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How to Use an Employee Engagement Survey as a Conversation Starter

Most companies who begin to do employee engagement surveys think the most valuable outcome is the quantifiable output of the survey. While this is a critical component, I would suggest that the dialogue that ensues from the survey is perhaps the most relevant part of the process – and that it actually begins to engage employees.

I have often counselled companies that they need to be comfortable with three fundamental things before they undertake an employee engagement survey:

  1. Don’t do a survey unless you plan to share the results with the employees.
  2. Do engage your employees in finding solutions.
  3. Don’t do a survey if you don’t intend to take action on the results.

Use an Employee Engagement Survey as a Conversation Starter

These are the most important dos and don’ts for properly executing an employee engagement survey! Let’s look at each one in more detail:

1. Sharing the Results

A critical part of any engagement survey is rolling out the survey results to all employees.

Often, this is best done by holding facilitated sessions with each individual work group. In that session, the key is to be open and honest in showing employees the results for the entire company and comparisons to their work group. It’s a clear demonstration to the employees that you value their input and trust them with the results. As well, it demonstrates that the process isn’t some secret only available to senior leaders in your organization.

How you facilitate these sessions will vary by company and work group. My go-to approach is to share the results with everyone in the room including the leader, and then to facilitate a discussion on the meaning behind the results with only the employees present. This permits individuals to open up and discuss the possible reasons why employees rated the company and the leader the way they did. Handled properly, this can lead to a very real increase in engagement because employees are being given a clear voice and are being listened to.

The key outcome of this part of the data-sharing is to get deeper into the causes of the ratings and to prepare the employees to contribute to the solutions.

2. Engage Employees in Solutions

This is an important part of the employee engagement process. Listening to employees, engaging them in potential solutions, and asking them to rank the most critical changes that will impact their level of engagement gives them a real voice. They now know that their opinions count, that they are part of the solution, and that they will have clear input on the priorities.

In other words, they will begin to take ownership of the problem and the solution.

3. Take Action

An essential step in the engagement survey process is to set clear priorities, take action, track progress, and report back to employees.

In this step, I recommend adopting action plans at three different levels:

  1. Companywide Initiatives

I strongly recommend choosing 1-3 key action items (but no more than three!) that you can clearly communicate and track. With a small number of companywide initiatives, you can get clarity of focus and priority amongst all other corporate priorities.

These actions are items from the survey that clearly rank as most problematic across all work groups. Most often, the actions required in this stage involve corporate processes and recognition of key inhibitors to engaging with employees in the middle management ranks.

  1. Work Group Initiatives

With the ability to look at results for each work group, you can also set 1-3 action plans in motion to enhance the quality of the work group experience. These should be items that are unique to the work group (or to a few work groups) and not overlap with the corporate initiatives, but rather complement them.

Done well, the members of the work group will take responsibility for the action plans and work together to implement and to track progress.

  1. Leadership Development Initiatives

This may be the most critical and beneficial outcome of the survey. Any leader whose group is less than actively engaged should spend time looking at how their behaviours are contributing to the lack of engagement.

This can (and should!) lead to additional leadership training, personal development objectives agreed to with their direct leader, and in extreme cases, clarity between leaders and their direct boss about their ability to be promoted or even accept a lateral transfer in the company. A caution here: this is meant to be a personal commitment that carries with it the promise of better things ahead if they are successful – but also clear consequences of not making change.

If you (the company) are serious about engagement, then you must be serious about having all leaders in the organization aligned with the culture of engagement. Otherwise you risk groups of employees seeing leadership as not walking the talk.

Workplace Engagement Insights will help your organization build a high performance culture of engaged employees and great leaders. Get a free consultation with me to discuss your business needs.

Click here to download a sample report of our employee engagement survey!

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Written by Dwight Lacey

Dwight Lacey

Dwight is the President at Workplace Engagement Insights. He leads Workplace Engagement Insights with a clear understanding of the latest employee engagement research, survey best practices, and leadership styles that create successful businesses.

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