Webinar: Employee Engagement Best Practices

Presented by: David Long and Justin Warner
Date: March 22, 2018 – 1:00pm EDT

One question to consider as you think about whether to put effort and investment into employee engagement: “Is engagement worth the effort and investment we put into it?” The short answer to this question is “yes,” but depending on the type of organization you are, engagement may be more critical or less critical to your success.

During this webinar we’ll share the best methods for preparing, administering, and rolling out the results from your employee engagement survey based on over 20 years of experience conducting surveys around the world. We’ll also identify the most common mistakes organizations make when conducting an employee engagement survey and how to avoid them.
HRCI and SHRM Credit Approved.

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Webinar: Employee Engagement Survey Best Practices

Busy Office - Employee Engagement

During this webinar we’ll share the best methods for preparing, administering, and rolling out the results from your employee engagement survey based on over 20 years of experience conducting surveys around the world. We’ll also identify the most common mistakes organizations make when conducting an employee engagement survey and how to avoid them.
During this webinar we will cover the following topics:

  • 6 anchor questions that measure employee engagement
  • How to achieve high participation
  • Ensuring confidentiality to collect honest feedback
  • 3 common survey administration mistakes
  • Effective ways to roll out the results
  • Training managers to conduct action planning meetings
  • Holding leaders accountable to improve engagement

Receive HRCI and SHRM credit for attending.
About the Presenter: David Long is an Engagement Consultant at DecisionWise and leads a team of consultants who conduct engagement surveys for clients around the world. He is an expert on how to conduct employee surveys and get the most from the results.

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Best Practices

How Many Comment Questions Should Your Employee Survey Have?

When we begin working with an organization to conduct an employee engagement survey, we often see a burning eagerness to ask open-ended questions about every single variable in the organization.  After all, open-ended questions provide color and nuance to qualitative data—right? Though collecting more qualitative data is a noble desire, there are good reasons to use no more than two open-ended questions.

Download Employee Engagement Survey Sample

In my last blog, I advocated all the reasons why open-ended questions are so valuable. We’ve helped clients all over the world run employee engagement surveys, and advocate the collection of qualitative data through comment questions.  How about asking an open-ended comment question after each section in the survey? If you have grouped your questions into categories or dimensions such as the Job, Supervisor, or Communications, it makes some sense to ask employees to give specific feedback for each of these areas using an open-ended question.

However, this approach does not provide the results one might hope. In fact, surveys using this method have significantly higher completion times (each additional open-ended question generally increases completion time by about two minutes) and significantly lower participation rates. Asking a question after each dimension leads to rater fatigue, survey abandonment, and does not increase the amount of qualitative feedback.

Instead, use two open-ended questions at the end of the survey.

Regardless of categories or question order, the survey concludes with two general questions: one focusing on the strengths of an organization and one asking for potential improvements. Usually, employees already have thoughts that come to the top of their mind regarding strengths and improvements and we find that they will list them here if they feel strongly about them. This also provides them an outlet for any other feedback that may not have been solicited in the quantitative portion of the survey.


We’ve found that those organizations using two open-ended questions at the end of the engagement survey experience good survey completion times (about 8 minutes with 50 total questions) and a significantly higher participation rate. What’s more, these questions lead to extensive additional insights that would not have been gleaned by quantitative data alone.

Here are two open-ended questions we like to use:

  1. What are the greatest strengths of our organization?
  2. What are the areas that need the most improvement in our organization?

When you’re getting ready to start this year’s employee survey, take a look at last year’s structure. If you asked more than two open-ended questions—or if you failed to collect qualitative data entirely—try using two this year instead.

Let us know your experiences using open-ended questions on employee surveys.  Do you have some good open-ended comment questions that you would recommend?

Employee Engagement Survey Sample Download

What Can 360 Feedback Tell You about Your Organization?

development-centered leader

A 360-degree feedback assessment is a great tool for individual development, but it can also provide a wealth of information to organization leaders about the company’s culture, training opportunities, and succession planning needs.

