The ultimate guide to employee engagement: Part 2

The 3 key strategies to increase employee engagement

The ultimate guide to employee engagement: Part 2

Business Strategy


by Andrew Sumitani

Part 2 of 3

(Read Part 1 here)

The 3 Key Strategies to increase employee engagement:

1. Learn what mattters to employees by surveying them
The main goal of surveying your employees is to start a conversation toward understanding what will raise your employees' level of personal investment at work. Overall, you'll want to survey in a way that will produce the most thoughtful, timely responses.

Keep the surveys short

Imagine a company with 1,000 employees sending out its annual employee survey. That survey likely has at least twenty questions that every employee is expected to thoughtfully answer. There are two big problems with this seemingly helpful practice: 

  • First, what's alarming is the 20,000 responses that someone else is expected to read and process.

  • Second, the company has the right motives at heart, but the sheer length of survey means lackluster answers, employee apathy, and lower response rates.

Just look at the results of Cvent's research on the time people spend answering survey questions as the number of questions grows.
The more questions you have, the less time respondents spend answering them. Employees who rush through questions aren't going to give you the most thoughtful or useful answers. 

Make use of frequent pulse surveys

Short, regular surveys are better for both employees and employers. As I showed you above, this is because the small number of questions allows employees to be more thoughtful and respond at a higher rate.

We also asked managers about their problems with annual surveys, and here's a stack-ranking of their complaints: 

Managers identified many shortcomings of long, infrequent surveys. But the biggest problem managers faced was frequency. It's hard to get and act on good feedback if it happens only once per year. In fact, the majority of managers told us that they want to get employee feedback at least once every two weeks.

This is a lot to take in, but remember: the main goal is to start a conversation toward understanding what will raise your employees' level of personal investment at work.

This starts by gathering the most thoughtful, timely information which boils down to two guidelines:

  • Keep the surveys short
  • Make use of frequent pulse surveys

If you follow these guidelines as a manager, you'll protect yourself from too much work and a low quality of your employee responses, so that you can move on to Step 2.
That's it, you've just run a simple, effective employee engagement survey.

2. Build a habit of transparency and share the results

Note: This is where it gets real. The information in this section is extremely important. Reread it a dozen times if you have to.
Employee engagement isn't just on you as a manager. It's actually on everyone in the organization. Sharing all the data from surveys is a simple way to demonstrate transparency and start engaging employees. 

It demonstrates an openness to tackle even the toughest of questions and address even the most minute employee concern. So be sure to share survey responses with everyone to ensure each member of your team has a vested interest in fostering a positive, collaborative culture.

Make sure senior management takes a central role

Engagement programs initiated by senior management are twice as successful as those not introduced by leadership. So before you jump into the process, make sure you involve decision makers who can initiate positive change. If not, get their buy-in to conduct pulse surveys, review results, acknowledge opportunities, and take action based on feedback.

And if you have the authority to undertake changes based on feedback, make sure you have the time, bandwidth, and dedication to follow through.

The 4-step process for effective survey sharing

Survey feedback will show you the good and the bad in your organization. Though you may want to only share positive responses, you’ll be better off being completely candid about all the feedback you receive by following these four steps:

1. Prescreen results: Review all data ahead of time to make sure it doesn’t reveal information that’s obviously embarrassing or offensive to another employee.

2. Set it so you don’t forget it: Make sure to set up a recurring meeting to review survey data when as many participants as possible can gather and discuss the findings.

3. Transparent conversation: Use the findings to begin healthy discussion of problems, not a jumping-off point for accusations or witch-hunting. One good way to initiate this is to discuss all the positive points highlighted in the feedback.

4. Determine next steps: Be sure to create an action plan to follow up on issues, which we'll cover in the next section.

Leaders who follow this process may find it challenging at first but will see changes rather quickly. Like changing eating habits or exercise, doing something new feels like a burden at first. But it will keep you honest. Remember, this is you putting in the work, and not just watching the workout video.

This is a big one.

As crazy as this sounds, I'd rather you do nothing instead of surveying employees without a plan to act on the results. 

Simply listening, without action, leads to employee disengagement. BlessingWhite, an employee engagement consulting firm, found that nearly a third of all employees become disengaged when employers ask for feedback but do nothing about it.

Fielding a survey without the commitment to act on its findings is a recipe for apathetic employees. Don't do it.

Knowing how to tackle that feedback is key to ensuring employees feel like stakeholders in their organization.

If you field employee surveys, be ready for one of two types of feedback

1. Small, easier challenges: These include concerns like overflowing trash cans or not having the right type of software licenses — concerns that are generally easier to solve.

2. Big, difficult challenges: The primary issues you’ll have to address here are recurring interpersonal issues, managerial style, or disengagement with job roles.

Acting on one or two smaller challenges immediately is a great way to show your team that you’re following through on their feedback. Because these can be handled quickly, acting on them shows your commitment to change and encourages your employees to continue answering the regular surveys.

Bigger, difficult challenges are harder to address, but will have longer-term impact on your company culture and business results.
From the first moment you get survey feedback, start thinking about how to address these issues. Don’t worry about not knowing how to act immediately. Just don’t forget to continue being transparent about the problems and the action plan for resolving these bigger issues.

Be ultra-consistent in your responses, no matter the outcome

Here's a simple three-step process to make this easy to remember:

1. Thank the respondent: Always show your gratitude for any type of response. Responding to surveys may not be customary for your employees, and saying "thanks" shows that you value that feedback.

2. Acknowledge the feedback: Show that you understand the feedback and that you recognize its value. When you empathize with others, your employees will be more likely to open up about the issue at hand.

3. Ask employees for a solution: Employees know how to fix problems with astonishing efficiency. Asking them how they would fix a problem further captures their feedback and ensures they are part of the solution.

What you should do precisely for every type of response is beyond the range of this guide. But the main point is that fielding a survey and gathering data is only as valuable as the willingness to act. Don’t consume precious time and resources just to satisfy curiosity or check a box in your HR to-do list. Do it because you want to improve your culture, which will lead to improved bottom-line results.

This article by Andrew Sumitani originally appeared in TINYpulse.

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