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Getting the most from your engagement survey

Posted by Amy Wilson on February 19, 2009


At this point, nearly all companies conduct employee surveys. Satisfaction, pulse, engagement – whatever they’re called their purpose is to get an understanding of what people think and what can be improved. This is particularly important in trying times when money doesn’t flow freely and everyone needs to get more creative. The good news is that the will is there. However, organizations are still grappling with the following challenges:

1) How to get people to participate? (to get meaningful survey results)

2) What the heck to do with the results? (to get improved business performance)

Interestingly, the two are related. Those organizations that do something meaningful with their results find that participation starts to rise exponentially.

Where to start?

Start small and targeted. Ask just a few questions and decide what you will do about the results ahead of time. For example, ask “will you be better off if the cafeteria stays open until 6?” If most people say yes, then do it. If most people say no or don’t care, then don’t. But, here’s the catch: tell people. Don’t just extend the hours of the cafeteria. Show people the results. Send an email. Post in the cafeteria. Announce at an All Hands meeting. And then? Plug your next survey.

What’s next?

After you tackle the easy and the tangible, the next step is to take on business process improvement. Ask probing questions about motivation. Take the data and identify a couple of hard-hitting programs. And here’s the catch: add them as goals to the business leaders’ goal plans. Make the business leaders accountable for improvement and have them communicate the survey results, the program, and the goal progress.

What’s nirvana?

Now that you’ve got them hooked, it’s time to turn up the dial on engagement. Measure who and where engagement is high and low. Analyze and experiment. Take programs from high engagement areas and model them in low engagement areas. See if there is improvement. Remember the catch: give people a stake in their own engagement.

If you give them a reason, people will participate. If they participate, you’ve got the engagement you need to do a better job. Just start small and focus the most on the actions that result from the survey. In the end, the actions you take are more important than the questions you asked.

4 Responses to “Getting the most from your engagement survey”

  1. Ken Klaus said

    Great insights Amy, in particular the importance of defining the outcomes and action items tied to the results of the survey before it is distributed to the organization. As an independent contributor (i.e. not a manager) I always appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback, but even more so when I see something change as a result of the comments I provided via the survey.

  2. Meg Bear said

    I also think that for any survey to work well you need a reasonable turn around between collecting the data and taking some action. I have seen too many surveys that are obsolete by the time they get to the action stage.

  3. Great post! The key point that “the actions you take are more important than the questions you asked” fits well with the point being made by the Dilbert cartoon. That is, you can (or should) only take action on something that is concrete, therefore the questions should be concrete as well. Surveys that ask questions like, “Rate your level of satisfaction” or “Rate your level of commitment” etc. suffer from several problems *even when they are anonymous*. One problem is they aren’t connected with any concrete thing that can be acted on, vs. say for example a relative preference for longer cafeteria hours over lower cafeteria prices, which could be acted on. Another problem is the tendency for self-reported measures such as “satisfaction” and “commitment” to be highly influenced by the overall performance of the company (see “The Halo Effect”, as pointed out by our colleague David Kottcamp) which makes the survey results not very useful in figuring out whether actions you took anyway had *real* effect.

  4. Melanie said

    Great cartoon! Where did you get it?

    I think another something that needs to be included in every survey is the opportunity for employees to let you know WHY they feel a certain way for each question asked. So many of the online surveys that are used these days will have you answer yes/no and scale qusetions, but they do not capture WHY an employee agrees or disagrees with something. Some of the better online surveys include a text box at the end of the survey that will allow an employee to add any comments. Most of the time these are not even filled out.

    If anyone is interested in exploring a telephone survey and the benefits they have visit: http://www.captureisg.com

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