What Can 360 Feedback Tell You about Your Organization?

To be clear, I’m talking about looking at aggregate results—not individual scores—to maintain the confidentiality and integrity important to the 360-feedback process.  Here are some examples:

Company Culture: Because the organization culture is typically most influenced by its leadership, group 360 assessment results provide a unique insight into how leaders think and what matters most to them.  For example, in one company we found that overall scores were high in the areas of results orientation and performance management.  This translated into a culture where micromanagement was high, and innovation and creativity were low (also shown in the 360 results).  360 feedback can be used to help shape the company culture by measuring those behaviors most valued by the organization.  As Peter Drucker would say, “What’s measured improves.”

Training Needs: When looking at aggregate results, we can easily see, for example, that managers may have scored poorly on “Delegates both routine and critical tasks or responsibilities.”  However, that may not mean that leaders need training in delegation techniques, which may be a logical conclusion for many; it could actually be an indicator that managers need to learn how to better coach their direct reports, or that there is a lack of trust in general.  When observing the entire 360 feedback report in aggregate, rather than simply viewing individual questions, we can start to see a story emerging. These issues can then be used to create a comprehensive training plan that addresses real problems in the organization.

Succession Planning: So, this is where it is helpful to see individual scores—but be careful.  Individual 360-feedback results should only be used for succession planning if the participants understand up-front that their scores will be used for this purpose.  Then, individual results should only be used as a starting point in identifying and developing high-potential leaders.  Group (aggregate) results are also very useful in this scenario.  With a 360 feedback group report you will be able to see the characteristics (culture) of your current leadership team, the strengths that can be leveraged, and the holes that need to be filled.  For example, if your current leadership team scores low on “Managing Change,” and you have some critical initiatives starting where change management is important, promote or hire for that quality.

Many companies conduct 360 assessments but don’t fully utilize the potential of the group results.  Some of the most powerful insight comes from understanding the profile of the best leaders and what they do differently from the average group.  Results from 360 feedback can also be compared to business performance metrics such as employee engagement, performance appraisals, etc.

View a sample 360 degree feedback assessment
Related Post: 6 Tips to Prepare Your Organization for 360 Degree Feedback
Related Post: Can 360-Degree Feedback be used to Predict Long-Term Performance?

360-degree platform

10 Best Practices to Improve Employee Survey Participation Rates

A company with locations all over the US finally decided to run an employee survey.  The company’s noble hope was to measure levels of employee engagement to better understand the causes of rising attrition rates.  After an inspiring meeting with the VP of HR (let’s call her Susan), the HR team put its entire weight behind the survey project.  The HR team was excited about this new opportunity to leverage employee feedback.

Download: Sample Employee Engagement Survey

In the coming weeks, Susan led her project team to design and implement the survey internally.  The survey launched and ran for two weeks—plenty of time for employees to respond.  When Susan received the survey results one week before her next meeting with the executive team, her heart sunk—only 37 percent of the employees responded.

What went wrong?

Why were so many of the employees unwilling to respond to the survey?  Susan’s story represents a common issue we hear from new clients, especially when trying to run an employee survey for the first time.  We’ve found that poor survey participation can be traced to a failure to implement one or more of the following 10 best practices:

