At its core, employee engagement is an emotional state where employees are invested in their work and, in turn, give discretionary effort that benefits the organization and its mission. When engagement is high, we find employees who have a strong sense of meaning and impact; they are thriving inside appropriate levels of autonomy, growing and developing, and have a strong sense of belonging.

In this podcast episode, Christian Nielson, Chief Revenue Officer, and Dave Long, Chief Operating Officer, discuss how to improve employee engagement in any organization.


[00:00:00] Christian: Our session today is about improving employee engagement. We’ll speak through some helpful frameworks and some tools that are useful in improving employee engagement, then we’re gonna talk through what it looks like to have a reactive and and responsive approach to employee engagement results, which is why most of us are here, the techniques we’re mostly familiar with, but we want to go beyond that and talk about a more proactive approach to improving and pulling engagement. 

[00:00:22] So to get us rolling here, I’ll just kick us off with some definitions. We hear a lot about culture, employee experience, and employee engagement. And it’s helpful to talk a little bit about the difference in these terms. So let’s understand the landscape a bit. 

[00:00:40] We see a lot of folks, especially outside of HR, use the term culture very broadly. In fact, sometimes they’ll come to us for an employee engagement survey and call it a culture survey. And there’s nuances in these different, in these terms and are important to remember. So I. We’ve got culture and we’ve got kind of an academic or a more descriptive definition there. The shorthand version of that, of culture is the way we do things around here. It’s the underlying values and norms, the guiding beliefs and all of that. But if we’re shortening that. It’s the way we do things around here. Everything about your organization adds up to the culture: the personalities of the founders, the geographies you’re located and the local cultures that surround it, the flavors that current leaders bring in with their personalities, everything adds up to that current culture or the way we do things around here. Policies, procedures, size of the organization, and the amount of time it’s been in existence kind of helps also, establish how rigid that culture may be.

[00:01:35] Let’s talk employee experience, EX: the sum of perceptions employees have about their interactions with the organization in which they work. So it’s the experience that employees have at the organization or how we experience the culture. So the culture is the way we do things. The experience, the employee experience is how your employees experience that culture, how they interact with it, the effect it has on them.

[00:01:58] And then this last term engagement: an emotional state where we feel passionate, energetic, and committed toward our work. That is our reaction to the employee experience. The way we, you know, we go to work. We encounter the culture, we experience that, and based on that experience, we get to choose how much we engage with that organization, engage with our work. And so really the employee experience, we like to describe that as we’re building an invitation for people to engage. 

[00:02:25] And so to summarize all of this, improving engagement will usually require improving the employee experience, which will likely require adjustments to the organizational culture. Dave, I don’t know if you have anything to add or clarify on that. 

[00:02:40] Dave: I think it’s a really good way to look at it in terms of when we’re looking at culture, we’re looking at the way we do things around here. One thing I would add around management is, it is their response to the employee experience, but it is their positive response to the employee experience. We can have many responses to the employee experience, but with engagement it would have to be a positive response to it. 

[00:02:58] Christian: Yeah. Good point. So one response would be attrition. You know, if I don’t like the employee experience, I might leave it. That’s a really great point. We’re looking at a positive response to engagement. 

[00:03:09] Let’s go a bit further and then I’ll turn some of these slides over to you, Dave, but we wanna jump into some frameworks that we’ve developed. You know, Dave and I have both worked with hundreds of organizations around their employee engagement efforts. A lot of survey work, consulting work in wave. With the DecisionWise team, we’ve worked on some tools to help understand and explain and improve engagement. So we won’t go through all of them of course, but we’ve got a couple that we think are very helpful. 

[00:03:37] The first one we call the engagement ecosystem. There might be a better name for it, but it’s kind of just a framework for understanding how we can improve that employee experience. So Let’s take a look at this. So knowing that the experience is basically the invitation we create at the organization, inviting people to engage through the experience we’re creating, it’s helpful to, to simplify how we can align our organization to create that experience. And three categories we’ve identified in shaping this will outline here under this organizational alignment. 

[00:04:09] The first would be senior leaders. The executive team shapes the mission, vision, and goals. They do a lot to shape what’s happening at the organization, not just strategy and direction, but even the culture and tone, the decisions they make, their behaviors, that shapes culture real time and their attitudes and the decisions they make shape what the employees see as important in the organization. And so senior leadership is a very important category. We’ll speak about that and how we suggest leveraging that group or informing that group to help them shape and build positive employee experience and engagement. 

[00:04:43] The next would be something that is near and dear to HR professionals, people systems. How are the systems in our organization aligned to create the right experience for our people? So, in a minute, we’ll get into some specific examples how we will use this model to action plan, but as you filter through employee engagement data, thinking through how people systems are aligned to get current results or to get better results is a really great thing to be considering.

[00:05:09] Then the last is what’s happening at a manager and team level, and that is a really important category. And you’ll notice just in our model, here are our framework, this is the group that’s closest to the employee experience. This is the group that’s creating the everyday weather that employees feel as they go to work and interact with their team and managers. We all know that concept of “people leave managers.” They also stay for managers. And so there’s a lot of weight placed on. What experience is being created at that manager and team level. 

