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Why Engagement Surveys Suck

You know the drill: Once a year the company rolls out an “employee engagement” measure to figure out the hot spots and determine how to make things better. But that explanation goes too deep. In reality, most employees see it as a time-consuming exercise that is a bridge to nowhere. In fact, defining it as a tool for improvement and then avoiding substantive change only drives morale lower. Here a few reasons this annual rite of passage fails.

  1. Organizations confuse surveying with doing something. Instead, it is a promissory note to your staff that raises hopes and then dashes them. Unmet commitments lead to disengagement.
  2. It’s a point in time. On a Thursday back in early January, it looked like employees felt good about their benefits. Is that because holiday break just ended or because your flex time, maternity leave, and health care are effective? In reality, feedback needs to be an ongoing process that is simplified and consistent. How about instead using a tool like RELATE? It’s a text-based system in which you shoot weekly questions to employees and get real-time dashboard feedback on what they think. By asking regular questions like, “Did the employee meeting clarify the new M and A? If not, what do you need to know?” will spur responses that matter.
  3. It is too long. The yearly survey is supposedly a 60-minute experience that stretches to four months. The response rate can take a quarter.
  4. Celebration occurs for the wrong thing. A percentile goes up two points, and there are self-congratulatory comments, as if the results are the same as accomplished action. Individual leaders rarely reflect on their part in issues. Have you ever heard a C-Suite executive respond, “Wow, I’m even crazier than I imagined?”
  5. The questions are too vague. What do you mean by “management?” How about “communication?” Specific inquiries lead to specific actions.

So what? Instead of investing the time, expectations, and money in a huge annual review, employees need the chance to give unvarnished input to leaders routinely. This needs to be anonymous and in response to concrete events, people, or processes.  It also has to be ongoing. Shift your focus from checking where your organization is each January 3rd to trying to find that out each week. Responding back to what they tell you will lead to concrete commitments. Then the game changes.

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