  1. Get stakeholder buy-in.  Yes, support from the executive team is critical, but communicating that support throughout the organization is impactful. Have the CEO communicate the importance of the survey in multiple ways: a simple email, company newsletter article, or announcements in meetings will do the trick.
  2. Communicate expectations to managers. All leaders in the organization should understand the purpose of the survey and what it means to them.  Tell them they will receive their team’s results and that they will need to develop an action plan. Managers who know that they will receive data are more likely to encourage participation within their team.
  3. Guarantee confidentiality.  Our database of over 20 million employee survey responses highlights a number of workplace issues that need to be addressed.  One of the most shocking issues is that 34 percent of employees are afraid to speak up at work.  If employees are afraid that candid feedback will be received unfavorably (odds are about a third of your employees feel that way) then they need to feel like survey responses will be kept completely confidential.  Outsourcing the survey rather than running it internally can give employees confidence in speaking their minds. Don’t let your employees’ fear of retribution damage your response rate.
  4. Limit demographic questions.  When employees see a long list of questions asking them to indicate their age, gender, and tenure, they will fear being identified and opt out.    A better way is to tie demographic information to each response based on a unique code rather than asking it on the survey.   The less employees feel they can be identified by their responses, the better.
  5. Keep the survey short.  Sometimes it is difficult to limit the number of questions because there are so many things that leaders want to know.  We recommend about 50 questions total.
  6. Limit open-ended questions.  While open-ended questions are excellent tools to use to capture employees’ true thoughts and feelings, a survey with too many open-ended questions won’t be well received.  Limit yourself to two or three precisely worded questions that invite open, candid reflection on company strengths and organization-wide areas of opportunity.
  7. Target survey reminders. A two-week administration keeps the survey window short, yet catches people who are traveling, on vacation, or on sick leave. Send several survey reminders, but only to those who have not submitted a survey. When using an online tool, track participation at the location or department level so you can send targeted communication to groups with lower response rates.
  8. Provide time to take the survey. With shift employees, be sure to schedule time for them to take the survey while on the clock.  Plan sessions for those that need to take it on paper to gather as groups to hand out and collect the results.
  9. Offer incentives.  Consider holding a competition across the entire company.  One effective method is to hold a competition between company locations, with the location(s) with the highest participation rates receiving a prize.  Companies without multiple locations can instead compete on a department level.  Incentives make the employee survey process more memorable and engaging.
  10. Promise to share the results. When employees know that the results will be shared with the entire company, they are more invested in the process and likely to participate.

What are some ways your company has tried to increase employee survey participation?  What successes have you seen?  Share your stories with us.

Employee Engagement Survey

Managing Your 4 Key Talent Groups

4 Keys to Understand 360-degree Feedback Surveys

Do you have formal methods for identifying the talent that exists throughout your organization? If so, does the management team have a common language to describe different talent pools?

Leaders Need Feedback. Download 360-degree Feedback Survey Sample

Successful organizations are effective at identifying their talent and taking the appropriate actions to utilize and develop their people. There are many ways to quantify the human capital in a company. Some like to use the familiar labels of “A, B, and C Players.” Other organizations use complex models that include many groups and tiers within each group. As we work with organizations to identify and evaluate talent, we often use language around following four groups:

  • High Potentials (aka, “Hi-Po”)
  • Top Performers
  • Strong and Steady Performers
  • Low Performers

Of course, there are different shades within each group, but for the sake of simplicity we use these labels to help leaders quantify talent and make human capital decisions.

In order to place individuals in these groups, we most commonly assess them based on three factors: operational results, people skills, and growth potential. The relative scores in each of these areas help determine where to place each person (see below). The following definitions also provide development recommendations for each group.

High Potentials

In every organization there are a rising stars. Regardless of title, they show the potential to be future leaders in the organization (or at least to move to the next level). They bring up new ideas and create opportunities. They bring competency and raw talent that has the potential to continue to grow and mature. They are eager to learn, and are willing to take risks. They want to grow and be successful, and they work well with others. These people make up the organization’s High Potential pool. They have the ability to lead innovative projects, improve existing processes, establish networks and relationships, and bring energy, enthusiasm, and growth.

Often, the critical value of High Potentials is undervalued, even ignored. These valuable employees may even leave the organization in search of opportunity elsewhere. Hi-Pos are your “Super-Keepers”; the people the organization goes out of their way to invest in. They must be given growth opportunities and challenging assignments. Assign them a mentor, give them access to other functions, and expose them to customers. When High Potentials see a path to realize their goals in your organization, they will remain actively engaged.