[00:05:39] So we’ll get into greater detail how we use this model and go through some kind of simple examples here in a bit. But this ecosystem is a tool that we found to be very helpful and we will speak a little bit more about it. 

[00:05:53] Dave: Let’s talk about organizational maturity and when we talk about this we have this understanding when we first start working with a client or with an organization on improving employee engagement, there’s different levels of what we would call readiness for that organization and what they can take on.

[00:06:09] So if you have never measured employee engagement before you’re in this state called passive engagement, the bottom of the screen here. Passive engagement essentially means engagement is happening or it’s not happening in your organization, but we haven’t taken any deliberate steps. We haven’t done anything deliberately in our culture in order to try to create engagement, necessarily. Now that doesn’t mean we don’t have good managers or good leaders or an HR team that isn’t concerned about the employee experience, all those, we just have not measured it yet. 

[00:06:41] And so when we go from the step of, we’ve got passive engagement into now, we’re going to start measuring the level of engagement. We have left passive engagement and we are in this mode that we call measurement. And that is what most organizations, any organization pretty much, is ready for right now. So if you’ve never measured engagement before you would start with this measurement step. 

[00:07:04] Now, what does that mean? Does that mean we’re only measuring and not doing anything with it? No, it doesn’t. In the measurement step, we still wanna respond to the survey. We still want to take action, but we may not be ready for some of those higher level things that we all wanna get to when it comes to engagement. Early on in your time managing engagement, and especially those folks on the call here, who are HR professionals, you’re going to feel a lot like HR owns engagement. And the more you can expand that ownership first, usually to the executive team or some executive sponsors who really care about it and are really behind it, we want to expand it to them and then ultimately we want to expand and that’s what we call the commitment phase.

[00:07:49] Beyond the commitment phase, we wanna expand ownership to all leaders in the organization. In other words, we are driving engagement through the leadership structure and we call that leader driven experience. So as we build, what we’re ready for initially is maybe just to take a measurement and take some organizational action, communicate the results. Then we’re starting to build commitment. We do a little bit in the way of education. We start setting expectations. We start getting buy-in from the top leaders in the organization and other leaders from throughout the organization. And then when we’re actually this, third step leader driven experience. We actually start to, to go beyond just setting expectations. We’re actually holding leaders accountable to the level of engagement of their teams. 

[00:08:34] Integration and mastery beyond that are really great to have, and we’ve certainly have seen some organizations get all the way to the mastery level, but most organizations are trying to get to the point where they can be driving engagement through the leadership structure, which is really what we call leader driven experience. And then we can integrate aligned systems, expand listening campaigns. We can do all kinds of things once we’re driving engagement through the leadership structure. And anyway that’s really. The goal that most organizations we work with have is really just to get to the point where they’re at leader driven experience.

[00:09:04] So what you’re ready for right now. And the honest truth is most organizations that have been doing engagement surveys, they’ll come to us and they’ll say, you know, we’ve been doing the same thing over and over again, and we’re not sure what to do next, or we’re not sure how to move on from here. And honestly, a lot of the time the answer is, well, it’s time to expand ownership. We’re probably ready for a little bit more. And so we’ll talk more about that as we go on. 

[00:09:31] Christian: Perfect. Thank you. Yeah, this is a model that we use every day and we love it. And I see some folks there, Pam asking for the slides. We’ll see what we can do to make them available. But yeah, happy that this resonates, this is a really useful, a very useful tool. And just so just to kinda recap and You know, to improve engagement, we’re really trying to improve the experience that invites people to engage.

[00:09:52] We’ve got this ecosystem model to help us understand these components that drive the experience and this readiness model that kind of helps us understand what are we ready to do as an organization, what’s possible. 

[00:10:03] Another concept that we wanted to talk about is less of a framework and more of maybe a missed opportunity for a lot of organizations. As you’re thinking about improving employee engagement, you know, a lot of times it’s like, okay, what do we need to add? What do we need to insert into our organization? Or you know, add to our current procedures and practices. A lot of times we’re missing out on things that just need to be removed and it is usually staring right at us. So as you think about improving engagement, consider this idea of what are the cultural toxins that just need to be removed from our employee experience every day.

[00:10:39] Dave: Yeah. And that’s something that, early on when you’re working through engagement and with our maturity model, you’re kind of at the measurement stage, it’s really tough to get beyond the measurement stage, unless we have removed some of the obvious cultural toxins that are in the organization.

[00:10:55] Christian: I love that. And this is a quote that’s not taken necessarily from the people experience framework, but this comes from the world of Charlie Munger. Who’s Warren Buffet’s right hand, man and obviously a very successful investor, but we love this concept. You know, he said, “it is remarkable how much long term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid and instead trying to be very intelligent.”

[00:11:16] And the reason we put this quote here is, I mean, Charlie and Warner are billionaires. They’ve been very successful and they’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. They’re trying to be very consistently, not stupid. And I think that’s something for all of us, we can learn from that. There’s some things that we can remove, things that we shouldn’t be doing that are hurting engagement. And that’s the, maybe the more readily available opportunity for us. So some examples, and Dave and I have some client things, where we’ve learned from our clients that have done this but elements that might harm employee experience and there’s a much longer list, but anything that suggests distrust. 

