Why your employee engagement metrics aren't working.

12/07/2017 06:23 pm ET

Don’t let 2018 be more of the same.

While engagement and productivity are different, engaged employees tend to be more productive and guarantee a better customer experience. Not to mention how an energized work environment not only attracts talent but retains it.

It is that time of year again and, unfortunately, many organizations are set to be disappointed in their employee engagement scores, once more.

So why is it that even the best efforts to invest in measuring and analyzing employee engagement are only finding marginal results in their improvements? Why is it that after all this investment, organizations and, more importantly, the employees, are not seeing the impact they desire?

“Organization’s are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on employee engagement programs, yet their scores on engagement surveys remain abysmally low. How is that possible? Because most initiatives amount to an adrenaline shot. A perk is introduced to boost scores, but over time the effect wears off and scores go back down.” HBR

While there are several reasons that we could explore, we will focus on 3 that we have seen frequently arise from talking to several organizations about their challenges in the last few months.

1: People are fed up of answering questions and not seeing the results from their time investments.

We’ve all been there. It is that annual VOW (Voice of the Workforce) time. Those 75 questions where we agree or disagree with various statements and are tracked on whether we take it or not. We take it and then, we wait. The VOW teams have a difficult task at hand, they have pages upon pages of charts and multiple cuts of all sorts data to analyze - and they have to figure out what they will do to improve and reach a goal that was set...the classic “we want to see a 20% increase by next year's VOW”. They look at the 10 “reddest” areas and set off to conduct more focus groups and follow-ups to understand why employees feel that way. Eventually the tiger teams are put into place - but their efforts are in addition to their actual jobs - and while they do their very best, it is hard to prioritize it with everything else going on. All the while, employees are left wondering about what actions are being made to better impact their lives. Next year rolls around, and here comes those questions again.

While showing interest in better understanding your employees’ sentiment is a good first step for an organization, there is plenty of room to improving how efficient this first step is. The results are an aggregate of the responses, depicting the trends to show you areas that need work and typically deeper analysis is still required to figure out the root cause. They tend to not reveal to you what needs to be done, nor uncover the “unknown unknowns”. Not to mention that survey fatigued employees start responding neutrally and some are worried it is not genuinely anonymous, which brings into question the validity of the very topics you are making decisions based off of. If 60% agree that there is a lack of trust in the organization...what will you do now? It is important to understand that there is a difference in measuring how things are done and how employees feel about how things are done and both have their purpose.

With execution, implementation of the actions for improvement can still be clunky, and one area we see many organizations miss an opportunity with is connecting with employees afterwards. Just a quick movement to follow up, demonstrating transparency, breaking down the findings, and more importantly, explaining what is being done. Even if there are things that cannot be addressed, knowing what these are and the real reasons why, is far better than just not addressing it. Not addressing it leaves the employee feeling like - what is the point in telling you the same thing over and over again. The key is to be timely, transparent, and clear. Everyone is so busy with life and work that any requests for a time investment needs to be clearly valued and heard to give you the desired insights.

2: Organizations can be quick to follow trends without maintaining a line of sight to the big picture.

“Quick quick, do an annual survey, no wait, they are awful, do a pulse, wait, wait, actually ask them just one question”... Herds of businesses are flip-flopping their measurement strategy based on whatever is the latest measure buzz. For example, the contrast of the annual survey example above is that in a one question pulse you find that 52% of your employee base would most likely take another job else where with comparable pay. Now what? Again, you need to do some more work to understand why that is - more importantly, to understand exactly what you need to do to see a positive impact.

It is better to understand that all these measures have their purpose and place in a cohesive data-driven strategy. What you ask and how you ask it should depend on the purpose. A trend is great for keeping a pulse on how you are faring and seeing broad patterns over longer periods of time, real time signals can help you get in front of sustained problem areas as well as point in time, where as more detailed efforts are typically needed to gain deep insights about your people.

Some ways to combat this confusion is to:

  • Take a moment to be strategic and purposeful in your design for your employee insights strategy.
  • Balance the employees time investment with value, the delivery teams need to act on the data, as well as the ability to track improvement over time, by understanding your data ecosystem.
  • Explore tools that can help you gain real time insights as to what may be bubbling up, see if they provide you valid insights through small trials, and decide if they are right for your organization in the way they are implemented.
  • Conduct an actionable baseline to truly understand the root causes of your issues towards a big goal and then track the impact of the exact actions taken. Once you see that the action has improved on what you intended, bring in another area of focus.

To bring sustained change, it is important to focus on one or a few areas and commit to working on them until the impact is clear and consistent. Not just a peak for a moment of time. For example, say if employees do not feel that there is a sense of community so you decide to have an employee happy hour the next month. You check their satisfaction and you see a small peak, great! All done here! Alas, it was just a peak and not sustained improvement in the fundamental culture. A sustained improvement and authentic impact takes a focus on how people experience your organization day-by-day.

Think about when we drive major changes in life - like trying to lose weight. We suddenly give up all carbs and say we will work out 6 days a week. Well, for someone who eats carbs at every meal and doesn't work out this is likely to fail. Incorporating smaller, achievable changes and testing that they work is likely to be more successful, and enables you to change course as needed. Also, big complex goals like culture, engagement, and indeed weight loss...take a variety of elements to work on. Understanding the combination of actions needed that works for your budget, resources, time, and for your own environment is what will drive change.

3: The measures do not address the mindset and behavior changes needed to bring about the changes.

While the culture and engagement assessments that many organizations use do a great job of trending and highlighting focus areas, many miss the fundamental aspect of human behavior and cognitive processes that need to occur to drive the result.

For example, let’s look at managers. It has been shown that managers play a large role in their employees experience and are a cause for employees staying or leaving. So what do may organizations do? They make sure managers see their scores each year and then if they are low, they tend to tell them things like they need to listen more, or maybe send them to some training course.

However, they never extracted the root cause of their low score, and thus, they never learned how to properly develop them as individuals, and as managers they never took on new mindsets or behaviors. For example, to listen more in a way that drives the actual impact to the employee - there are many behaviors that need to be cultivated such as, being able to listen with the intent to understand not respond, being able to take pause, and being purposeful in response to name a few. These skills take engaging new behaviors in the context of real life over time, to be sustained and become the manager’s new norm.

In summary…

Driving engagement is a complex arena, but it can be cultivated. If your strategies are not working for you, in 2018, maybe it is time to try something different. Some things to consider include:

  • Making sure that you build into your strategy the follow up, which is transparent, timely, and really clear on the reasons why actions are or are not being taken.
  • Purposefully designing your strategy - from what is asked, when, and how, to the tools and techniques used, so that it is cohesive and works for: leadership who may want to see trends, delivery teams who have to act on the data, and the employees who have to provide the input.
  • Making sure that you are addressing the mindset and the engagement of new behaviors for sustained impact.
If you are experiencing challenges or looking to foster a great culture we would love to chat to you and offer you any advice that we can on becoming more proactive and getting the most value from your measures... you can contact us here https://www.yourculture.guide/connect/ to set up time to chat!
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