  • Operational Results: Med-High
  • People Skills: Med-High
  • Growth Potential: High

Top Performers

In every organization there are a handful of individuals that “make a real difference.” They are the MVPs of the organization, making the big plays.

They are at the top of their game, and they know it. They are comfortable being Top Performers. They want to continue doing what they are currently doing so well—they like what they’re doing, and it shows. They are counted on to deliver superior results. They are reliable and have earned the respect of others. Top Performers influence important decisions, make significant contributions, and motivate others to achieve.

Over time, the important contribution of Top Performers may be taken for granted. Ensure that they feel valued, developed, challenged, and recognized. Reward them as Top Performers.

  • Operational Results: High
  • People Skills: High
  • Growth Potential: Med

So, how does a Top Performer differ from a High Potential? The reality is that in day-to-day performance, there may be little noticeable difference. Both are achievers. Both are at the top of their game in their current roles.

However, a High Potential has the ability (and need) to continue rising through the organization. While a Top Performer may have the eventual potential to move to the next level, he or she is often at the peak of his or her level of competence—at least for the time being. Yet, many organizations fail to realize this. They aggressively promote the Top Performer into a position where the Top Performer is now only average (or below average!). Not only has the organization added one more average performer to the ranks of failing leadership, but it has lost an extremely valuable Top Performer.

Strong and Steady Performers

At the core of most organizations are the Strong and Steady. These are the organization’s solid citizens—the loyal workers providing a solid foundation of knowledge, skills, and experience. They play an important role in defining standard practice, common knowledge, and core competence. These are the people that keep the operations going. They serve the customer, both internally and externally.

Strong and Steady employees are loyal workers. They are generally in it for the long-term, so long as their basic needs are met. They need good management, fair policies, clear direction, and the necessary tools and training to keep going. Engage the Strong and Steady employees to contribute their best at work. Develop their skills through regular training, coaching, and feedback.

  • Operational Results: Med
  • People Skills: Med
  • Growth Potential: Low-Med

Low Performers

Almost every organization has members that are not performing well, even if we would claim otherwise. They struggle with the current responsibilities. Their challenges can be with the work itself, their relationships with others, or both. If their problem is with delivering results, it may be that their work is low quality, or their level of output is unacceptable. If their problem is with building relationships of trust, it may be that they are unable or unwilling to collaborate.

Often, Low Performers are aware of the situation and feel stuck in a rut. Being labeled a “Low Performer” may be useless to the individual, but providing options may help them decide how to make progress. Sometimes, Low Performers are simply unaware of their situation. They do not know they are underperforming, or may not understand how their behavior impacts others in the organization.

It is, obviously, in the best interest of all parties to resolve a Low Performer’s situation. Three approaches are:

  • Improve performance in the current job through training, goal setting, etc.
  • Find a better fit within the organization
  • Leave the organization

A Low Performer may overcome the current challenges, make a turn-around, and go on to achieve success. A person may fall into the Low Performer category in one job, yet flourish in another position better suited to their skills and interests. If the first two approaches won’t resolve the situation, terminating the relationship is also an alternative that provides both parties new opportunities.

  • Operational Results: Low-Med
  • People Skills: Low-Med
  • Growth Potential: Low

Final Thoughts

As you think through (formally or informally) your own talent groups, it is important that senior leaders understand and know how to use these groups. It’s not about labels, although these do help us speak a common language when assessing talent. However, it’s vital that employees know where they stand, as well as the development options they have in order to become more successful.

360-Degree Feedback Survey Download

Stop Wasting Your Money on Employee Satisfaction

I have often been guilty of using the phrase, “There’s no such thing as a happy non-performer” when discussing the idea that basic human nature is to be disappointed when performing poorly.  In all honesty, it was, at times, my way of justifying (to myself and others) letting an employee go or reprimanding for poor performance.  In addition to the performance component, I was telling myself that the employee couldn’t have been happy because he was an underperformer—my way of justifying the psychological component. 

