When it comes to engagement surveys, asking employees for feedback is just the first step in improving your workplace. Managers must take action on the insights gained to build credibility with their team and continuously improve team performance, employee experience, and workplace culture. If you don’t take action on survey results, you’ll miss an opportunity to build trust and connection with your workforce — and risk losing their trust and, over time, seeing flagging employee morale and disengagement.
This is where Action Plans come in. Action Plans are a People Success tool for identifying the changes businesses and teams want to enact based on survey results, and then creating a plan for doing so. The Action Plan framework is a five-step process for translating insights from engagement surveys into meaningful change at your organization, and it serves multiple purposes.
Key Purposes of Action Plans
- Close the loop on the process of employee listening. The employee listening process consists of three steps: Listen, Understand, and Act. “Listen” is asking for feedback, “Understand” is reviewing and communicating the survey results, and “Act” requires leadership, managers, and teams to take action on what they’ve learned. “This is the most important element and also is where the majority of employee listening programs break down,” said Liebman.
- Serve as a tangible reflection of an organization’s commitment to continuous improvement and driving positive change based on employee feedback. Clearly communicating survey findings — and, crucially, the follow-up actions being taken as a result — to employees shows them why providing feedback about their experiences at work is worthwhile. When employees see their feedback being put into action, they are more likely to provide feedback on future surveys. And if they don’t see action taken on their feedback, it could harm future participation rates and diminish confidence in the process.
- Are a way of recognizing any organizational shortcomings and demonstrating a commitment to resolving them. The level of transparency created by Action Plans not only allows employees to think through thoughtful solutions to areas that need improvement, which will positively impact their day-to-day work lives, but also demonstrates to employees that the organization is willing to be vulnerable, admitting to challenges and finding solutions. This in turn makes employees feel like the organization is committed to improving the employee experience, which encourages employees to reciprocate that honesty and vulnerability by sharing what their challenges in the workplace are.
Once your People team has presented organizational-level engagement survey results to the leadership team, the next step is for managers to review the employee feedback with their team and take action on the findings. Below, we’ve outlined the five-step process for doing this using Action Plans.
A 5-Step Framework for Using Action Plans
When it comes to sharing engagement scores and taking action on these findings, managers can plan their strategy around the five-step process of Review, Prepare, Discuss, Plan, and Execute.
1. REVIEW: Examine causes behind high or low scores.
A manager’s first step — before sharing engagement survey results with their team — is to review the metrics and data. Managers should check participation rates, look for the highs and lows across engagement scores, and compare their team’s current scores to previous scores.
As the manager reviews survey responses, they should hypothesize as to what may have caused certain responses. For instance, if your employee engagement survey results provide the employee feedback that there’s been an increased workload across the team, try to identify potential reasons that could be causing this: Is a team member out on parental leave, resulting in additional work for the remaining team members? Is one team member in particular consistently falling behind on deadlines or turning in incomplete work? Or is the company going through a rebranding or other company-wide initiative that’s causing a temporary increase to people’s workloads?
When managers take the time to identify trends and hypothesize about what could be causing them, they will be more prepared for any follow-up questions team members may have when the survey results are shared with them; this will result in a more productive team conversation during Step 3 (Discussion). Setting aside time to think through this information and hypothesize in advance will help managers excavate additional context that they can then draw on when creating team Action Plans.
2. PREPARE: Review results with your team.
Engagement scores and survey results provide a snapshot of employee satisfaction, team and company culture, and the other topics the engagement survey covers. For more detailed insights, though, managers need to add context to the trends identified by the survey to create meaningful Action Plans.
After a manager has reviewed the engagement survey results independently, the next step is facilitating an open, psychologically safe, productive discussion with their team where employees can share their experiences and ideas and suggest solutions. To foster this, managers should convey expectations for the conversation and set ground rules in advance of the meeting. Doing so gives team members time to prepare, and helps earn their buy-in.
“This step is really about how managers can get their teams to arrive [at the meeting] already thinking about the issues that show up in their day-to-day,” said Liebman. Sharing the meeting’s agenda and a few ground rules in advance is a good way to prime the team for the survey communication and discussion to come in this meeting.
Here is a sample email to set expectations, provide the agenda, and share ground rules to ensure a productive discussion:
3. DISCUSS: Collect insights from your team.
During the meeting, facilitate discussion to surface more insights and contextualize survey findings. The aim at this point in the process is to identify key findings that weren’t explicitly stated in the survey.
In keeping with the sample email agenda from Step 2, here’s how to elaborate on each point to flesh out key findings and elicit context from the team.
