Making Sense of Engagement Data:
Take a look at the data table above: this isn’t just any data, its a tiny portion of the engagement survey results for one of our clients, in raw form. Aside from the first five numbers, each digital row across the page represents the thoughts and feelings and identification of one person who works in this company. This was voluntary, so they and the other 86% of the worker population which responded were good enough to spend the time to share this with us. The question is, how much do we use this data to reward their trust and their time?
Of course, it is also the company which has invested time and money in this survey. From their perspective, we owe them the very best insight into this data which we can make. None of this is possible unless we mine the data. Presenting it back to the company, question by question, isn’t enough. It misses the golden nuggets which don’t show up by going through each question, although that can be very compelling and it is certainly needed. But its only the beginning of what can be discovered.
I didn’t come to this conclusion alone, my clients demanded it: early on when I started to consult in this field, clients would see the question by question results and ask me: “I see the details, but overall…..how is everybody doing?” They were asking me for a single data point which would not only tell them the answer to this question, but which would also give them the chance to compare groups to each other inside the organization, and to compare results over time, across the entire survey.
Some people in our business hate this: they say that you cannot reduce the vast mosaic of survey results to one data point. Yet you can, and you don’t lose anything: the richness of the data is still available to you, if you want to look into it. Think of it this way: LDL cholesterol, blood sugar levels, systolic blood pressure or height to weigh ratio aren’t everything about a person’s health but each is a piece of critical data which points the way to other things, and collecting that information doesn’t preclude going into more depth elsewhere. In fact it is often the first, crucial step. Same with engagement data.
Internal Ranking and Its Huge Benefits:
A single score for engagement opens up what I consider to be the eighth wonder of the world: internal ranking. OK I am a bit passionate about this, I’ll admit it. But internal ranking is powerful stuff. It gives an organization so many benefits I am sometimes amazed all do not use it. Instead they often look at outside benchmarks to see how they are doing. This is a big mistake because the benchmarks are so incredibly unreliable, and can easily be the basis for making poor decisions.
Look at the chart below: this is internal ranking at work. With the average for the whole normalized at zero, each group, in this case production plants, is ranked against their internal peers (total plants).
Imagine doing this with your own data: compare your managers in one location to all managers in all locations. Compare your sales people in one area to all salespeople. The list is endless, as are the learning opportunities. If one emergency room (ER or A&E for those in the UK) manager can create such a great work environment that that ER is the highest engagement group versus all other departments in a hospital, while another hospital ER in the same small system has the lowest engagement score….(true story)…don’t you think the former can teach the latter something? And yes both hospitals were in equally difficult socioeconomic districts with the same kind of ER challenges which that creates.
Internal ranking does something else which external benchmarks cannot do: as in any research, you try to control as many variables which might affect your results, and in this case you can control a huge one: organizational culture. External benchmarks are a hodge-podge of data from very different organizations, often not even in your same business (let alone your direct competitors), and with very different cultures. By going internal you completely avoid this problem and control the culture aspect of your results.
How To Do It:
Not every consultant can do this, and it is a bit more tricky than it might first appear. You cannot easily drop data into Excel and get this kind of result back, which is why my firm developed our own database program called In*Sight, to do the job. In*Sight can slice through data with great speed and it is based on solid statistical foundations. Find a consultant who can do this, and make sure you understand the process and that it makes sense to you and is easily explainable to everyone at your company who will see the results. This is important because if you choose to publicize the rankings internally, for example among managers (or whatever you call them), it will have no credibility if they cannot make sense of how it was generated.
Take it from me, internal ranking is one of the most powerful uses of engagement data, and can lead to insights into your organization you might never have had. Internal areas of high engagement can be identified and you can find out what it takes, in your culture, to achieve this. When you have replaced a manager somewhere and seen that team’s engagement ranking rocket up versus the rest of the organization a year later, you might become a believer too. My clients have always waited impatiently for this analysis, and once you start to use it, you will too.
David’s two books (co-authored with Professor Sir Cary Cooper) on morale, engagement and culture in the workplace are titled Employee Morale: Driving Performance in Challenging Times and The High Engagement Work Culture: Balancing ME and WE and are available worldwide from Macmillan, Amazon, etc. in print and digital format. Visit David’s website for all things engagement, culture and emotional intelligence at work: www.davidbowlesphd.com