How can a company strategize for something as elusive as employee engagement? Although there are telltale signs when employees are experiencing a low level of engagement, connecting employees with their jobs can seem extremely intangible; after all, it's not a sales goal or a revenue number that you can be sure you've hit.
But it is something you can gather data on, and this is key. Employee engagement surveys provide a base for an employee engagement strategy. They are a way of rendering the intangible tangible through reliable data.
Take the guesswork out of strategy: you don't think that there's a problem with development opportunities or employees feeling a sense of purpose in their day-to-day experience: you know — and you have data from employee feedback to back it up. From this knowledge, you can be sure you are setting forth a strategy to solve an actual problem and increase engagement in a way that makes sense.
What makes a successful employee engagement strategy?
An engagement strategy is more than one survey or one program. Since employee engagement is a holistic metric, your strategy needs to be holistic as well. Successful employee engagement strategies need to be:
- Tailored to your business
- Solving for actual problems
- Constantly reevaluated
An employee engagement strategy is like any other major business strategy: you have to make a plan and adjust it in accordance with what happens after you start to implement it.
This is why building your employee engagement strategy around an engagement survey makes so much sense. Surveys are a great tool to evaluate specific aspects of your engagement strategy; they take the guesswork out of engagement so you can get straight to improvements.
How engagement surveys tailor engagement strategy
Engagement surveys are drivers of engagement strategy because they provide the raw data that you need to see a baseline of your company's engagement. Rather than going on a manager or senior leader's gut feeling, or vague impressions from the human resources department, engagement surveys help you quantify what the problems are and why they exist.
Once you've given an engagement survey, you need to work with the survey data to inform your strategy –– not just gather the data and think the strategy will magically appear. Instead, you have to analyze the results and pinpoint what your biggest problems are.
There are three parts to survey analysis:
- Looking at cross-sections
- Brainstorming reasons for problems and basic solutions
You find valuable insights that you can get by looking at a particular cross-section of responses. Say, for example, your survey results say that 80% of employees agree or strongly agree that company morale is good. That's awesome! But what happens when you dig into a cross section:
- Split by department and you may find that 70% of engineers disagree.
- Split by gender and you may find that 60% of women disagree.
While your overall company-wide results for this question are good, if you don't dig into your data, you aren't going to see that there are some departments or groups that aren't receiving the same support as others.
This can be especially important to do in large companies: if you have a company of 500 and an engineering department of 60, their less-than-positive employee experience is less likely to impact the overall results.
Making Sense of the Data
Once you have examined your cross-sections, it's time to contextualize the answers to your survey. This has several components, including digging further into the numbers and looking at the broader view of what is happening in your company.
If you have historical data on your company's employee engagement survey results, compare them to inform how your current results stack up. For example:
- Your current survey says that 35% of employees enjoy working at the company.
- Your last survey said 20% of employees enjoyed working at the company.
- Therefore, your current survey shows a 15 percentage point increase in employee satisfaction.
Is it good that 35% of your company enjoys working at the company? No, but there are fewer disengaged employees and employee satisfaction has taken a huge step in the right direction. This tells you that the changes you made after your last employee survey are working. Conversely, if there's a dip in overall engagement, that is a red flag to probe further. It might be that outside factors have changed the results, even if your company didn't alter any official policies. So consider any recent major changes that might impact the work environment or skew your results regarding engagement issues. For example, if you've done a lot of hiring in the last quarter, you might get more agnostic results as new team members might not feel strongly about issues yet.
The last step of analyzing your results is to brainstorm problems, and potential solutions to them. This is key for several reasons:
- You can't expect your employees to do all the work for you — especially without all the data.
- Employees are going to ask about your planning and next steps. Assuring them that you're working through solutions keeps their confidence that you take the survey seriously.
- Brainstorming can tell you if the employee perception of a problem and management's perception of it are out of line with one another. If you don't brainstorm beforehand, you won't get that clarity.
Finally, discuss results with management so you can lay out pressing concerns and brainstorm ideas as a team.
Solving actual problems is a multi-step process
After using your engagement survey to identify problems, as well as looking at cross-sections, contextualizing your data, and brainstorming solutions, it's time to start crafting that employee engagement strategy.
Advice on planning your engagement initiatives:
- If you have to make a sweeping change, focus on one specific area of improvement at a time. This means anything that is going to significantly change the workflow, tools, or structure. These changes may be unsettling or take time to get used to, and will present enough of a challenging without tackling multiple areas at once.
- If you are making smaller changes, you can implement a few at a time. Humans are creatures of habit and trying to switch up too many things at once is bound to fail: employees need some time to form new habits, even at work.
Most problems in your company cannot be solved with one shrewd move. Understanding how long it will take to solve a problem, and what the impact will be on your company's resources, can help you craft a more efficient strategy.
Say, for example, employees indicated on your survey they don't receive enough feedback from managers. You decide to implement a quarterly goals program. That means:
- Training managers to make and track quarterly goals with employees
- Choosing a goal-tracking system for the company
- Onboarding employees and managers to that system
- Setting up 1:1 meetings between employees and managers
- Implementing and tracking a first-quarterly goal for every employee
- Arranging check-in meetings for every employee
- Assessing progress on every goal at the start of the next quarter
- Soliciting feedback from employees and managers on how the program is going
- Making changes to improve the next round of quarterly goals
This is a great road map for implementing a real solution to an actual problem. But say your company doesn't have the budget for new goal-tracking software this quarter, or also needs to hire three more managers, or doesn't have clear OKRs for each department or position — then this is not a step to take right away. And you might not have known that if you just thought, ok we'll get managers to help employees set goals, no problem!
Only after mapping out each problem and potential solution can you see how they interlink, what bandwidth they will take up, and what is most feasible to tackle first.
Shift your engagement plan from reactive to proactive
As you start to roll out the strategy you've crafted to improve one or more areas of your company, you need to chart their progress. To be effective, employee engagement strategies need to be flexible and respond to shifts in your company. Everything from employee retention to new policies to new clients can change how your employees feel about your company, and how engaged they are.
Simply making a few changes will fail as a long-term engagement strategy: it assumes that your company is static and your solutions are perfect. After some time has passed and those changes have been made, you have to reevaluate, yet again. This is why building an employee engagement strategy begins and ends with that engagement survey.
Long-term strategy is about improvement and positive change, not being perfect — because perfect isn't possible. Utilize engagement surveys to check in on your policies, make tweaks, get new and better feedback, and identify what works so you can replicate it. To check the efficiency of long-term strategy, be sure to do these in your engagement survey:
- Explicitly ask about programs that you've implemented
- Repeat verbatim sections that showed extremely poor responses in previous questionnaires
- Evaluate long-term changes before you have rolled out every step
This will make your employee engagement strategy dynamic and proactive, instead of simply being reactive. When you choose to implement an engagement survey program, you are starting to make that shift and continuing the surveys and strategy hand in hand gets you ahead of the curve.
Make the most of your tools
An employee engagement survey is a useful tool for companies, and having it as a cornerstone of your employee engagement strategy will help you make the most of it. After putting time and energy into crafting a survey, and having employees trust you with their thoughts, you need to use that data to its fullest potential.