Should we Kill off the Engagement Survey?

The annual engagement survey appears to be on the way out together with the annual performance review. Some companies have already removed these measures and others are considering taking the same action.

How could that be? Well, a once a year look at the people in the organisation doesn’t really cut the mustard. It’s like having a visit from those long forgotten relatives who decided to come and visit you, sometimes uninvited, for a family get together. Whilst the visit may have been pleasant (or not), it is soon forgotten afterwards.

Furthermore, a survey of employees asking pertinent questions about the level of their engagement implies that the leaders are about to listen and respond to the feedback. If that doesn’t happen, the survey develops a slightly dull “going through the motions” image which actually promotes disengagement.

A similar result occurs with the annual performance review. Sometimes the recipient sits and listens to some feedback that should have been given in a much more timely way so that the employee could have learned and grown at the time. The same is true for positive feedback. When this is given at the time and done skilfully, the person becomes more engaged as result of the appreciation. When this is not acknowledged but mentioned later at the performance appraisal, it doesn’t seem to have the same impact.

Often, the way an engagement survey or a performance appraisal are delivered results in either disengagement or at best, a neutral result.

The research shows that the growing frustration from employees and managers with the year-end performance process is leading many organisations to focus on creating a continuous feedback culture to take the emphasis off the year-end appraisal.

And this is the point. The way actions are taken in an organisation is what determines the level of engagement. If we lead from the purely task focused position, without considering how we are interacting with the other, whether or not we are building alignment, we often lose that person or persons. Perhaps this was part of the genesis of the union movement. Often the trade union representative has greater interpersonal skills than the person in the leadership position. In my experience a leadership vacuum in the interpersonal space (read pure task focus) invites others to fill the interpersonal void and this often happens in a non collaborative way because of the lack of collaboration that created the communication void in the first place.

We should coach and support our leaders to grow their interpersonal skills. There is no shortage of the smarts required to get the tasks done. It’s bringing our people along with us that is the challenging piece. It’s in the interpersonal space where the engagement occurs and the results depend on the level of interpersonal skill of the leader.

A survey in 2014 by Willis Towers Watson [1] of over 1600 companies and 32,000 employees from over 24 markets globally determined rankings for drivers of employee engagement. Here is a summary of the results for those drivers:

Demonstrating a sincere interest in employee wellbeing and role modelling behaviours consistent with the organisation’s core values. Also, demonstrated trust and confidence in the employee to get the job done.

Goals and Objectives
The employee has a good understanding of the the organisations’s business goals and the steps needed to reach those goals. An understanding of how their job contributes to the business achieving its goals, including timely feedback against agreed goals.

Workload and Work/Life balance
A healthy balance between work and personal life. Flexible work arrangements. Enough employees in the work group to get the job done well. The amount of work required is reasonable.

The organisation is highly regarded by the general public. The organisation conducts its business with honesty and integrity.

Management involves employees in decisions that affect them. The organisation seeks the opinions and suggestions of employees and then acts on them.
It is clear that leaders can take sensible pragmatic steps immediately to start impacting the engagement levels in their organisation. When this is done as a planned leadership team initiative, the impact can be very powerful.

[1]. Willis Towers Watson (2014) Global Trends in Employee Attraction, Retention and Engagement.

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