And the survey says….

The Human Resources Manager hosted a Town Hall to share the results of the recently concluded  #EmployeeEngagementSurvey. He entered the room with great flair and seemed just as excited as we, since it was the first time that such a survey was conducted. My excitement waned after his opening remarks, “I’ve heard complaints about the company, but the survey says…”
As he shared the scores, he told the audience that the survey results placed the complainers in the minority, and  perceived problems were not supported by the survey results. As I squirmed in my chair, I noticed that my colleagues seemed equally uncomfortable with his performance.  After the meeting, we huddled and were left with two questions:

  1. How were the results tabulated?
  2. What do the results mean?

How were the results tabulated?
How would you interpret the results for the question:

Do you understand the impact of the 2017 strategy on your job?

The survey scores questions on a range of 1 – 5.  ( 5 being the highest score for the question asked and 1 being the lowest.) The results:

  • 40% of staff answer with a 5 – which means that they understand,
  • 10% of staff answer with a 1 – which means that they do not understand
  • 50% of staff respond with a 3 – which means that they understand to some extent

The results can be interpreted as:

  • 90% of staff understand the impact of the 2017 strategy on the job. or
  • 40% of the staff understand the impact of strategy, 60% do not.

Which of the interpretations accurately reflect the situation?

I caution against the use of  median results to buffer and tabulate better engagement scores. These scores are often not positive indicators of engagement – they may represent neutrality or ambivalence or lack of interest about the 2017 strategy, or a feeling that the strategy is separate from my job or some other meaning. Unless there is shared meaning about median scores, these cannot be seen as positive purveyors of engagement

What do the results mean?
Survey results communicate the level of #EmployeeEngagement to the company. Though the numbers provide data, there is need for a shared understanding of what the scores reflect.

I always meet with staff – by departments/ teams – after the survey results, to understand what the results mean.  At these meetings, I aim to spend 95% of the time listening to staff explain the reasons behind the scores and clarifying what is shared. I have heard the reasons for high scores as:

  • I understand the strategy,
  • I did not want to rock the boat,
  • I don’t believe the survey is anonymous/or I fear retribution,
  • I did not want to seem stupid.

Low scores may also reflect – that

  • The strategy is not understood,
  • A different interpretation of the questions,
  • The impact of a recent event,
  • Misunderstandings of past situations
  • A lack of interest in the question
  • The question is not seen as relevant

While these meetings do not change the scores, they give good insight into:

  • The meaning of the scores,
  • What needs to be addressed to change the score,
  • Pointers to address with staff before the next engagement survey
  • How some questions may need to be restated at the next survey.

Even though companies with a longer tradition of performing engagement surveys have less interpretation problems with the survey questions, the need to understand what is behind the scores remains the same.

While the score itself is important, it becomes even more relevant, when everyone clearly understands the thinking behind the scores.

As I reflect on the Town Hall, I am still left with the image of the gleeful HR Manager juxtaposed with the staff shuffling out of the meeting room. The results were seen as a validation of Employee Engagement efforts even though no attempts were made to understand what the results meant.  The high scores (which may have included middle scores) were enough for him.

What does your company do after the engagement survey results have been tabulated?

Maxine Attong is an Organisational Development Consultant, Business and Life Coach, Speaker and Author. Check out my website www.maxineattong.com to learn more about me.

P.S. Save the date – March 15,2017, Kapok Hotel. Breakfast seminar: Maximising Human Capital in the New Economy.

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