[00:11:55] Long ago, Dave and I worked on a client together and they had as part of their operations, they had delivery drivers or these service trucks, rather that were out. And they had put GPS into the trucks and then they had people monitoring the trucks and if they took, made a left hand turn, when they thought they should have made a right hand turn, they’d get called on the CB, on the walkie talkie and say, “Hey, why, where are you going?” and that really minimized their experience, that didn’t invite engagement. That was an experience that suggested to them. We don’t trust you. Surveillance is important for safety and it has a place. And so we’re not saying that’s not a case, but really be careful with that because surveillance or anything that’s construed as artifacts or symbols of distrust employees pick up on and that lessens that experience for them or can drive them to, you know, want to lead the organization or disengage. 

[00:12:48] Bureaucracy, that is not a positive correlate of engagement. Bureaucracy is not something that people necessarily enjoy or thrive. So look for elements where we can simplify or streamline the organization so we’re not having to jump through on necessary hoops. 

[00:13:03] Outdated policy and procedure, and also toxic managers. We’re gonna spend a lot more time talking about the roles leaders at every level play in shaping engagement, but a toxic manager, you know, sometimes we just look the other way on that, or we just get used to them. That really can harm engagement.

[00:13:21] Dave: And toxic managers aren’t always the managers that you think they are. That’s the interesting thing about it. What we’ve found is even some of the managers that people really like to work with and work for are some of your toxic managers and it can be just a matter of, Hey, I wanna be your friend. So there’s obviously the ones we all think about that are kind of churn and burn type managers, but it can be even the ones that are best buddies with all their team. And they’re just in protection mode, they’ve wrapped their arms around their team and they’re protecting them from the rest of the organization. So, I wanna expand the definition of toxic managers a little bit there. 

[00:13:52] Christian: Yeah. That’s a really great point that, you know, if I’m a manager. It’s just promoting, Hey, I want you to like me. I want you to, you know, connect with me, but it’s us against them. That’s not gonna drive engagement. We’ve got a lot of research that supports that.

[00:14:06] Let’s go further. Dave, do you wanna walk us through kind of, this reacting and responding approach to employee engagement? 

[00:14:26] Dave: Sure. This is kind of, if we’re talking about the maturity model, the base level, the maturity model of what we call the measure react approach. So essentially how the organizations that come to us originally will say, this is how we’re solving for engagement. We’re gonna run a survey, we’re gonna do an action plan. We might have everybody, every manager in the company do an action plan and that’s going to bring us engagement. 

[00:14:50] Now that’s the, that is the routine that most organizations will begin with. And when we talk about where we on are on the maturity model with that, we’re really. You know, base level of the maturity model survey, action plan. Hopefully our results go up the next time. 

[00:15:07] We’re gonna survey to determine the level of engagement, understand general areas of concern. We might even communicate those areas of concern to people. We’re going to address concerns, act to address concerns and then we’re gonna measure again to see if the concerns were reduced now. 

[00:15:21] This is a method that we’ve seen play out and if your organization is trying to kinda continue down this path, you can do this two, maybe three times before you start burning out the leaders of the organization and we start burning out the people in the organization from taking the survey. Eventually it feels like you’re squeezing the balloon a little bit where you squeeze the balloon, the air all goes to one place and then you release it and then it comes back to that same place. It starts to feel that way because we start chasing these themes from the survey. So for example you know, one survey might say, well, we’re low on communication, so we’re gonna work on communication. Next survey, we improve communication but now we’re low on growth. So we’re gonna do an action plan around helping employees grow.

[00:16:06] And we go back and forth between these different themes. And we keep working on ’em and we keep doing action plans. And I do think you still see some incremental improvement, and I’m not telling you not to action plan, by the way, on surveys, but I’m saying if this is the only effort that you have, it’s going to eventually start to wear out your leaders, and especially your senior leaders. I think we’ve probably all been, as HR people, but also as a consultant in the room with the executives where they say, we’ve been doing this for three years or four years, and it just feels like we’re doing the same thing over and over again. And if they’re starting to feel like that and you start to hear that sort of thing, it’s a good indication that you might be ready to take on a little bit more. 

[00:16:48] Let’s talk about an example. So we’ve got a low score in employee voice. And so what we decided to do is we’re gonna work on that as an organization. So we’re gonna create an action plan as an organization. And we’re gonna say, so looking at some of the things that Christian talked about, we might look at the senior leader level and say okay. So, leaders need to listen more so we’re gonna create a plan around that. Then we’re gonna create some structural things that we can do. Maybe, you know, this survey is an employee voice side, so we’re gonna make sure that we respond to that, but also, maybe there’s some other ways that we can listen. Maybe we get a suggestion box at some point or something like that. And then at the team leader level, we’re gonna say, Hey, make sure that you’re capturing those ideas and passing them along. We’re gonna take action on it and we’re gonna take organizational action and honestly I’ve seen those sorts of actions actually improve things like this, employee voice and things like that. 