MAGIC Engagement Model

Download: Employee Engagement Survey

I still believe the above—for the most part. However, my thoughts have shifted.  I still believe that most underperformers are unhappy.  Aren’t we generally happiest when we feel that we are performing well?  Still, that doesn’t explain the fact that there are many employees who are “getting by” at work, just “putting in their time,” yet they seem to be perfectly content.  We’ve all seen it.  Perhaps we’ve been there. I then discovered the notion of employee engagement, and shifted my adage to “There’s no such thing as an engaged non-performer.” 

Allow me to explain. Engagement is not simply a state of being—a psychological condition.  Happiness, on the other hand, is just that—a feeling.  Engagement requires action.  It’s both psychological and behavioral. Think of it this way:  psychological = “feel,” while behavioral = “do.”  Engagement requires that I both feel and do.  I can’t simply feel engaged; that’s only part of the equation.  This psychological state is merely a feeling until I act upon it.  That’s engagement.

Engagement requires that I both feel and do—the psychological and the behavioral. Happy employees, or, for that matter, “satisfied” employees do little good for an organization.  That’s why so many of us have hang-ups about whether employee satisfaction actually translates to the bottom line.  The truth?  It doesn’t!  Don’t waste your money.  It’s great to have happy and satisfied employees (and we have an important moral responsibility there), but that doesn’t keep the widget line running—at least not at optimal capacity.  It’s only when what the employee feels is translated into action that the bottom line gets a boost. Organizations today waste an absurd amount of money on employee satisfaction, as well as keeping employees happy.  It’s a noble effort, and one that absolutely needs to continue, but still doesn’t address the “do” component.

Download: Employee Satisfaction Survey

Did those new coffee machines really increase productivity, or just make employees happy until they realize they don’t have the Smoothie Man come in every Friday, like the company down the road?  Satisfaction is not engagement.  Satisfaction and happiness are the “price of admission.”  It lets us play the game, but it’s not what results in the win.  Let’s don’t confuse the two.

So, happy non-performers?  Sure, it’s possible.  Engaged non-performers?  The very definition of engagement tells us this isn’t possible.

5 Keys of Employee Engagement White Paper

Related Post: Why Employee Satisfaction Does Not Always Result in Employee Engagement
Related Post: When Engagement Replaces Satisfaction
Related Post: Employee Satisfaction vs. Motivation and Employee Engagement
Related Post: Job Satisfaction vs. Employee Engagement

Leadership Coaching: What type? Who gets it? Who does it?

Coaching is becoming one of the most effective and important activities for developing leaders in organizations. In fact, a recent poll conducted by ASTD found that 47 percent of all respondents ranked coaching and feedback as most critical to their organization’s success in the next three years.

Download 360-degree feedback survey sample.

Leadership Coaching Meeting

Many organizations recognize the need and value of providing coaching to leaders as part of a leadership development process. Research shows that people that have used a coach indicate that it is the single most valuable leadership development activity they have experienced. So, what is holding so many organizations back from providing their employees with the value of coaching? You guessed it: cost and time. We also find that many organizations don’t know what coaching is, who should receive it, and how it should be done.

What type of coaching?
There are many different types of organization coaches: career coaches, life coaches, performance coaches, and so on. For our purposes, we are going to focus on the role of a performance coach used for leadership development. Performance coaching is about helping individuals to set and reach goals for both personal and business development. Most times this is an ongoing process where the person meets with the coach on a regular basis (weekly, monthly, quarterly, etc.). During these meetings the coach helps the person set goals and overcome obstacles for success. The coach provides accountability and support so that the person can reach individual goals. This process is often aided by using a 360-degree feedback assessment, where employees are able to get a well-rounded view of their performance.

Who gets coaching? 
Effective coaching can benefit everyone, but most organizations need to be able to focus their development resources where they have the greatest impact. For this reason, many companies provide coaching to their executive and senior leaders, high potential leaders, and some of those key players that might be exhibiting poor performance or ineffective behaviors.

