Making Your Workplace Engagement Survey Pay Off

workplace engagement survey

by Stephen Van Valin, CEO of Culturology

It’s a big moment when the workplace engagement survey results finally arrive. There are often jittery nerves upon opening the report to see what your “numbers” reveal this year. Then, with a big sigh, we start the process of trying to figure it all out, with the goal of building an engaged culture. So, what is the most effective way to follow-up with your organization after the engagement scores are revealed?

You’ve invested a ton of time, money, and effort into your engagement survey. It’s imperative you make it pay off. You have the opportunity as a leader to create the conditions for success by inviting an open, healthy, constructive dialogue within your organization. Instead of looking in the rear-view mirror to review the WHY of the results, focus on the future to define WHAT success looks like. The difference in the way your people respond will spark profound “ah-ha” moments that elevate engagement. You must be prepared to go beyond the traditional “focus group” approach that has become woefully inadequate.

Five approaches that high-performing cultures utilize to drive results following their survey:

1. Seize the lead by being a catalyst
Approach the survey results as a catalyst for positive change. Get out in front of it and start early. Leading change proactively has an enormous impact on your organization’s ability to influence engagement.

Evidence from Harvard Business School’s Head of Research, Dr. Teresa Amabile, points to the leader’s role in facilitating progress on meaningful work as the #1 driver of engagement. It was so significant, Dr. Amabile published the impact of this factor as the Progress Principle. That means your progress on tackling engagement issues actually serves as a catalyst of engagement! This is the proverbial 2 for 1 special. Being a true catalyst requires you make progress on issues, plus gain credibility and respect as leader with an accountable approach. Doing so will set your organization apart as having a strong, results-focused leadership backbone that takes engagement seriously.

2. Creative collaboration
Change takes place one team at a time. Before you launch into exploring survey results in team meetings, teach and implement the rules of brainstorming to reinforce the importance of generating ideas. You must keep the team focused on discussing potential solutions (not going into the swamp). For example, seek a quantity of ideas at first, and then identify the ones that have a lot of energy around them. Encourage people to piggyback on the prioritized ideas to build more complete ideas, including action steps. Everyone needs to feel they are playing a valuable part in the process. Brainstorming is a discipline that needs training and reinforcement to be effective. It will keep people focused on positive proactive solutions.

3. Tap into power questions
Carefully craft question that get to innovative solutions that impact engagement. This tactic is key to changing your entire approach. Be certain that questions related to the survey focus on WHAT or HOW, instead of WHY. What and how point to the future and leave room for powerful, creative discussions about possibilities.

Here’s an example related to the challenging subject of respect (an issue that comes up in every workplace engagement survey): A good question is, “What might increase the level of respect we have for each other on this team?”Compare that to a poor question: “Why is the level of respect low within our team?” The “what” question gives people a chance to speak candidly about the future. In a brainstorming-like scenario, every answer is considered while judgment is suspended. The perceived danger of asking why is eliminated. Teammates are invited to paint a picture of what respect looks like in the future. As a result, you (the leader) and the entire team
have a relevant goal to target and can determine action items to get there.

By the way, if you listen keenly, you’ll get the answer to the why question by default in a way that is completely honest. The psychological safety of generating ideas together will allow the truth to be presented in a constructive way. Here are additional examples of future-focused questions on typical engagement survey “hot” topics:

  • Do ask: “How might we increase our response time to each other to overcome bureaucracy?”
  • Don’t ask: “Why do we have an excessive amount of bureaucracy on our team?”
  • Do ask: “What can we put into place that will allow us to communicate more effectively with each other?”
  • Don’t ask: “Why are we not communicating effectively?”
  • Do ask: “What would it look like if we had the highest possible level of trust with one another on this team?”
  • Don’t ask: “Why do we not trust each other and score low on this question every year?”

4. Ownership of solutions
Creating solutions together at the team level allows for equal ownership and broader application of accountability. Rather than coming out of a focus group with all the action items focused on you (the leader), a new format must be facilitated so that the entire team agrees to the action items. Build a specific list and confirm agreement regarding next steps. Publish it after the meeting, and make the follow-up an agenda item at future staff meetings. If you identify an item that is solely your responsibility, ask the team for their support and feedback to ensure you are making progress. Don’t just ask for general support and feedback! Be specific. Paint a picture of what effective support and feedback looks like. Then, when you receive that support and feedback, reinforce the team’s behavior in a way that lets everyone know how much you value it. Set a whole new expectation for support and feedback so it becomes a cultural norm.

5. Momentum of small wins
Sadly, people generally have low expectations that anything different will happen as a result of taking a workplace engagement survey. Achieving immediate small wins is a crucial factor that will change that mindset. People need to believe that progress is taking place before they will fully get on board. Kickstart momentum by identifying some low-hanging fruit items from the ideas the team generates. Focus on achieving those small goals, communicate the results, and
give credit to the people that made it happen. Then, keep the momentum going by identifying what’s next. This process can make a real difference in engagement and build confidence that the survey has a truly valuable purpose.

The results of your survey are not the ultimate prize. The survey is simply a tool that serves as a snapshot in time showing where you are as an organization. The ultimate prize is the higher level of engagement within your organization’s culture that drives incredible results. Your ability to follow up on your survey results with a proactive, positive, and future-focused attitude is a key factor in winning the prize.
Stephen Van Valin, CEO of Culturology is a culture shaping strategist, engagement tactician, and team collaboration expert. He works with leaders who believe engaged and innovative cultures are their ultimate competitive advantage. Learn more or contact Steve.