As the third quarter moves along and the end of 2012 doesn’t seem too far off, many HR departments are planning budgets, preparing for performance reviews and, of course, gearing up to administer the all-important employee engagement survey.
While many organizations have firm engagement measurement practices in place, some could use a refresh on the design and nature of the engagement survey, according to Joan Dasher, employee engagement practice vice president at BlessingWhite Inc., an employee engagement consultancy.
Here are four ways to thin out and refocus engagement surveys to produce more actionable results.
Put less focus on external benchmarks. While many engagement firms specialize in offering industry-wide external benchmarks, Dasher said these often draw the focus away from a firm’s own engagement practices. “[They] get stuck looking at analysis and paralysis [of industry-wide data], and they’ve lost focus on their data and what they’re doing to drive their scores up,” she said.
Still, Kevin Kruse, author of We: How to Increase Performance and Profits through Full Engagement, said while firms shouldn’t spend too much time comparing against external benchmarks, there is value in it. “I think clearly one of the benefits of choosing one of the large survey companies out there is you are now entering into their vast research pools so you can get comparable [survey scores] to your industry,” Kruse said.
Design surveys with fewer questions. Some engagement surveys can include up to 90 or 100 questions. This is too much, Dasher said. When employees are faced with having to spend a half hour to an hour going through an engagement survey — and fatigue begins to set in — participants may tend to blow off answering questions honestly.
Instead, consider scaling back the survey to 20 to 30 questions. Pick the most actionable and important questions. Kruse said firms might also consider breaking down these surveys into different segments and giving them more than once or twice a year.
Give surveys more often. Fresh data is vital to get real-time results to provide actionable initiatives, Dasher said. Further, annual surveys have questions pertaining to issues that are no longer relevant to a firm’s current engagement challenges, Kruse added.
Providing surveys more than once a year — maybe even twice or three times — enables HR departments to measure engagement in a real-time environment. This makes the value of the results and consequent actions more meaningful. “If you’re getting more actionable data, you’re able to tailor it more to the business imperatives,” Dasher said.
“The more frequent[ly] you do them, the more often you can track trends” and take action, often on items that maybe weren’t as relevant a year or even six months ago, Kruse added.
Make sure surveys are tied to business strategy. Lastly, ensure that questions are truly directed toward actionable, valuable data that has a direct link to strategy. Some firms may have gotten lost in the complex analysis of external benchmarking and long, lethargic surveys of old, Dasher said. The easiest way for HR departments to avoid falling into such a trap is to make sure a proper definition of engagement is established from the start, since definitions may vary by company, Dasher said.
“Many organization talk about engagement, but they never define it in a way that everyone understands it,” she said. “We believe engagement is achieved when employees are at maximum contribution and when they’re getting maximum satisfaction. It’s a combination of the two.”
For Kruse, the important thing is that front-line managers take an active role in managing engagement on an individual level beyond the survey period.
“The real magic in engagement surveys is to get the results down to an individual level, and to make sure that managers are doing their action planning with their direct reports,” he said.
In the end, any engagement measurement is ineffective unless there is accountability on the part of front-line managers. Without HR departments doing more to provoke such front-line accountability when it comes to engagement, “managers won’t care,” Kruse said. “They will go back to being managers of tasks instead of being leaders of people.”
Frank Kalman is an associate editor of Talent Management magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.