[00:17:39] What’s interesting though, is we improve something like this, and oftentimes when we’re working on something early on, it is just an effort of saying, well, we’re just removing some of these. organizational cultural toxins that we talked about. We just have to get out of our own way in some of these issues and so we do that early on.

[00:17:55] We start to notice, okay, we’ve improved employee voice, but we’re not seeing engagement overall move in the direction that we wanna go. We see individual items on the survey move forward and that’s good and we’re happy about that, but we’re not seeing overall engagement improve. And again, that’s the same thing that the senior leaders will come to us and say what are we not doing yet? What do we still have to do? 

[00:18:16] Christian: To that point, one of the interesting things we see is sometimes organizations paralyzed by what do we action plan on? And we’ve got so many themes and we wanna do 10 things or sometimes they’ll either try to do too many things or they won’t do anything because they can’t zero on the one thing. A lot of times, you know, it’s important to try to find the right thing to focus on, but it’s almost as important just to demonstrate to the organization, we heard you, and we’re doing something. The act of listening and responding, especially as you’re at those early stages of the maturity model are so important because we’re trying to build trust. We’re trying to say no one was retaliated against for providing feedback and you, the organization got better in some way, because you were heard 

[00:18:55] Dave: So, as we mentioned before, the measure react approach is really just the base level of this maturity model. If we’re trying to build engagement, we can do that two times, maybe three times before it starts wearing itself out in our organization. And before we start, we have managers really employees looking for more. What are we gonna do that’s less reactive and more proactive? 

[00:19:18] There are some strengths to this approach for sure. And we’ve talked about ’em a little bit already, you know, just solving, we like a big survey, you know, a 50 question engagement survey, and the reason why we like that is because it does allow us to kind of cast a wide net and try to figure out, here are all the things that impact employee experience and what are the things that we can improve from that experience. We like that. And of course we wanna identify anything that might be negatively impactful on people in the organization for. And of course we wanna improve those things. So that’s definitely a strength of this. 

[00:19:52] The weakness of the measure act approach is that we are always in reaction mode and no matter what you’re doing, it never feels good to be constantly having to respond and just feel like you’re always just reacting to what’s going on currently, and so we really prefer to espe when we’re trying to improve employee engagement. Overall, we’re really wanting more of a proactive approach. 

[00:20:15] And I say that and it sounds easy for me to say that, it’s really actually, it was really easy for me to say it. But it’s a lot harder to do and the reason why it’s hard to do is because most organizations that try to jump into a proactive approach, they aren’t ready to be there. There is groundwork that needs to be laid in order to get there and we’ll talk more about that as we go on. 

[00:20:33] Christian: You mentioned earlier, Dave, that idea of expanding ownership. A lot of times, especially if an organization hasn’t ever done engagement, or if they haven’t done it for a while, you’ve gotta go on this journey where, it’s always seen as an HR initiative initially, and then the next step is getting those leaders to buy in and those first few years are critical at building that buy in with those senior leaders. 

[00:20:53] All right, let’s go a little bit further here. You know, we’ve talked about the reacting and responding approach, which is critical but also has some time limits on that, on how many years you can rely on that approach. Let’s discuss what a proactive approach to employee engagement might look like and especially as we, you know, alluded to, as you move up, as you expand ownership, you’re going to start leveraging more of your leadership structure to drive engagement. You’re gonna be very limited in what’s possible if engagement is seen as an HR only priority, or as a “HR owned” only initiative. You really need to expand that ownership and that’s really what this maturity model is about. 

[00:21:32] We’re moving from measurement as we go up, we see leadership buy in. That starts with our senior leaders buying in and starting to prioritize this and align this to organizational objectives. We see us educating managers about their role in shaping engagement and really what we’re talking about, where we’re headed with this is what we call “leader driven experience” or LDX. You saw that that third tier was leader driven experience. We’ve expanded ownership, we’ve built accountability for the employee experience at different levels of the organization, and much more becomes possible when we’re functioning at that level.

[00:22:07] Let’s go through that same example actually and take it through more of an LDX approach, this leader driven experience approach. So let’s go back. Let’s say our survey shows that we have a low sense of employee voice. Employees don’t feel like they’re heard, or if they’re heard, they’re not responded to their opinions, aren’t valued. Let’s go. Now we’re as an organization, we’re at that leader driven experience level of the maturity model. Where do we go from here? Maybe I’ll start this off a bit and Dave feel free to chime in. We’ll try to be careful with our mic, so we don’t get that echo from earlier. 

[00:22:39] But this is where we would really start to lean into more of this ecosystem model where we’d say, we’ve got an employee experience, challenge around employee voice. We wanna improve this part of the experience. Let’s look at what’s happening at senior leadership. How are senior leadership promoting listening throughout the organization? Are they listening to their direct reports? Are they promoting employee ideas? When they do leverage employee feedback, are they calling that out publicly? Do we have examples where employee feedback has bubbled up throughout the organization and gotten to senior leaders and influenced decisions? If not, how do we make that happen? What’s happening at that senior leadership level? Are they making decisions that are completely in a vacuum? How much access do they have to the front lines? Those types of things that senior leadership level.

