Lessons from Rolling out an Engagement Survey

30 November 2018
Author   Retuura Ballotti
Low employee engagement can cause great harm to an organisation. The notion that engagement is driven primarily by good or bad management is outdated and often shrouded in misunderstanding.
Today, employees are looking for a sense of purpose in their careers, a feeling that they’re part of something bigger than themselves. New research suggests that this feeling isn't just empty speculation which means that realigning employment engagement becomes a business imperative.
One of the major prevailing trends in the human capital space in the 21st Century is that of Employee Engagement and Experience while at work and using surveys to determine that level of engagement. This initiative refers to exploring the entire employee experience and having a holistic view of life at work. This includes all the workplace forces; productivity, growth, HR and management practices that influence people on the job to yield a positive employee brand, satisfaction and overall alignment. Harter and Adkins define “engaged employees as those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace”.
According to 2017 Deloitte Human Capital Trends, nearly 80% of business leaders believe engagement is critical for their business, The Corporate Leadership Council states that 90% of organisations are investing in engagement surveys to measure the experience and level of engagement of employees. However, some of the common mistakes that are made are due to a focus on measuring engagement rather than improving engagement thus, the necessary changes or impact is not felt. Some of the potential shortcomings may include:
- viewing engagement as a survey rather than a continuous means to achieving higher performance and engagement;
- focusing on the bottom line and not the employees
- concentrating on the survey reports and data instead of investing in the development of their managers and employees
- using the survey as a recognition tool for leaders and managers instead of using the data to unearth systemic problems that are interfering with engagement and performance;
- using the survey to respond to the wants of the employees, but not keeping in mind their long-term needs and that of the organisation to evolve.
This article explores how to be better prepared for the next employee engagement survey that your organisation may be embarking upon and how to improve on the return on the investment made into this initiative. In the planning of an engagement survey, the following considerations have to be agreed upon and finalised.
1. Purpose
It is critical that the leadership of the organisation spend sufficient time obtaining clarity on the motives and true purpose of why they want to participate in an engagement improvement journey. The clarification process will form the foundation of the engagement journey and will guide leadership on how to handle the overall outcome. In addition, it will assist with managing the expectations of all executives, unions, shop stewards and employees that comprise the internal stakeholders in the organisation. Educate stakeholders that the survey is a tool to enquiring ‘what’ the employees feel, but does not answer ‘why’, therefore, further engagement needs to be done to gain a deeper understanding.
The Executive, senior management and leadership teams have to champion the engagement exercise. Successful surveys start with commitment from the top. If senior management and decision makers don’t take surveys seriously and show real commitment, employees won’t commit to the process either. The HR department must be wary not to own the engagement survey process entirely. Their role is to support, and orchestrate an integrated employee experience. The HR department should have the structures, processes and technology in place to ensure the success of such an initiative and assist with employee feedback in conjunction with line leaders. The ownership lies with the line leaders and their accountability needs to be emphasised by the Executive and senior management to ensure that the necessary importance of the exercise and its takeout is imparted. According to Maylett & Wride the benefit for management and the business as a whole can be equated to the Law of Congruent Experience which is when “employees deliver
a customer experience that matches their own employee experience in the organization”
A possible suggestion is to add engagement improvement as a Key Performance item on the performance contract of line leaders and the overall team. Take note that this should not be for the improvement of a percentage score, but rather as a measurement for efforts towards the common goal of employee or team engagement at a departmental level. The line leader and employee have to demonstrate that they have contributed positively by participating and driving the common purpose as agreed as a team.
Engagement is all about motivating employees to go above and beyond. So why not design a tangible way to measure that at a departmental level? This can be initiated through action plans that each department needs to prepare and commit to with suggested actions aimed at improving the employee experience and levels of engagement. Having line leaders who inject life into the organisation is vital to the ongoing success of the company, and managers who have the ability to inspire their employees generally enjoy happier and more engaged employees. One of the root causes of unengaged employees is the top down managerial approach, where line managers who dictate to their employees what they should and should not be doing, leads to a work environment in which employees feel aloof and impartial to their work. The solution lies in getting line managers to better understand employees to unlock their potential.
Some of the mistakes that many organisations make are to wait for the survey results to become available and then act without a clear plan. There is a lot of preparation and planning that needs to be done prior to the dissemination of the results. This includes considerations such as:
- A communication or feedback plan that needs to have been developed before the release of the results and ensures that budget is fully available for any initiatives that would facilitate shortfalls in the current engagement processes, such as the development and cascading of awareness campaigns or travelling
- Consistency in the feedback message. This ensures that the assigned accountable feedback team is equipped with the necessary resources and partner with the line management who will have to own the process once the feedback is shared
- Encouraging continuous conversations between the line manager and the employee and having all preferred communication channels open and as transparent as possible, which creates an environment in which the employee feels heard and appreciated
- using practical action plan templates and having possible suggestions ready for teams to use  
- facilitating focus groups to delve into understanding the major trends and promoting courageous and solutions driven and;
- sharing the results with the organisation no later than two months after its release
Success factors
When analysing the results, one of the success factors is resisting the temptation to try to fix everything at once. Solutions to the findings may require unexpected funding, larger change initiatives, some may be legacy challenges that require creative problem solving and more time than expected. Remain realistic and try to select at least three essential items to focus on that will influence the critical mass. If the results demonstrate commonalities and trends across the organisation, it is vitally important to react to those findings. If ignored, this will result in distrust and resentment towards the survey as a tool for sourcing the employee experience and levels of engagement and result in employees being sceptical to participate in future employee engagement surveys. Only invest in this tool if the business is willing to listen to constructive criticism and make the necessary changes. Actively carrying out certain actions will demonstrate that you have listened to their feedback.
Organisations need to invest in tools that allow them to engage employees more regularly to assist line leaders to remain in sync with the expectations and values of their employees. An annual engagement survey is just one tool that allows decision-makers to have a clearer perspective of the employee experience. It is also a move towards always-on feedback or a regular, in the moment survey that are growing in popularity to evaluate the pulse of the employees at a specific time so as to react in an agile manner. It is also important to recognise the positive results from the survey and find ways to strengthen those messages to remind employees of what is good about their department or organisation. Highlight milestones on a quarterly basis  by making use of the various employee feedback channels, forums and platforms to ensure that employees are mindful of the time, discretionary effort and impactful actions that management are investing in in response to the employee opinions aired in the survey.
Using a survey with the right intentions is only one piece of a major cultural shift that organisations must make in order to improve their employee engagement. The use of a survey, however, signals to employees that an organisation is serious about transforming its culture. Used as a platform for dialogue and to own feedback, however unpleasant, a survey can lay a solid foundation for a more impactful change.
*Retuura Ballotti is the Human Resources Manager at Bank Windhoek


The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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