- Our Team’s Scores and Themes: Share results as objectively as possible. Since you want the team to make their own observations about what information they derive from the results, avoid drawing conclusions for them. It’s helpful to share the survey questions that were asked, but avoid sharing individual comments. Doing so can make an employee feel singled out and compromise the psychological safety you’ve worked to establish. Rather, ask employees to describe what conclusions they draw from the results by asking open-ended questions like, “When you look at your results, what stands out for you? What’s working? What’s not?” and “Where do we need to learn more?”
- Explore Foundational Strengths and Weaknesses: Seek to contextualize any trends to better craft an Action Plan. At a high level, the goal of this process is to find ways to solve issues and amplify strengths. To do so, managers, in conjunction with their teams, need to analyze the results and uncover the root causes behind any issues or successes. Ask employees questions like, “What could be causing this high or low score?” and “What factors do you think influenced our team’s score on this question?” in order to unearth additional information that will help you create better Action Plans.
- Add Detail to Team Trends and Experiences: Once the manager has presented the team’s challenges and strengths and discussed potential causes, next they should “probe even further for specific pieces of feedback to understand more,” advised Liebman. During this portion of the discussion, managers can ask their team questions like, “What have you noticed about X issue on our team?” or “How does this issue show up in daily work?” to further unearth detail and context.
- Change and Action Planning: “This is where managers begin to rally the team around a cause,” Liebman said. Teams should decide together the changes they want to make, and assign owners for initiatives where appropriate. “It doesn’t necessarily need to be a leader [leading the change,]” Liebman said. “It just needs to be someone excited about driving change. For example, maybe the change the team wants to make is related to a diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) topic, and this person is part of a community that’s been marginalized and therefore underrepresented.”
Then managers should explain the next steps, and inform their team that they’ll develop an Action Plan. They should include the date this will be done by, so that employees know when to expect it. Lastly, the manager should close the meeting by reiterating all the ways that employees can continue to share feedback to keep the momentum going. They can say something like:
4. PLAN: Generate action from these insights.
After meeting with the team and discussing results and possible solutions, the next step is to prioritize the insights to focus on in the Action Plan. Managers should narrow it down to three insights to focus on, which will help the team remain focused on the changes they want to make rather than dilute their efforts, which can happen with too many areas of focus. If, after the previous steps, a manager has culled more than three strong insights or focus areas to act on, they can use the following criteria to sort, select, and prioritize the most important ones.
- What Can Be Solved With a Simple Conversation: With issues that only require a simple conversation to resolve, managers should handle the issue right away and there’s no need to add it to the Action Plan. For instance, say half of your team tracks its activity in Google Sheets, while the other half uses a project management tool. A quick discussion can reveal this discrepancy and push the team to choose one platform. Since Action Plans should remain focused on three key insights, issues like this one that can be resolved with a conversation do not need to be incorporated into Action Plans.
- Short- and Long-Term Effect on the Team: For this criteria, managers should consider which focus area, if solved, could most empower their team in the long term, and if there any “fires” impacting the happiness or productivity of their team that need to be put out immediately. Identifying the insights that are going to be the most impactful in the short- and long-term can guide prioritization. If the engagement survey results show that employees do not feel aligned to company objectives, for instance, you might consider building objectives and key results (OKRs) into the team’s processes, which would be a long-term focus area. Or, if results indicate employees feel their workload is unmanageable, an Action Plan item to address and alleviate burnout should be a priority for the team.
- What’s Important Versus Unimportant: Of the focus areas identified in the previous steps, consider which ones, if not addressed, could potentially lead to poor retention, increased turnover, or other significantly detrimental issues, like poor employee engagement, that will harm the team over time. For example, if you have high turnover on the team because employees do not have the resources they need to succeed, this will continue until they do have the necessary resources. This important insight would be something to prioritize in an Action Plan.
5. EXECUTE: Create and enact Action Plans.
Strong, impactful Action Plans combine insights from quantitative survey data and qualitative data that’s been surfaced during the team discussion. Here are some examples of problems with clear solutions and how they’d appear on an Action Plan.
Action Plan Examples
Driving positive organizational change requires more than just conducting employee engagement surveys and reviewing the high-level results. When employees take the time to respond to the company’s request for feedback, communicating the survey process and results at the team level reiterates that their feedback is valuable.
Action Plans take this one step further, and demonstrate to employees that your organization is committed to making meaningful change based on their feedback. But it’s important to note that listening to employees is an ongoing process. Things like pulse surveys and weekly updates provide touchpoints for tracking progress against action plans between point-in-time survey events.
For more tips on harnessing employee data, download Lattice's eBook on How to Turn Engagement Survey Results into Action.