[00:23:22] People systems: do we have the right tools, procedures, policy, technology in place to capture employee voice? What’s happening? Have we created an organizational expectation around manager one-on-ones? Have we built the tools to give managers to be successful in listening to their employees? 

[00:23:40] And then at that manager and team level, what’s happening in the manager interactions? Are they having those one-on-ones? Are they effective? How consistent? Where is it working well? With the manager and team level, you can learn a lot from your highest scoring areas and also from your lowest scoring areas, where you can say, okay, who’s winning in employee voice and what can we learn from that group, and how can we spread that through other parts of the organization? Who’s really struggling with this? And is that an opportunity for some focused attention? You know, in a bit, we’ll talk about coaching and 360s as a follow up. Dave, if you have something to add. 

[00:24:13] Dave: Yeah it’s one of the interesting things when I’m meeting with a leadership team and they say they’re confused and maybe a little bit… I don’t wanna use the word upset, but maybe agitated a little bit at a low score around employee voice. Why do people feel like they’re not listening? And then inevitably, and they’re correct, they say to me, well, why do you think our managers aren’t listening to their people? The question I always ask is, what expectation have you set for them in the way that they’re supposed to listen and respond to people when they give that?

[00:24:43] And this is what we mean by proactive, right? If we haven’t set an expectation for leaders in the organization of how you handled the experience of employee voice, then they’re going to handle it their own way and some leaders are gonna be very inviting of it, probably to a fault. And some leaders are going to completely shut it down cause they don’t want to hear it. And there’s some leaders that are gonna handle it perfectly, really. But it’s just gonna depend on the leader that you have in the organization. 

[00:25:08] So if we’re driving engagement through the leadership structure, we really want to think about setting an expectation for how do we lead in this organization? And part of that is going to be how do we listen to, capture, and respond to suggestions, ideas, innovations that are brought forward by employees in this organization? 

[00:25:27] Christian: I think you bring up such a huge point, and I’m sure this will resonate with some of the folks attending, that in most organizations, we see that people are promoted because they’re amazing individual contributors. And they’re promoted and most of us assume, oh, you’re promoted. You’ll get the hang of it. You know what it now means to be a manager, but no, they knew what it was to be a rockstar, individual contributor and we as organizations, don’t do a great job of saying here are the new expectations of a manager around listening, around accountability, around all these different dimensions. 

[00:25:57] And an engagement surveys really great. In a minute, we’ll talk a little bit about where it’s great about highlighting some of this information, but there are other sources of feedback, I noticed we had a really good comment, a question about employee feedback. There were other good sources of feedback to really address this manager level, which we’ll get into in a bit, but you can see kind of how when we’re get further in the organizational maturity model, where we can open up new avenues of action planning and new lenses, as we think through, okay, these different components of the leadership structure. 

[00:26:28] Dave: And something, I would say that goes hand in hand with what we’re talking about, the senior leadership level needs to obviously be the group that exemplifies the behaviors that you’re looking for that drive engagement. They need to be able to do that. But they also need to be able to say, let’s set a standard and this is part of where we get into, where do they work hand in hand with HR in order to build a more proactive environment for engagement to occur? One of the things that HR can do is work hand in hand with senior leaders in determining what are the behaviors that we’re looking for and can we be specific about that and spell those things out. And the reason why that’s important, and sometimes we’ll call that, you know, a competency model, a leadership competency model, or we might call them success factors or things like that, we’re looking for these things that are behavioral in nature, that are behavioral markers that show us that we have leaders that are leading in a way that is going to lead to engagement. If we don’t provide that framework for leaders, these are the behaviors that lead to engagement, they’re just going to kind of choose their own behaviors.

[00:27:33] And that’s fine. We want some of that autonomy and leadership, and it’s good to have differences between leaders, but to lay out some principles for success is a really important part of proactive engagement. We’re getting beyond the employee voice example and just saying, look, in general, we need to lay out some of these things.

[00:27:49] Christian: That’s also a really great way, Dave, for leaders to buy into the process. When you go to a leader and say, hey, we need to define the leadership expectations or these behavioral expectations for the organization, not just in terms of universally applicable good behaviors, but things align to our strategy. What do we need to embody as an organization to be successful, to accomplish your goals as a leadership team? And so it might be a greater focus on innovation. It might be a greater focus on some very specific behaviors to help execute on strategy. And that can also build a lot of buy in from leaders when they think, okay, this isn’t just, you know, something that I can discount as not my job. This is something that’s very important for organizational success. It’s tied to strategy. It’s tied to business outcomes, those types of things around that leadership model. 

[00:28:37] Dave: One of the things that I think is an important consideration here is you’re building out, and we’ll call it a listening strategy, and we’ll get to another slide on this in just a second. But if you’re building out a listening strategy in your organization to say, how are we going to capture the data that we need in order to proactively improve engagement. An engagement survey, or at least the traditional engagement survey is by very nature a very reactive instrument. In other words, we are asking for feedback on a whole bunch of different kind of granular parts of the employee experience. And the expectation would be from employees, if I’m giving you feedback here, that you’re gonna do something about it and so it is by nature, a reactive instrument because of all the things that we’re asking on it. 

