We’ve often talked about and published some of the positive results achieved by organizations that have leveraged an engagement process effectively. But what about other organizations – those who had good intentions when they started the employee engagement survey process but then failed to achieve the value anticipated? What do these organizations have in common and why did their efforts come to naught?
Here are the Top 5 ways to kill an employee engagement process:
1. Skip communication with middle management in advance of initiating the engagement surveys.
While executive sponsorship of the survey process is critical, so is the support of middle management. Employees look to their own supervisors for evidence of whether or not company values are being lived, for insight into the purpose and value of new programs, and for follow through. If first and second level supervisors are blindsided by the program or if they are suspicious of the underlying intentions, then they can undermine its effectiveness.
The solution is to communicate with managers well in advance – to convey purpose and expectations, to answer any questions, to prepare them to advocate for the program, and ultimately to engage in action planning and goal tracking on the back end of the process.
2. Delay reporting results to survey participants.
When employees take time to complete engagement surveys, they are typically eager to share their opinions, curious to see if others think or feel the same way they do, and hopeful that work conditions will change as a result of their feedback. When weeks and sometimes months pass before employees see the feedback results, they often start to think they wasted their time by participating, that they shouldn’t have gotten their hopes up, and that nothing will really change.
The solution is to report out the data as soon as practical, even before the executive team has time to process it all intellectually and come up with a plan of action. Give employees the highlights, the overall report, or even the raw data, and clearly lay out the plan for follow up. Let them know that the executive team is in the process of discussing the findings and what is most critical to address at the scale of the entire organization. Encourage departments to begin to address what seems most important within their own teams or workgroups.
3. Take offense at some of the feedback.
The engagement survey process encourages employees to be candid with both positive and negative feedback, and employees who believe their responses are truly anonymous, will tell you exactly what they think and how they feel. Executives and senior managers are often surprised by some of the feedback, especially if it calls into question their own effectiveness, compensation (including perks), or temperament. In the worst cases, managers may launch a quest to find out who said what, and to punish people for what they wrote. If this happens, employees will instantly learn that it is not safe to give honest feedback. They will still think and feel the same, and probably worse now that they’ve experienced or witnessed retaliation, they just won’t take the risk to tell you.
The solution is to prepare mentally for the reality that you will see results that will make you uncomfortable and maybe even angry, and that’s okay. Demonstrate leadership. Absorb the hit and let it go. Accept and appreciate the feedback for what it is. Prioritize what you want to change in terms of business processes and perceptions. And, get into action.
4. Fail to track progress against goals.
If leaders and managers neglect to follow through on commitments they make, they may experience a double whammy in employee perception – first, an employee survey conveys the intention to enact positive change, so employees are apt to notice progress or lack of it; second, leaders who demonstrate they will not or cannot keep their promises to employees lose credibility and trust.
The solution is to do action planning at the team/group level with accountability clearly articulated for each specific action or result – no vague generalities or feel-good wishes allowed to stand unsubstantiated. Then, the process for follow through needs to be put in place as part of the normal course of business – tied to business objectives, KPIs, project plans or other methodology for regularly tracking projects, initiatives and deliverables to completion.
5. Avoid follow through to resurvey on a regular basis.
Employee surveys provide serious data on which to base human resource strategy and objectives. When an organization fails to measure progress in employee engagement, it loses its ability to track the return on investment for management effectiveness, employee loyalty, and various people programs and initiatives.
The solution is to survey on a regular basis and to learn to use the data with rigor, year after year, to address issues that need attention – whether those are personnel problems or employee programs that are no longer driving or supporting the right business results.