Who does the coaching?
Coaching can be conducted by an outside coach, an internal coach, a supervisor, or a peer. The following are some examples:

  1. Outside coach
    Many organizations choose to use an outside coach to work with senior leaders. Often, an internal coach is not in a position within the organization where he or she could be considered a legitimate coach, or there may be confidentiality concerns about using someone inside the company as a coach. When using an outside coach, it is important to find those that have extensive coaching experience and relate well with the individuals being coached. Using an outside coach is also quite common with, for want of better words, “problem children.”
  2. Internal coach
    Internal coaches are often effective with mid-level managers in the organization. These coaches need to be able to establish a relationship of trust with the participants so that there is no concern that what is discussed will be used against the participant. Coaching skills do not come naturally to most people. Internal coaches should be skilled at providing coaching and developing others. These abilities are often the result of solid training and practice.
  3. Boss as coach
    Certainly, a person’s boss should also be his or her coach. Unfortunately, the boss may not have the skills or the time to be effective. Supervisors should play an important role in any coaching scenario by providing support and follow-up to ensure that progress is taking place. As with other internal coaches, a supervisor’s coaching effectiveness can be greatly improved through training.
  4. Peer as coach
    Peer coaching can be very effective and economical. The idea is that leaders are paired up to provide coaching to each other. They take turns playing the role as coach and help each other reach development goals. It is important to create the right pairing, provide training, and set proper expectations. These groups also need follow-up to ensure that coaching is happening on a regular basis.

Final thoughts
You may find that you are using some or all of these coaching methods in your organization. To get the greatest value from the process we recommend that you use a 360-degree feedback assessment, set a development plan (think SMART goals), and make sure that your coaching process is consistent and ongoing.

360-Degree Feedback Survey Download

Why You Should Use Open-ended Questions on Employee Surveys

Some organizations avoid using free-response questions on employee surveys simply because they want to keep the survey short or they don’t think they can analyze all of the comments—let me be the first to tell you that having comments on your survey can be a real benefit to your survey results.

Download employee engagement survey.

Open-ended survey questions really bring to life the attitudes and opinions of respondents and provides a wealth of new information. Here are four main reasons why qualitative responses are beneficial to the survey process:

  1. Open-ended questions add color and nuance to quantitative data.  For example, when responding to the agreement-scale question “I have the tools and resources necessary to do my job,” employees might disagree.  Only when you see the comments associated with the survey are you able to understand that your technology team needs extra monitors, or your designers need updated software, or the front-line restaurant crew needs new uniforms (actual responses we’ve seen).
  2. Open-ended questions provide explanation to previous responses.  We often find that employees use the comments section of the survey to explore in greater depth their previous responses, volunteering valuable background information on both positive and negative feedback.
  3. Open-ended questions inform leaders of immediate team needs and quick wins.  When we consult with companies on how to best leverage employee feedback, we always tell them to look for quick wins: survey data that highlights a specific, easily satisfied need.  Acting on quick wins is perhaps the best way to promote trust in the survey process.  One year, a client noticed a common request for an espresso machine in the lounge.  Easy fix!  The espresso machine was purchased and installed, and employees knew their feedback was heard and acted upon.  By acting on quick wins, organizations create trust between their employees and the survey process, and ensure that employees will speak up in the future—creating a culture of feedback.
  4. Open-ended questions give individuals a voice.  Individuals might have something on their minds that wasn’t captured in the 45 or 50 agreement-scale questions that they would still like to share.  Open-ended questions allow individuals to share this feedback, creating even greater value in the survey process.

Even with four very compelling reasons to use open-ended questions, organizations take a variety of approaches.  Our best-practice advice is to use a very limited number of open-ended questions—we usually recommend two.  In my next blog I’ll share two common approaches and the benefits (or costs) associated with each—stay tuned.

Employee Engagement Survey Sample Download