Evolution of the Engagement Survey

At minimum, organizations should speed up the progression of their survey, said Jim Harter, chief scientist for workplace engagement and well-being at Gallup. Adding smaller, more frequent surveys into the mix boosts the organization’s ability to progress on key engagement measures.

“It helps keep your focus on the elements you want to change,” he said. “The frequency is pretty important if you want to create momentum. It’s pretty clear in the data that when people take a year off … it slows down the growth and they have to restart the engine later.”

Smaller, more frequent pulse surveys, featuring six or seven questions, also can be an effective management tool. “If you have that interim model, you can start to utilize that and make changes instead of waiting for the next full census survey,” said Chris Dustin, senior vice president of organization development for Avatar HR Solutions.

Implicit in that approach is the recognition that surveys are simply one tool in a broader management approach that incorporates communication, education and training into a focused plan of action. Harter said the practice has evolved to the point Gallup won’t even take on projects that are limited to just a survey.

“It isn’t just about conducting the survey again,” Harter said. “It’s about everything you do and the fact that the measurement focuses some action more immediately.”

Whatever approach is taken, there are quantitative and qualitative aspects to successful programs, Dustin said. For the quantitative step, organizations use surveys to collect data and compare it to a norm. Avatar HR Solutions employs a tool that measures 16 key points; Gallup has identified 12 core management elements. Adding qualitative elements such as focus groups and feedback sessions fills in needed detail.

“Numbers are numbers,” Dustin said. “They’ll tell you a story, but numbers will also provide some assumptions. To create the best possible plan of action, you need clarity.”