When you are trying to improve employee engagement, researching suggestions to better your company will only take you so far. Should you give people more training? Give less oversight and more autonomy? Give more oversight? Make workloads more challenging or remove work from people's plates?
Following generic improvement advice for engagement is not a path to success. Instead, you need to systematically survey the landscape of your company and make decisions based on what you see actually happening.
For many, this journey starts with an employee engagement survey that is enthusiastically given. Great start! Now, it's time to focus on how to use that survey as a jumping-off point to sort through what is happening at your company and how to make substantive changes — leaving the myriad random “tips and tricks” behind.
An employee engagement survey is not magic, it's a tool
Your employee engagement survey is an incredible step to making changes in your company, but you cannot go off an engagement survey alone when you are looking to make substantive changes.
What an engagement survey is good for is giving you a broad overview of how employees are feeling. It can show you danger zones that you want to investigate further, and it empowers employees to use their voice to better the company.
To enhance this data, you can go a step further to get a robust view of the whats and whys of things that crop up in the survey before you recommend changes. For that, we recommend:
- Analyze your engagement survey results. Just because it isn't a magic fix doesn't mean it isn't a big part of the process. Figure out what seems like the most concerning results and earmark those to bring up to employees. Also be sure to note any wins, especially if they stem from previous changes.
- Seek further employee input. A survey is a great first step, but post-survey meetings can be a great way to gather ideas from employees and further amplify their concerns. Let employees take the lead when it comes to idea generation and encourage spitballing.
- Discuss the results with management to identify areas of concern. When you've got a couple of focus areas, some raw ideas and a lot of data, it's time to gather together and go over all of the information as a management team. From there, lay out the top concerns and brainstorm solutions.
Taking these couple of steps back will give you a better understanding of what is happening and why. After you have gone through these post-survey steps, you will be ready to choose what to focus on to make actual changes.
Improving employee engagement happens one thing at a time
By now, you should have a short list of problems to tackle. Now it's time to narrow your focus on a limited number of problems that you solve one by one. Biting off too much at one time can frustrate managers and employees alike by dumping a bucket of new policies, software and solutions out all at once.
- If you have to make a sweeping change, you might 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 can be unsettling and take time to get used to and will be hard enough to roll out without trying to tackle more than one thing at a time.
- 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.
There might not be a clear order on which changes to make, and that's ok. If you don't have an obvious we really have to deal with this right now! problem, that's a good thing. Just take things one or a few at a time until you've worked through all the areas you identified — it's more important that you come out with a viable solution to a problem that you can implement soon after you give your survey than to know what will make the greatest impact.
It's important to remember that employee engagement largely does not hinge on one be-all-end-all facet of an employee's relationship with a company. (There might be an exception in here for a spectacularly bad management team.) Rather, it's about many micro- and macro-elements working at once. This means that making one change at a time will have an impact on engagement.
Without commitment, change is just an idea
As soon as you follow up with your team, you need to be ready to commit to your new ideas. This starts with sharing your changes with your team in a focused way.
Share your reasoning as to why you have decided to tackle these particular problems and why you are adopting the solutions you are. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to prove that what you've decided to tackle is the number one problem — again, you might not have a standout — but it should show that you understand the underlying cause of the problem.
Give your employees key dates for the rollout when you discuss implementing changes. Even if you can't start the change right away, this will show you are serious and can be held accountable for the changes. It will also force team members to prepare themselves for any habits that might be disrupted.
Make it clear that you will be open to further feedback on the processes, tools, etc., that you are now putting in place. You've just opened a line of communication with your employees, and they need to know that you are going to keep it open, especially when shaking up processes.
If you noticed problem areas in your employee engagement, you are now revving up to make that better. Empty promises will make it worse and will cause employees to distrust the efficacy of future surveys and future feedback.
After you follow through, follow up
At this point, you've designed and given a survey, solicited further feedback, discussed problems, identified solutions and rolled out changes. Time to take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back! This is hard work.
Ready to keep going?
When the changes have settled in, it's time to check back with employees. This can and should happen in more than one way:
- You should give another employee engagement survey to gather a more objective, standard set of information on improvements.
- You should check in with employees in teams or groups. Even if it is in an informal setting, having team members talk about their experience and offer suggestions to their teammates and their managers can help you refine changes.
- You should check in with employees 1:1. Whether a regularly scheduled meeting or a special pop-in to discuss big changes, giving employees time to give individual feedback and talk through their experience of the changes is key not just to the specific fix at hand but to engagement as a whole.
This can signal the start to another round of changes, but it's important to make sure that whatever you have just implemented has gelled before trying to assess another problem and implement another solution.
Work until you get it right
Giving an employee engagement survey is a great start to identifying areas of improvement at your company. But it is not the only step you need to take to make meaningful changes. By using it as your first step forward, you are building off of an excellent foundation.
Taking the next steps to keep lines of communication open and implement changes are where you are going to see your hard work pay off. The survey is a tool that shows you the landscape of your company, so work until you have turned it into a map to success.