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Engagement Surveys and the Bigger Strategic Picture

By Jennifer Aden Murnane, VP Business Development, Capital Analytics

Engagement surveys are a great tool to stay connected with what’s really going on in an organization. They answer questions like “How happy are our employees?” or “How vested are they in their work?” and maybe even “How likely are they to stay?” But it’s important to remember that the engagement survey is just that, a tool. When it comes to measuring the impact of employees’ engagement in an organization, engagement survey results shouldn’t be used in isolation to make important, strategic decisions.

Employee engagement results can forecast movement in such business metrics as customer satisfaction, employee turnover, individual productivity and a number of other areas. But be careful…engagement indices are just one piece of the complex puzzle of factors driving employee performance and business results.

A Holistic Look

For a more holistic look, consider employee performance data and how engagement is impacting the business overall in terms of performance, retention and productivity. It’s wise for an organization to regard employee engagement as a leading indicator of business results impacting the bottom line and profitability. When understood in the context of performance metrics, there are many actionable ways to interpret and use engagement results in a more comprehensive, strategic manner in an organization.

For example, as displayed in Figure 1, employee engagement scores can be tied to employee retention, in addition to promotion opportunities, ultimately leading to improving the financial performance of an organization.

Figure 1: Example of Employee Engagement Linkage to Improving Financial Performance

Shake Things Up

You should reach agreement in your organization as to the type of engagement survey questions you want to use, such as open-ended, multiple choice, or a hybrid approach. The survey should be anonymous and organizational stakeholders should agree up front as to the lifespan of a particular format and questions for the survey. Using the same survey year after year results in employees becoming too familiar with the questions and their responses not being as thoughtful as they could be in subsequent years. With the appropriate level of expertise, you may want to develop your survey within your company, or you may also want to utilize an engagement survey vendor. There are a number of excellent survey providers and people with expertise in writing survey questions who can capture what you want to learn from your engagement survey. Never become set on using one provider or one form of question. 

Unless some major organizational restructuring, downsizing, or leadership changes occur, there’s no reason to stay with the same survey instrument. Since the results of the survey aren’t directly linked to business results, they don’t need to be compared year over year. So it’s okay to change up the questions to make sure you’re capturing what it is you want to know about your employee base as those needs change.

A Powerful Tool

Before you invest in a survey writer or engage a vendor, make sure you have a plan and an agreement by organizational stakeholders as to how the survey results will be used. Do all stakeholders agree that engagement is an indicator of retention? Is it an organizational practice and recruiting tool to tout your company engagement scores to potential job candidates? When understood in the context of how engagement links to performance metrics, there are many actionable ways to interpret and use engagement results in a more comprehensive, strategic manner in an organization.

Whether you’re currently using an engagement survey or just thinking about using one, make sure you’re clear on its purpose and understand that an engagement score isn’t a stand-alone metric used for decision-making. An engagement survey has a very specific strategic purpose, and with proper alignment to strategic goals it can be a very powerful tool to propel your organization in a positive strategic direction. 

Capital Analytics is a Durham, NC-based firm that uses a statistical approach to bridge the gap between people investments and business results, isolating the factors that drive success. More at: www.capanalytics.com

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Spring 2012

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