[00:29:21] I think managers have a hard time managing engagement when they only get that data one time in a year. If they’re only getting it once a year, then it’s really easy to fall into the measure reactor approach, or the reactive approach, of engagement, of saying, okay, I’m gonna take these three things and we’re gonna improve on these things, nothing wrong with that. Of course we want them to do that. But also we want them thinking about if the survey happens in January every year, we want them thinking in February, in March, and April, what am I doing in order to foster an environment where people can be engaged? And in order to do that, we need to adopt a philosophy of getting the right data to the right people at the right time, the right data meaning, we don’t always need the full survey, but we do need some sort of marker or indicator to see are people high on engagement or are they low on engagement? What’s their experience like right now? And we have a few different measures that we can use.

[00:30:15] One measure that we love to use is a measure around belonging because we know how much that is critical to people’s engagement or a net promoter score type measure, or an engagement index measure. Something like that that’s very simple data that we can collect and we can do it more often because it’s a lot smaller survey. We can do it more often and we can get that feedback to managers. There’s lots of ways that we can do it. Some organizations will adopt like a semi-annual pulse or a quarterly pulse, and some organizations will adopt other listening programs that we can about here in a second.

[00:30:47] So if I were looking at this in the traditional sense, what we would probably be depending upon is an annual survey and it would be a reactive sort of thing. But if we were adding to this, we might add some pulse surveys in there and however many that you want to. And now as a manager, as a leader, now you’ve put a piece of data in their hands that is outcome data. It’s not directly actionable. The leader has to think to themselves as I approach engagement or as I make decisions, or as I do things in my area, How is it gonna impact the KPI or the metric that I’m receiving on a quarterly basis or more or less frequently than that, that tells me how engaged my people are? Now I’m thinking about how do I make decisions in the interim between these large annual surveys that we do, the anchor surveys that was, we call ’em, that we do on an annual basis, do I have a marker that tells me how I’m doing along the way? 

[00:31:48] And when you give a manager a metric like that, they begin managing toward that metric. They become more proactive about it because they’re thinking, okay, I’ve gotta make a change in my organization. We’re gonna implement a new software and ordinarily, maybe your manager might think, well, let’s just get it done. But now they’re thinking, okay, so I’ve got this KPI coming. I’ve got this metric coming in two months that’s gonna tell me how my employees are feeling. So now I’m thinking about, okay, how do I. implement this change in the best way possible so that not only do I maximize the adoption of the change, but also how do I maximize the experience that people are having through the change? So it’s a different way of thinking the things and it doesn’t happen unless we’ve set an expectation of the data that’s coming and also are willing to hold managers accountable against that data that’s coming to them. 

[00:32:39] Christian: It’s a great point in terms of adding some more, but not overwhelming with data, but getting the right level of detail to them with the right frequency so that they feel some sense of ownership and reinforcing that accountability as within an organization. 

[00:32:52] There’s some other surveys or listening instruments that we found to be very helpful in rounding out a listening campaign. So for example, there might be ad hoc listening surveys, things that, where we need to ask, you know, for example, during COVID, a lot of ad hoc surveys were run around, Hey, how are we doing with this move to remote work? You know, around employee safety. How do we feel? You know, there were a lot of those things that, and it’s good to be able to open up those conversations when necessary. It’s also great for change management efforts as well. 

[00:33:19] Onboarding and exit surveys, these life cycle moments, these critical moments. If you’ve heard our other webinars, you’ve heard us talk about critical moments, onboarding and exit, understanding how people feel coming into the organization, understanding that their thoughts as they leave the organization, that’s critical EX information that you can use to tune a culture to invite greater engagement. 

[00:33:41] Anniversary surveys; that’s an interesting model that we’re seeing more and more of our clients move to and we’re going to be enhancing our technology in the very short term to accommodate this to a greater extent. But it’s a survey that sent out at a natural. Time of reflection, which would be someone’s anniversary with some kudos around, Hey, great job. We appreciate having you with our team. Please give us some feedback. And that’s a great moment to also ask for one of those overlying metrics that, or overarching metrics that Dave mentioned, like a net promoter score or a net belonging score, and then some open text, you know, asking them about their experience with the organization and as well this concept of ex monitoring. Dave, do you wanna talk, you know, we’ve geared around a lot around the lag metric, the outcome measures. We are seeing a lot of success with this next item, 360 feedback. And it’s not something a lot of leaders think of as a component of engagement, but we found it fits very nicely and very strategically with employee engagement efforts. Do you wanna help connect some of those dots? 

[00:34:42] Dave: Sure. And I just wanna address a question. Somebody mentioned survey fatigue, and I think since we put about a thousand surveys on the screen at once, we should mention that. The way that you wanna handle a listening campaign is to make sure that you’re not overtaxing people with with a huge number of surveys that you have to take on an ongoing basis. And so when you do a pulse survey, you might do a stratified sample of the organization. And when you do anniversary surveys, then you can get ongoing feedback throughout the year depending on when somebody hits their anniversary date. So it’s only one additional survey. That’s the reason why anniversary surveys are becoming more popular. It’s only one additional survey beyond the annual survey that have to take during the year. 

