It's all about the followup

How to drive organizational improvement following engagement surveys

Employee engagement surveys provide a potential goldmine of insights to help manage an organization. If designed well, they provide both overall strategic guidance and specific input to supervisors and middle management. Nevertheless, these projects often fail to fully leverage their potential, as employers fail to take action on the results. 

Is your organization ready to live up to employee expectations for survey follow-up? 

There should be three conditions in place to help an organization act on employee survey results and insights:
•Leadership is onboard and considers this a business initiative. HR is the facilitator but not the owner of the results or followup.

•The purpose and required insights from the survey are clearly stated in advance. Is the organization building the right competencies and culture to enable delivery on strategic objectives? The survey needs to provide leadership with a distinct response to that question.

•If the second condition is met, followup becomes more than an extra task — it evolves into a continuous improvement habit, aligned with overall priorities.

In driving the focus on these overall recommendations, some key practices can be served up in organizations that implement change successfully on the back of engagement survey programs:

Leading the way: The senior management team should be leading the management initiative for action planning and followup.

Leaders will:
•provide the overall orientations — what are the two to three top priorities for all? What will be done about them?

•be serious and actively engaged in the followup activities

•consistently connect with employees to keep the dialogue going and sustain the engagement.

Less is more: There are too many employers that are adding a long list of initiatives to the existing corporate agenda. They should instead:

•leverage existing initiatives and be clear about how they will impact and evolve employee engagement

•integrate action planning to ensure alignment and avoid duplication of efforts

•leverage the recognized strengths to signal that the organization is also doing the right things

•consider what to stop doing

•focus on the significant few: Prioritizing actions is critical for making visible change.

Long-term game: Improving and sustaining employee engagement takes time and one of the key challenges for organizations is to show evidence of improvement from one survey to the next. Consider:

•Organizations with high engagement scores related to manager and leadership effectiveness have invested in people management training over many years. 

•Very positive results might hide other challenges: If the culture is too “nice,” this might hinder productivity and willingness from employees to continuously improve their performance. 

•Also, consider what the engagement drivers within your organization tell you about the culture. A true engagement culture finds motivation in a shared sense of destination and purpose.

•Small actions with high impact are sometimes more meaningful than full-fledged HR programs.

•Celebrate achievements, even small ones, as a way to mark change and help employees link actions and outcomes.
Accountability: People managers and leaders are already accountable for the improvement and sustainability of employee engagement. Successful organizations do not hesitate to make it formal:

•Make employee engagement and productivity part of the executives’ performance expectations.

•Track followup commitments in the performance process. All managers should be held accountable for supporting positive momentum and improvement in priority areas.

•Leverage technology to stay on top of action planning. Online action planning tools are available to let managers structure their plans and share best practices. The tools also enable leaders to monitor action-planning progress across the company.
Inclusive: Employees are also responsible for their engagement and for helping organizations understand what really counts. 

Engagement becomes a shared ownership:
•Involve employees in action planning and improvement efforts — make sure you measure the outcomes based on their criteria for success. Leaders don’t have to have all the answers. But they do need to allow employees the space to help identify, “own” and implement the solutions.

•Use the right people to tackle the right problems.

Measure the impact: Do not measure engagement simply for the sake of measuring it, but to be conscious of the organization’s commitment and accountability for the followup in priority areas.

Your next employee survey will be another opportunity to evaluate success and determine how much progress was made. Few organizations can change such a subtle set of expectations dramatically from one survey to the next. 

With the right focus, employers may want to improve on one to two key aspects — and will have more chances to achieve this ambition in following some of the advice coming from the best.

France Dufresne is a rewards, talent and communication leader at Towers Watson and Aage Seljegard is a senior consultant, employee engagement, at Towers Watson.

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