CEO’s Letter: A “Disengaged” HR Service Sector

HRO Today

Be Elliot H. Clark

At the HRO Today Forum in May, many CHROs and top-level practitioners were disappointed to hear Dr. Peter Cappelli of the Wharton Center for Human Resources say during a town hall session that current research suggests that employee engagement scores don’t tell HR or executive leadership very much as a predictive tool for productivity. I have not reviewed that research personally, but I defended the employee engagement provider industry saying that engagement surveys are predictive of retention—no minor issue—and can help identify problems in line management. Conclusive “linkage research” between engagement and performance has been the holy grail of the OD profession for decades. But the employee engagement industry has a bigger problem to contend with than Dr. Cappelli questioning predictive value. That problem is: Their service is not very good.

HRO Today is publishing our first-ever Baker’s Dozen Customer Satisfaction Ratings for Employee Engagement this month, and overall, the “engagement” of engagement customers is low. There are few companies on the list that outperform their cohort, but generally, the scores for customer service are the lowest of any other HR service offering.

I think they know it. Most of the providers actively resisted our efforts to conduct the survey. Imagine that: They object to us surveying their performance. Savor that bit of cruel irony for just a moment. I even sent a letter to the CEOs of most of the larger and smaller employee engagement providers, and only one of them responded. It was a CEO of one of the smaller providers, but this firm, Engage2Excel, is actually competing on quality of service and consultation with the much larger providers. We appreciate our readers who cooperated and voluntarily took the survey in spite of the lack of “engagement” by the majority of the providers.

The list only has nine survey providers. Those survey providers not listed either scored below Survey Monkey, which is a do-it-yourself tool for survey administration, or HRO Today had insufficient data to rate them. This means that many of the larger HR departments choose to use in-house OD professionals to analyze and prioritize action items after doing their own survey. The service of designing and administering employee engagement surveys is not the core of the industry’s value proposition. The core value should be the perspective and consultation of the providers. You would think with the resources offered by the larger players, they would run away with the customer service scores, but, actually, a few of the smaller firms are providing very good service. And there are some providers—both large and small—that had scores so dismal that it would embarrass them to publish them so we chose discretion and will not reveal them. However, all of those firms scored below the “DIY” Survey Monkey.

By the way, I am NOT advocating a do-it-yourself approach. There is great value to outside consultation, perspective, and normative data. Rather, I am imploring this segment of the HR services sector to rethink its approach. Otherwise, the employee engagement survey industry’s last client will be Jurassic Park, and we all know dinosaurs’ favorite flavor is “PhD.”

If I were a buyer of employee engagement surveys, I would seriously, based on our data, give more consideration to the less well-known brands with the exception of Korn Ferry, which ranks well in this survey (this is the old Hay Group business acquired by Korn Ferry a few years ago). Their service remains good with a very broad scope of service.

Please review the data and as always, thank you to the readers who took the survey. This kind of transparency helps all providers improve the services available to HR and the HR services available to the workforce. If you are an HR practitioner, make sure your provider knows that you want them to take part in future HRO Today Baker’s Dozen surveys. If you have to show them your data, they have to show you theirs.

Posted June 18, 2019 in Engaged Workforce

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