Delivering value from employee engagement surveys

The 2013 Gallup State of the Global Workplace report identified that worldwide as little as 13% of employees class themselves as engaged in the workplace.  This is a shocking statistic and one that belies the incredible focus on leadership development that has taken place over the last couple of decades, with a clear and determined move away from securing compliance towards aligning employees in an engaged and committed manner to drive business performance.

Doubtless the Gallup report will result in many questions being asked within organisations about the actions required to lift the percentage, and doubtless many organisations will embark on surveys to measure their own performance.  This rush to survey is ostensibly admirable but will, in all probability, lead to limited real impact.  The reason being that many organisations will seek to evaluate their performance against the wrong measure.  They will use a survey that enables them to measure against the benchmark instead of creating a survey which enables them to measure against their own strategy and aspirational culture.

I have long argued that we ignore organisational culture at our peril, and that leaders need to see culture as a strategic performance tool that will deliver very real and tangible business benefits.  Leaders should spend their time and energy determining how they want their business to operate and what operational culture they want to create and sustain before even thinking about running an employee engagement survey.

Once these critically important elements have been defined and agreed then, and only then, can we sensibly create a survey that measures current practice against our aspirational agenda.  In short, a bespoke survey that, in addition to measuring current state, also signposts the desired future state.  In this way everyone across the business will have a clear view and understanding of where they are heading, and, of course, what they engaging with.

It is clear that once a survey has been initiated, employees, quite rightly, expect action.  It is good leadership to ensure that those actions are undertaken to demonstrate that they are listening to their employees, but it is even better leadership to ensure, before even designing the survey, that the resultant actions are strategically aligned and demonstrably support development of the desired culture.

In this regard, measurement against a benchmark is interesting but not valuable.  Value comes from creating your own baseline measures that are appropriate to strategy and operational context and focused through your aspirational culture.  Only then can real progress be effectively determined, implemented, tracked and measured.  Employee engagement needs, after all, a specific organisational context.

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