Culling data from employee engagement surveys can driveÂ strategic business decisions.
By Marta Chmielowicz
Employee engagement is a key competitive differentiatorÂ in todayâs business climate. According to DecisionWiseâsÂ 2018 State of Employee Engagement Report, engagementÂ is a top priority for 51 percent of executive teams, and 56Â percent of organizations have a formal program in placeÂ to measure and enhance it. For most, this program consistsÂ of employee feedback systems (60 percent), companyÂ events (52 percent), recognition programsÂ (45 percent), and more.
But while these initiatives are quite popular, employeeÂ engagement programs continue to see mixed results.Â In fact, DecisionWise reports that only 33 percent ofÂ companies say their programs are successful or veryÂ successful. Despite numerous innovations in engagementÂ tracking technologies and digital tools, HR professionalsÂ are still struggling to answer a key question: How canÂ engagement be leveraged to improve workforce andÂ business outcomes?
One problem holding companies back is the ineffectiveÂ collection and use of engagement data. Companies thatÂ fail to take a holistic approach to employee engagementÂ and analyze its relationship with other key businessÂ indicators and priorities miss out on a huge opportunity toÂ drive strategy.
âBy examining data and the drivers of employeeÂ engagement like recognition and communication,Â companies gain valuable, actionable insight,â says TheresaÂ C. Harkins, vice president of client success and engagementÂ solutions at Inspirus, a Sodexo Group company. âThey canÂ conduct process improvement, determine ROR and ROI,Â and drive results. Equally important, examining the dataÂ can enable organizations to assess needs and analyze anyÂ possible gaps or help needed to better empower everyoneÂ to actively use employee engagement tools.â
In addition, properly leveraging engagement data canÂ prevent attrition by giving organizations the insightÂ to immediately address employee concerns, helpingÂ them feel heard and developing interventions to reduceÂ turnover. âThe biggest takeaway that our team of expertsÂ has witnessed when it comes to employee engagementÂ data is that itâs the little things that matter. Itâs theÂ small, day-to-day frustrations or anxieties that turn intoÂ disengaged employees that are on the verge of leaving.Â But with real-time data, employers can address issuesÂ head on before they become a larger issue,â says VanessaÂ Brangwyn, chief customer officer at Achievers.
Jennifer Streitwieser, Korn Ferryâs client partner and headÂ of U.S. engagement and culture, says that the feedbackÂ from employee engagement surveys can drive positiveÂ change. For example, one organization that works withÂ Korn Ferry encourages its leaders and managers to setÂ goals for culture initiatives based on engagement surveyÂ results. Another has leveraged the data to identify theÂ development needs of its first-line supervisors and buildÂ the business case for investment in this group.
But to find the patterns and links between engagementÂ and productivity, well-being, management, and all theÂ other factors that drive business success, organizationsÂ need to ensure that they are gathering the rightÂ information.
Finding the Right Metrics
Employee experience is multi-faceted and complexâandÂ companies that want an accurate view of their employeesâÂ engagement levels need to consider a range of variables.Â âThere is an important caveat to measuring engagement:Â no single measure or set of measures can accuratelyÂ portray engagement without taking a holistic approachÂ to understanding the quality of the entire employeeÂ experience,â says Harkins.
To ensure a successful outcome, companies should seekÂ employee feedback about:
- quality of connections with coworkers;
- feeling valued and appreciated;
- opportunities for personal and professionalÂ development;
- meaningful work that aligns with core personal values;Â and
- communication with managers, leaders, and executives.
CultureIQâs Managing Director of Client Strategy DeniseÂ Fairhurst recommends that organizations evaluate bothÂ work engagement and organizational commitment whenÂ gathering this input. That way, HR professionals canÂ better understand employeesâ levels of focus, dedication,Â and enthusiasm as well as their overall attachment toÂ the organization. âThese components have the strongestÂ impact on employee performance, retention, andÂ organizational performance,â she explains.
Organizations can then formally define the extent toÂ which these issues are impacting broader engagementÂ attitudes.