[00:35:23] So you would wanna get this to a point where you wouldn’t want any one employee taking more than maybe two or three surveys in a year about their experience. And that may include onboarding and that may include an anniversary survey and an annual survey, but they’re not taking any more than that. So it’s a really good question. So you, really want to design your listening program around that. 

[00:35:43] Now I do have organizations that do a quarterly pulse where they send out that pulse to everybody in the organization. One of the organizations I work with personally, it would be at the mastery level of the maturity model. And so the people in their organization realize how effective it is for them to fill out those surveys and if they feel like things are being done with the data that they’re sending, would they feel like their lives improved because they’re sending that data to the leadership team, then they are going to fill out as many surveys that it takes to get them there. And so, in that organization, I think they do four or five different surveys during the year that people do. 

[00:36:19] Christian: And I just add, it’s a really great conversation and important. And to Dave’s point if you’re responding and you’re using the data, employees will keep providing it. If you see participation dipping, especially if you’re trying to do quarterly pulses too soon, in the maturity process, if you see participation declining, that’s a sign that it is probably time to pull back on that. And there’s some other things around manager one-on-ones and other ways to capture feedback that are very effective, but it is something that you’ve got to pay attention to and kind of tune and grow with your organization.

[00:36:50] Dave: So back to your original question, about 360 degree feedback and the way that you framed it was we have all these surveys that kind of help us understand what are the outcomes? what are the things that… or kind lagging indicators of where we’ve been or what we’ve done. What we’ve found is that we’ve integrated over time and at DecisionWise, we’ve been doing 360s… that’s actually how we started. So we’ve been doing them since the 1990s back when we did ’em on three and a half inch floppy discs and we’d send those to people and they’d mail ’em back and we’d assemble a 360 report. So we’ve been doing 360s for a long time. It’s only been in the last four or five years that we’ve started to look at 360s as a critical tool that we can use in order to improve employee experience and we can use it as a more proactive method of doing that.

[00:37:37] Give you a quick example of what you might see in terms of the difference of what you would see on an engagement survey. The engagement survey does a really good job of telling you what manager should be doing. So the engagement survey, my manager section of our engagement survey, there’s a question on it that says my manager cares about me as a person. If we get a high score on that, or we get a low score on that on the annual survey, it is simply an outcome of everything that we’ve seen the manager do over the last year.

[00:38:05] If we’re looking at this differently and saying, what does it mean to care about employees? We might create behavioral statements that we could actually put into a 360 degree feedback instrument that we would not put into an engagement survey. So for example we would say, look, we’ve got a competency here that says caring and the way we might define that, getting a little more granular, and this may not be a perfect way of defining it, but you can add to this, you can take away from it. You can do whatever you want, but whatever you need to do to define what does it means for a manager to care for people in this organization. And we might say things like demonstrates a personal interest in the wellbeing of others, makes time for other people, sympathizes with others, meeting personal or professional challenges, provides help when others are overworked or stressed. And in that way, we’re getting at sort of the DNA in our organization of what makes a caring manager.

[00:38:56] Now we could add some things to that. We could take away from it. We could be more descriptive. We can build that according to your culture and your strategy and what you’re trying to accomplish there. We can tweak that in any way that we want. But it’s going beyond just saying, Hey, we expect managers are gonna care about people and we’re showing them exactly, here are the behaviors that tell us that you’re caring about people. And this is what people will see. When they see this, they’ll say, Hey, that’s a caring manager. 

[00:39:21] Christian: I love this model, this concept that we can get more descriptive and give more actionable data in a 360, when we’re working at that manager level. On top of that, it builds greater ownership because there’s a direct connection. It’s your data. It’s based on the experience specifically that you, as a manager are creating. In fact, that’s what we’re trying to answer with the 360. What experience am I creating? And is it the right experience? Am I happy with it? Is it gonna lead to the outcomes that I am committed to and the organization is committed to? And a 360 does that in a way that is very different than an annual engagement survey and it has a really important place. 

[00:39:59] So, you know, there’s all sorts of different strategies you can employ with 360s; your lowest performing teams following an engagement survey, your highest performing teams, you know, invest in your high potentials with 360 feedback and lean into that with some coaching but also use it to bring up the floor in terms of the areas where the manager isn’t necessarily creating the right experience. And so there are a lot of wonderful places to consider 360 feedback in an employee engagement strategy. 

[00:40:26] We’ve covered a lot of ground quickly. I hope that we are able to stitch this together and also add to some of the great things that you’re doing on your side. Just to summarize, to improve engagement. We really need to focus on improving the experience. Just that statement, by the way, resonates with senior leaders. If you say you can’t build engagement, you can only invite it by creating a strong employee experience, that opens up the mind to, what are we really able to do here? Where can we focus and really lean in? Sometimes they feel like engagement is this mysterious thing that they can’t influence directly and connecting to the experience helps. 

[00:40:58] Consider organizational alignment and readiness, those models we mentioned. I could also add, don’t forget to look for areas to remove those toxins that we talked about. Start by addressing engagement at the org level, that reactive approach, and then build on that to where you can expand ownership from outside HR to include senior leaders and ultimately managers at every level and ultimately every employee to have some sense that every day we co-create what it feels like to work here.

