform” in a Meaningful Way ate statistically laden checklists don’t sugarcoat our results (for and metrics to provide manage- senior management). Our execu- ments with insight into the short- tives talk about the results often comings of their workforce. They and build engagement into our presume senior management enterprise targets.” The manager “knows all” and put the onus for adds that the company doesn’t improvement and performance on worry about measuring scores the general workforce. but rather, “participation in the‘‘ survey and progress made… This isn’t a clarion call for the across the enterprise … If we abolition of engagement surveys. incented the score, associates . . . before even Quite the contrary: approached might fill it out more positively embarking on an properly – as a referendum on than they really believe.” engagement survey, leadership – and they can be ‘‘ commit to doing so for the right reason. . . highly valuable. The key, of course, is to approach them the right way. Actions Not Words An industrial company senior manager notes that conducted properly, engagement surveys Some enlightened organizations “can help you set your strategic do that already. Consider the approach by giving you a sense following input gleaned from a of what people are really doing variety of top-tier companies. not just saying.” Another senior We’ve left the identity of these communicator from a manufac- senior managers anonymous to turing company concurs, observ- encourage their openness about ing that engagement surveys internal subject matter. can offer “a true sense of how committed people are” and Transparency how effectively management is “We’re proud of what we do: we leading – particularly related to view our engagement surveys the toughest issues facing the as a core strategic, competitive organization. edge,” says a senior communi- cator at a large manufacturing This manager notes that company. “We believe the more engagement surveys can also highly engaged our associates uncover cases of senior manage- are, the more productive they ment being tone deaf. After a are. We implement a new survey downsizing, for example, many every one or two years. We employees used the survey to
Why Engagemnet Surveys neither “engage” nor “inform” in a Meaningful Way voice displeasure that former through “morale committees” colleagues’ offices were left that put the impetus for change untouched – down to empty on employees, but through new coffee cups still sitting on the approaches to engaging desks. “It was bizarre,” he notes, employees’ minds and hearts. and employees weren’t happy about it. The survey offered a “It’s not about hearts and safe haven for employees to raise flowers,” says a senior commu-‘‘ the subject – not a communica- nications officer at an industrial tions issue, per se, but one that company. “It’s about shoring up absolutely impacted engagement. gaps. Employees need to know It’s not about hearts that the feedback they provide and flowers ... It’s about shoring up gaps. ‘‘ Respond vs. React A senior communicator at a healthcare company remarks results in real action.” A New Approach that his large organization Before identifying what to do– senior communications officer approaches near 100% participa- to improve engagement at your tion in its engagement surveys organization, here are three because it “explains why they’re things to avoid when developing important” so employees will research: take the time to complete them. In a very telling comment, he 1: Ill-designed - Check your says that, “you’ve got to be questions and determine if prepared not to be surprised the answers actually provide or shocked: You’re not in the any insight into how people trenches every day.” Further, behave. Many engagement “You’ve got to be prepared to surveys only address what do something” with the infor- people say about involvement mation these surveys generate. or communications or knowl- edge sharing or collaboration. Bingo! That’s the crucial point: For example, engagement before even embarking on an surveys typically ask “what is engagement survey, commit to the best way to receive infor- doing so for the right reason: to mation about the company’s gather useful, previously unknown strategy or direction”, and and under-considered informa- more often than not, the tion that senior management typical response from employ- will absorb and respond to! Not ees is ‘though my manager/
Why Engagemnet Surveys neither “engage” nor “inform” in a Meaningful Way supervisor.” However, in organization?” The responses today’s matrix-structured to this question often cite organizations, interaction with “more information on our managers is often limited or vision, strategy, priorities, muted due to reporting lines etc.” However, employees and organizational design. may or may not even be Without a major overhaul in going to the portal with any such things, this is not helpful. regularity as to know what’s Rather, have the survey ask already there. about the interactions with Six ways for your Engagement managers/supervisors taking Surveys to Mean Something: place today and how they • Above all, instead of just might be improved. This will tracking and reporting on provide insight on thing that engagement across a spectrum can be changed. of areas such as “management interaction” or “adherence to2: Action Dis-Oriented - Again, values” compile an overall the survey or research must be statement reflecting the situa- conducted to enact a new set tion pointing to the organiza- of actions within the organi- tion’s management model. zation led by management to Doing so mitigates the knee improve the overall relation- jerk reaction to apply actions ship between the company and against each of the areas vs. its workforce. Reassess your developing an overall strategy. research instrument to see if it’s action oriented. • Recognize the real audience. It’s not employees! The3: Myopic - So much engage- real audience is leadership! ment research places the Engagement is an outcome respondents - employees - in of the company’s current a proverbial box in terms of management model. At a their ability to answer holis- minimum, the model needs tically. For example, this to be recalibrated to deliver a question tends to pop up a lot more engaged workforce. If on surveys, “what types of you believe employees are the content would you like on our audience, then all the effort is portal that would lead to your communicating results of the increased involvement in the survey back to them instead of
Why Engagemnet Surveys neither “engage” nor “inform” in a Meaningful Way fixing the areas they identified. The Real Value Establishing and maintaining• Make Engagement a senior engagement internally is all leadership priority! Once about integration and alignment. the results are in, have senior IN the end, research is meant leaders brief the organization on to identify the areas in which the findings and the solutions. engagement is being thwarted or advanced by the organization’s• Be consistent: implement management model or how it these surveys at least once a operates the enterprise. . year. Once every other year is OK as long as you have The results of any research mechanisms in place to gather must be dissected and shared feedback in the intervening among all key functions so that years. One communicator a proper solution can be devised interviewed above says his and enacted. Having individual organization implements “mini groups or teams run around surveys” in the years between implementing tactics without more extensive surveying. any cohesion is a waste of time and resources leaving employees• Be objective: for many compa- confused and cynical and the nies, it makes sense to engage business itself less than optimal. a third party to provide an additional perspective analyzing engagement surveys, to avoid bias and make employees more confident that their anonymity will be preserved.• Finally… be level-headed: Almost as bad as ignoring feedback is responding too aggressively, too quickly. Take the time to truly assess the feedback and what it says about leadership’s effectiveness.
Why Engagemnet Surveys neither “engage” nor “inform” in a Meaningful WayEdelman Change and Employee Engagementis the global organizational (internal) changecommunications consulting group of Edelman, the largestindependent public relations firm in the world and thethird largest overall. The mission of Edelman Changeand Employee Engagement is to advise and assistorganizations on strengthening the ability to implementcorporate strategy and initiatives through managementand employee engagement and effective communicationsin order to build brands and achieve business goals.The group provides distinctive expertise in organizationaleffectiveness, culture transformation, strategyimplementation and accessibility, CEO transition andpositioning, internal branding, post-merger integration,labor-management relations, internal communicationsprogramming and research/measurement.For more information, please visit:www.change.edelman.com