Once engagement data is collected, it needs to beÂ analyzed in order to identify trends and connect themÂ with broader business initiatives. For best results, HRÂ professionals can consider the following best practices:
1. Seek trends. âWhen you are getting feedback on aÂ weekly basis, it is important to not overreact to one-timeÂ comments,â says Andrew Pryor, senior vice president ofÂ HR at business software company ECi Software Solutions.
âInstead, we look for trends. We learned a long time agoÂ that a dot is a dot, two dots is a line, and three dots is aÂ trend.â Analyzing these trends allows organizations toÂ identify employee and manager behaviors that need to beÂ repeated, reinforced, or eliminated entirely.
2. Correlate engagement outcomes with business goals. TheÂ results can then be anchored to strategic business goalsÂ and their associated key performance indicators (KPIs).Â âMake sure that your engagement program is part of yourÂ overall business and talent strategic planning process,âÂ says Streitwieser. âUnderstanding your organizationâs KPIsÂ will help you know what to measure both in terms of theÂ questions you ask on the survey and the demographic dataÂ you collect.â
ECi Software Solutions takes this approach. âWe findÂ there are several key performance metrics that we canÂ measure that are direct indicators on how our employeeÂ engagement efforts are doingâall of which are tied toÂ our corporate goals,â says Pryor. The company gathersÂ data about:
- customer experience per product line;
- employee innovation through measurement of âValueÂ Creationâ activities;
- financial performance;
- sales targets; and
- feedback from the âGreat Place to Work Survey.â
3. Engage leadership. Another valuable way to obtainÂ insight from the data is to compare the range inÂ engagement between teams and evaluate differencesÂ in the practices of managers who have high and lowÂ engagement levels, recommends Kathie Sorensen,Â principal partner of The Coffman Organization. ThisÂ comparative data combined with direct employeeÂ feedback can reveal how to support struggling managersÂ with comprehensive, actionable techniques. âEngage withÂ the managers and their teams to learn what both buildsÂ and detracts from productive energy. Encourage managersÂ and teams to make decisions close to the action in the bestÂ interest of the organization, its clients, and associates,âÂ she explains.
Key stakeholders across the enterprise can then beÂ encouraged to act on these results. In fact, according toÂ Fairhurst of CultureIQ, the most successful companies fosterÂ conversations between HR leaders, senior leadership, andÂ management, and establish engagement as a priorityÂ at all levels. âWhile the data and insights are important,Â much more so are the conversations and change spawnedÂ by sharing them,â she says. âOnce the data becomes partÂ of the day-to-day running of the business, survey follow-upÂ no longer becomes a separate activity for which HR isÂ responsible. It can become a useful business tool.â
For example, ECi Software Solutions utilizes its surveyÂ data to identify managers who need to become moreÂ engaged and motivate them to do better. To keep leadersÂ accountable for engagement results, Pryor recommendsÂ that companies:
- tie engagement data to leadersâ KPIs;
- hold leadership accountable for their engagementÂ scores; and
- share engagement trends with leaders through quarterlyÂ reports.
4. Intervene at the team level. âThe single best driver forÂ improvement is the partnership of manager and teamÂ in discussing what they can do to improve their energy,Â performance, and satisfaction,â Sorensen explains.Â âAnalysis is important, but as cultures vary most at theÂ micro-culture level, the real, practical impact can beÂ realized in each workgroup and team.â
By focusing interventions at the team level, organizationsÂ can create a road map of key challenges acrossÂ the enterprise that can be specifically targeted inÂ measurement and intervention efforts. âManagers canÂ drill down and look at trending data and benchmarkÂ data with their teams to see patterns,â says AchieversâÂ Brangwyn. âThis can help identify people who are at riskÂ of leaving their jobs or hitting a slump in productivity, forÂ example.â
Team-specific issues in recruitment, on-boarding, training,Â mobility, diversity, communications, payroll and benefits,Â leadership, and change management can then beÂ addressed quickly and efficiently.
By taking heed of employee engagement data, HRÂ can lead the way in fostering a productive workforce.Â Designing attractive workplace policies; measuringÂ employee and manager attitudes; adapting to thisÂ feedback in ways that drive business strategy in the rightÂ direction; and maintaining a culture that makes this allÂ possible have become fundamental responsibilities of theÂ HR function.