Maximizing the POWER Of Your Employee Engagement or Morale Survey

In all the time I have spent consulting with clients in the area of morale and engagement, I must say there is almost nothing which compares to the power of an employee survey.  I recognize that for some, the word survey elicits a groan, and the thought “on no, we just did that and nothing happened, why on earth so we have to go through this again?”  Others, like managers I have worked with, get excited at the thought and cannot wait to get back the results.  What is the difference between these surveys?

First of all let me say that I am going to preach to the choir here; those who conduct or plan to conduct surveys.  If you think that surveys are the most awful and useless thing that an organization can do, I can’t help you. I have written enough about why that is nonsense, in these pages, and now is not the time to re-hash those arguments.

Having said that, doing a survey without maximizing its power is like going to a well, painstakingly dropping the bucket all the way down, and bringing it up a quarter full….why such a small return for the effort and for the potential benefit?  As far as your workforce goes, why raise expectations and then deliver so little?   It makes no sense.   What makes sense is to squeeze as much value out of this process as you possibly can, and in return benefit your workforce and increase its potential for higher morale and engagement.

Maximizing the power of your survey occurs in several areas:

Questionnaire content:  I know that many of you use very small questionnaires such as Gallup’s Q12.  I am a fan of Gallup and used their data (with their permission) in my 2009 book, so this is not a criticism of them in general.  But why would anyone want to squander the opportunity to find out so many valuable things by not using a longer survey?  Because of the time it takes to complete?  But even long surveys (say 100+ items) can be completed in 20 minutes or less, not such a big investment of time.   Don’t you have a long list of things which you are dying to find out about from your people?   What about that new sales incentive program you just implemented with the outside salesforce?  What about the new marketing strategy, is it clear?   What about your benefits plan, on which you spend so much money, do its customers…your employees…see value in it equal to your investment?    What about the desire to leave the organization when things turn around, wouldn’t you be interested to see how spring-loaded your workforce is, when given a chance to confidentially say if they plan to stay more than a year…or less?  I could go on and on, there are so many opportunities to find out things which you need to know which you can know in a well designed, customized survey.

Use of Professionals:  this is not a shameless plug for my profession of consulting.  Instead, its common sense.  Doing surveys is a real field of expertise, ideally requiring a background in behavioral science, statistics, social science research (including survey design) and general business knowledge.  As much as you might want to, don’t let a non-expert design your questionnaire, or analyze and interpret the data.  Your in-house resources might include such experts, in which case you are set; otherwise, spend the money to bring in help and don’t fall victim to poorly designed and incorrectly interpreted research (especially if you don’t know of its faults and make decisions based on this lack of knowledge…as in “you don’t know what you don’t know”).

–Mining of Data:   here we go back to the quarter-full bucket again.  Why generate all the data which you can from this kind of survey then fail to find the real meaning of what is being said, the trends over time, the differences between groups, etc?  Again expertise and (especially) software is essential.  I went looking for such software in 1987, when I started my consulting firm, but it didn’t exist so I had someone write it for me.  I now have a program which can take a 15,000 person company and analyze the results for me in one minute.  The data which it generates, rankings of internal groups by level of morale/engagement, never fails to have executives on the edge of their seats when the presentation is made to them.  You deserve nothing less with your own data.  The possibilities are endless:  if you are a stand-alone hospital, don’t you want to see all departments ranked in terms of engagement?  If you are a hospital system don’t you want to see each emergency room ranked against all emergency rooms in the system? Or a restaurant chain which has each store ranked against the whole or against its region….?  How about all managers in one area ranked against all managers at their level in your organization?

–Merging and Correlating Data from Other Sources: do you have customer satisfaction data?  Does it exist in one silo while the employee survey data exists in another, and never the twin shall meet?  If so, its a waste!  Let me tell you what I did for one client, Hilti:  I merged the employee and customer data and did some basic statistical analysis on it.  Looking at the data over time and staggering it in various simple ways, I showed that customer satisfaction there is driven (yes, driven) by morale and engagement.  Employees with more customer contact demonstrated this effect in direct proportion to their contact level.  So direct (outside) sales force morale/engagement had a much higher correlation with customer satisfaction than inside sales or those with little customer contact, which is exactly what one would expect if morale is driving CS.  You can do the same thing with your data, break down the silos and with a small amount of work you will know exactly now engagement works, not in some textbook but in your organization and how it effects your customers’ experience.  Its powerful stuff.

-Benchmarking (external or internal?):  notice that my example above uses internal benchmarking.  I am not talking about comparing you to outside organizations, many of which may not even be in the same business as you.  I don’t believe in such comparisons, for reasons I have described elsewhere.  The data I have on this is very compelling, so please follow the link and read it.  I am one of the few consultants to have seen competing benchmark data from different consultants, and lets just say it leaves much to be desired.  Stick to internal benchmarking, find the champions and best practices in your own operations, they will teach you what it takes, within your own culture, business sector and individual organization, to have a fully engaged workforce.

–Involving everyone in the process:  here is where there are so many complaints from people who have been surveyed.  In spite of all the work, the time, the hoopla, nothing happened with the results.  They might have been buried, such a short sighted thing to do after one has set up a positive expectation:  better not to do a survey than not to follow through with comprehensive feedback and involvement of all workers surveyed.  At least then you will be at zero and not minus 50!  Better still, invest , from the outset, in a complete process which requires not only the things I have talked about here but also feedback to everyone, no matter the results, and action planning involvement at the department level,  guided by survey results.  Then you can amaze people that “something actually happened from that survey we did”…..

This is a brief trip through some things you need to do.   Just doing one would greatly improve many surveys which don’t have that feature.  But don’t stop at one, work towards incorporating all these power tools so that you:

–know that the data you collected is valid and represents your organization accurately

–really know what is going on in every nook and cranny of your organization, as well as at the overall level

–know precisely what is working and what is not, for example that new sales incentive plan or dental insurance you introduced last year

–know precisely which managers are walking the talk and those which are just talking, based on the key input of their own people: how much more democratic can you get than that?

–know who your champions and centers of employee engagement excellence are

–know why they are doing so well and what others might learn from them

–can tell your entire workforce that they participated in something crucial to your culture and success and that their input was valued and used to the absolute maximum

Now that’s an engaging process from which your organization can and will benefit.

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