[00:41:25] Right data, right people, right time. That’s where we’re headed with our technology. That’s where we believe that we’re gonna be able to do more by getting the 360 data and those overarching metrics into the system where need to go into your approach, where it needs to go, leveraging that 360 feedback.

[00:41:40] So no further ado, we’ve got some time here. What questions do you have? 

[00:41:47] Dave: Okay. So we’ve got a couple of questions. Both come from Mary. One of them was, what are the best tools for employee feedback and surveys? The answer to that question is DecisionWise’s tools for employee feedback and surveys. Honestly what we believe on that if you’re looking for a tool we believe that it’s really good to go with an organization with a set methodology. It’s really hard to use tools like Qualtrics because they don’t have templates. They don’t have benchmarks. They don’t have things like that. And there’s a lot of tools similar to DecisionWise, if you’re looking for it. But obviously we are biased to our tool. We build it because we think it’s the best. So, that’s the one that we would suggest. 

[00:42:24] The second question was what are the pros and cons of the suggestion box? Management continuously says no to this, just come to them with issues. And I think that’s true. A lot of leadership teams don’t like suggestion boxes. I would say a suggestion box, I’ve seen it be effective. Where it’s being responded to regularly. The function of a suggestion box, in my opinion, is a collection of anonymous suggestions. If I don’t feel comfortable going to my manager with something, then I could put it into some sort of, and it would always, it wouldn’t be, you know, a physical box anymore. It’s, there’s lots of electric or you know, cloud based, whatever suggestion box that you get into, if you wanted to do that, but it should be just for the anonymous feedback to get to leadership. And if you’re going to put it out there, then it needs to be responded to. You need to be able to be following that and responding to it. So those are the things around it. 

[00:43:17] If you are looking for suggestions from people. That would put their name on those suggestions, then there’s better ways to do that. And I do agree the best way to do that is to invite that feedback directly toward the leadership team. And that might mean that leadership team is not just passively saying, come to me with suggestions. They’re going to people and saying, what suggestions do you have? So they’re actually trying to actively get those suggestions out.

[00:43:42] Christian: Yeah, and there are electronic and digital solutions for this. we haven’t employed it. I think we will mid next year. We’ll have our version of that and it’s gonna be really geared around what Dave said, which is, there’re only effective if there’s active curation. So you’re gonna get a lot of people wanting a different coffee maker. You’re gonna get a lot of those things. You might get some whistle blowing things that should be handled a different way. It should go through more of a whistle blowing you know, channel. And so you’ll need someone to check it very frequently and to curate it and to be able to escalate and kind of filter out the noise on some of those things. But they have their place, certainly. Any other questions? 

[00:44:22] Dave: So there was one that said… I want to just call out Leah’s comment, which says we use DecisionWise for our engagement surveys. 10 out of 10, would recommend. Thank you, Leah, for that. We do work hard to build a very effective tool for measuring this. 

[00:44:34] Christian: Yeah. I hope, you know, that’s come across in this is that we care a lot about what we do. It’s not just, you know, we’re engaged in engagement. We believe in this and we try to practice these things on our own team. And we’re not perfect there either. We’re human managers as well, but appreciate Leah recognizing that. We certainly love that feedback. 

[00:44:51] I also love the comments about around fatigue. Fatigue is something to watch for as you create these listening programs, but also organizational response, that maturity model, if you’re not getting leadership buy in, you don’t wanna start overwhelming with surveys, cuz you’re not gonna be able to push it to the… you’re not gonna be able to do what, you kind of honor that feedback from the employees, the org’s not gonna let you do that. So recognizing kind of that tension there and if you’re able to move up a maturity model, that’ll kind of dictate how far you’ll go. That’s an important point there. 

[00:45:19] Dave: Okay, we’ll take one last question. It’s from Pam. Are your engagement surveys built to the specific organization or the generic could be used across the board? It’s a really good question. And it’s one that you have to balance a little bit because you wanna balance two things. You wanna balance getting the right survey for your organization, which is important. And you also wanna balance having benchmarkable information. You wanna be able to compare. We know the score is low for us, but how does that compare to other organizations as well? So, I would say we often change the language within our questions without changing the meaning of our questions to fit the organization that we’re working with. And we also would say, the way that DecisionWise operates is we have a benchmarkable database of like 200 questions that we can go to so that we can pick and choose a little bit and still have benchmarkable data that we can bring in order to kind of, make it custom for the organization, but also in order to make sure that it’s standard enough that we can apply our methodology and the information that we have.

[00:46:16] Christian: In general, I’d say it’s somewhere like 90% standard survey, 10% variability. And that even changes year over year. The next year, you may say, Hey, we wanna add some questions about change management. If we have ’em in our benchmark, that’s what we go to. So we have that comparability. Sometimes we do work with you to create custom questions as well.

[00:46:34] I see we’re right at time. We wanna thank everyone for attending and being part of this conversation. I hope this was a helpful conversation for everyone. We certainly enjoyed it.

DecisionWise Employee Engagement Survey

Measure the most important factors the drive engagement and performance.