How To Get More Value Out Of Your Employee Engagement Survey: Part 1


Ask The Right Questions!

Employee engagement surveys are a potentially enormously valuable source of actionable insights about how to improve employee engagement and business results. This potential, however, too often goes unrealized, because many HR departments are stuck in out-of-date ways of thinking about what engagement surveys can and should do for their organization.

In the end, getting more value out of engagement surveys also requires clever analysis of your survey results and compelling reporting on the findings (topics we will cover in subsequent newsletters).

But first, you’ve got to start by asking the right questions!

There are four points to keep front and center in the design of your employee survey:

  1. Your survey “real estate” is a valuable commodity – so use it wisely. You’ll get more responses and more accurate answers when you keep your surveys fairly short.
  1. You should ask questions that fall into two different broad categories: outcomes and diagnostic items.
  1. The outcomes questions should be carefully chosen, small in number, and focused on your organization’s key business goals. These include, but should also go beyond, employee engagement.
  1. The vast majority of your survey real estate should be devoted to diagnostic questions, because that is where the actionable insights will be found. Diagnostic items are designed to get employees’ assessments on a wide range of workplace elements that might be helping to drive (or impede) key outcomes.

And how do you find out which diagnostic items are the ones driving the outcomes?  Stay tuned – that’s a topic for next month’s newsletter!

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An Analytics-Enhanced Employee Survey


Welcome back (at least to those of you in the northern hemisphere) to the new, even-more-frenzied, post-summer work reality!

For those of you beginning to be immersed in 2015 planning and budgeting, we’d like to offer some thoughts on how to get more bang for your buck from your next employee engagement survey.  In one sentence: you should use it as cornerstone for a strategic, analytics-enhanced HR measurement strategy.

When employee engagement data is properly designed and cleverly analyzed, it is an enormously powerful foundation for creating actionable, fact-based insights to drive better business results.  It is the single most important source of data enabling you to move beyond “descriptive” HR metrics to “predictive” human capital analytics.  By identifying the human drivers (and impediments) of business results, these analytics insights provide a strong evidence base both for guiding HR investments and documenting their impact.

Through linkage analysis – the mapping of employee engagement to important business outcomes­ – it is possible to develop insights into the HR strategies that will have the greatest positive impact on your organization’s greatest challenges, such as the following:

  • Revenues
  • Cost containment
  • Profitability
  • Customer service issues
  • Productivity
  • Safety
  • Managerial effectiveness
  • Training effectiveness
  • Employee engagement
  • Absenteeism
  • Regretted turnover

The bottom line – an analytics-enhanced employee survey is a far better investment than the traditional, HR check-the-box employee engagement survey!

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Thinking like an Investor


Ask yourself these questions.  Start with “If I were a long-term investor considering making an investment in the company where I currently work…”

1.  In what areas would I want the company to invest more (time, money, and leadership focus)?

2.  What would I want the company to stop doing?

3.  What aspects of the company’s culture would I consider most important to preserve?

4.  What aspects of the company’s culture would I consider most important to change?

5.  Would I want more (or fewer) employees to spend their time doing what I do?

Since the vast majority of wealth is now created through intangible assets – all of which ultimately emanate from human capital – these questions are particularly important for professionals working in HR, organizational development, and learning.

Can you answer all of those?  Our hats are off to you if have the evidence necessary to confidently answer each of them.  On the other hand, if you’re worried you don’t have a strong evidence base for answering these questions, that’s cause for concern.  It reflects a likely lack of clarity and effectiveness in your company’s HR strategy – and could also mean you should think hard about your own career prospects in an organization like that.

One of our key themes this year is the tremendous power in simply asking better questions (and, of course, being able to answer them).  Asking the questions that investors would ask of you if they were given the chance is a very powerful strategy for guiding HR investments.

At its heart, this is what advances in HR analytics can help you accomplish – asking and answering better, more insightful, more important questions.  And remember – since the time and energy you spend working means that you ARE an investor in whatever company you choose to be your employer, these questions can also help guide you in major career decisions.


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Engagement in the news in the UK


Never mistake activity for achievement. – John Wooden

UK-based HR strategy consultant Kevin Ball takes a hard look at organizations’ focus on employee engagement in his “People Matters” blog, concluding that engagement surveys create “busy fools through the illusion of activity which has no bearing on what the organisation is trying to achieve.”

Remarkably, at almost at the same time, the UK government announced its support for a new “Employee Engagement Task Force,” with Prime Minister David Cameron noting his expectation that the task force will help in “delivering sustainable growth across the UK.”

Attention to any people management topic at the highest levels of government is almost certainly a good thing, and we hope that the task force will look broadly at questions like the relationship between people management and organizational outcomes.  Based on the initial language around the task force launch, however, that may not be very likely.

Are workers in green jobs more productive?


The answer is YES, according to Ante Glavas, a professor at the University of Notre Dame.  He’s leading a research project called “Business for the Greater Good.” 

The project has found that “sustainability’s greatest impact is on employees who work for green companies,” with productivity rates in such companies up to 40 percent higher due to more profitably engaged employees (even if what they’re doing is shoveling manure at “green” dairies). 

More engaged, more productive, and more sustainable.  Who couldn’t get behind that? 

Finding the “sweet spot” – the intersection between more profitable and more enlightened management and development of people – is work worth doing.  It’s what we’re doing every day with our clients.

Incorporating employee engagement into a broader strategy


A recent article in Psychology Today does a nice job of differentiating employee engagement from business results.  (In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that it also references our recent Talent Management article on the subject.) 

It suggests that, given the general lack of evidence on the relationship between engagement and the bottom line, employers might be wise to reduce their heavy focus on engagement. 

Instead, in light of evidence they cite that “productivity was enhanced in workplaces where daily occurrences that bring about joy, interest, and caring that lead to high level of bonding of individuals to each other,” they suggest that oganizations should instead incorporate current employee engagement efforts into a broader strategy of enhancing employee well-being at work.

Employee engagement – and organizational processes


Great post on the Fistful of Talent blog yesterday, exploring the link between employee engagement and workplace processes.  The post discusses a quote from Steve Church, Chief Operational Excellence Officer at Avnet:

“If you help employees fix broken process, you’ll gain employee engagement.”

We couldn’t agree more.  And we’re always delighted to encounter perspectives in which employee engagement is tied to work elements that directly affect an organization’s bottom line.

The Problem with Employee Engagement


The HR profession has bought into psychologists’ construct of employee engagement – hook, line and sinker.  And that, in my view, helps to keep the HR profession stuck where it is – hoping for, but not earning, the elusive “seat at the table.”

At its core, engagement really has little, if anything, to do with how work gets done and results get produced in an organization.  And so when HR professionals focus (obsess) on measuring it, they do so at the expense of more critical items such as work processes, social learning, the quality of the hiring process, and accountability.

In “Debunking Employee Engagement Myths,” an article just published in Talent Management, Dan McMurrer and I dive into these ideas in detail, and lay out the research that has shaped our thinking on this issue. 

We expect to take some flak for this perspective, but hope also to do some good in the process.  We’d love to hear your thoughts!