As we start seeing the light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel, we realize that we are not going to get back to normal. The new normal will be different. The pandemic crisis has been an “up-or-out” test for most businesses. Only the teams that have engaged employees will come out stronger.
As a business leader, you are responsible for the number of parts machined, systems tested, or lines of code written.
As a leader, you are responsible for the people who machine parts, test systems, or write code.
Your team will pass the up-or-out test if they are engaged and if their engagement continues to grow after the crisis. In particular, you may worry whether your team will stay with the company after the lockdown. Even better – if they bring in their friends and former colleagues to join the team, now on its way up.
To improve team engagement, you need to measure it
First of all, you need to create a baseline – and make sure that you are improving, continuously, by measuring the engagement every quarter or so. With telecommuting becoming the de-facto new normal, this may sound like too much of a challenge. Not really.
To get started with employee engagement measurement, you may consider using the Q12 by Gallup, the international “gold standard” of employee engagement assessment tool. This well-crafted questionnaire has quite a few obvious benefits but also a downside. Its cost is not exorbitant, but it may sound “untimely,” and force you to abandon the idea of checking the engagement altogether, especially if you are a small business or a startup.
But here’s the good news: You do not have to pay for an engagement assessment test if you create it all by yourself, using the Q12 as a guideline and modifying it for your team.
Gallup’s key bragging point is the infinite number of other companies in their database that they can use as a benchmark for you. My experience confirms that this does not hold any value for the client.
If you want to improve your team’s performance, you want to see how your performance tomorrow compares to your performance today – and not how your performance compares to an “average” performance of someone yesterday.
The Q12 survey by Gallup may be the best if not the only option for a large company, but a smaller company can make do with its own version. It will work just great as long as you follow these Do’s and Don’ts.
The Do’s of employee engagement surveys:
1. Ensure anonymity
If I were to give you just one piece of advice – that would be it. Regardless of the survey, if the respondents are not 100 percent sure that their feedback will remain anonymous, the results will be totally meaningless. In my experience, two teams within the same structural unit would show very different scores – only because the survey was conducted separately and appeared “less safe” on one of the two occasions. Perhaps that’s the main reason why employee surveys should better be conducted by a third party.
2. Make it short
Of course, the survey should be meaningful enough to generate valuable data, but if it requires more than 5-10 minutes to complete, the second half of the answers become less consistent – and thus less statistically valid and meaningful.
This is especially important if you expect your people to respond again after a relatively short time.
For example, my 7-question cultural survey is available online and takes virtually one(!) minute to complete. Although its validity is often questioned by skeptics, it shows about 75% or higher repeatability. It is reliable enough for me and my clients – and easy to get people to take it.
Granted, a 7-question survey may appear somewhat “granular,” but my personal business consulting experience suggests the opposite. Any “soft” survey is subjective, and long-winded questionnaires may look “sciency” but are counterproductive in real life, as the quality of its output depends on the quality of the input. If the employees do not want to respond at all (“too long, no time!”) or if they are irritated by the pressure to complete the survey, the results will be scarce and meaningless at best.
3. Assess the respondent indirectly.
This requires some extra effort in designing and formulating the survey questions. The idea is not to ask “How would you rate <your XXXX ability>“ type of questions. Rather, ask “How much are you like this person who is <doing XXXX >?” When asked in this manner, the respondent would usually provide a more objective assessment. Perhaps, this short explanation is not very clear, but this is something discovered by psychologists and always considered in scientific research.
4. Beware of acquiescence bias.
That’s another wisdom from professional psychology and my practical experience. Humans tend to be positive. “It’s OK” is a standard answer, something like 3 or even 4 on the 1 to 5 scale. But in reality, this is NOT OK. Oftentimes, it makes sense to adjust and “normalize” the results accordingly. My personal experience with numerous assessments in various industries and cultures proves that this adjustment is necessary (unless you specially design the scale to counter this bias, but that requires more specialized knowledge).
5. Share the survey results
Always – always! – share the results with the team, whatever the results are, as promised. Otherwise, it will be almost impossible to make them respond to any other survey in the future.
The Don’ts of employee surveys:
1. Don’t run a survey without proper preparation
– and without a clear explanation of its goals and expected outcomes – or without demonstrated commitment and support of the company leadership. Everything in the organization trickles down from the top. If the top is dry, your survey will be largely ignored and thus not representative enough to be meaningful.
2. Don’t try to use the engagement survey to “shape opinions.”
Your employees are not morons and they do not want to be treated like ones. They will notice your malicious intent. That will nullify the results and aggravate the internal problems that you were trying to resolve.
3. Don’t do a follow-up survey if no real follow-up activities have been performed
If you do not follow up on the results and don’t implement the necessary corrective actions, your next survey will be ignored.
Likewise, if you do not do a follow-up survey after having at least attempted to act on the initial findings, the employee engagement will go down, and you may not be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel anymore.
4. Don’t entrust running the engagement survey to your line managers
It is quite possible that in a mature and advanced organization, there are competent internal resources who can design and run the survey. But my experience shows that not all managers can demonstrate the necessary level of confidentiality during the process. People are different, and the varying approach of line managers will affect the responses provided by the reports.
I have had the unfortunate experience of delegating the administration of a survey to the line managers. Some of them would just get their people in the conference room and instruct them to complete the questionnaires under their supervision, then hand in the forms to the manager, one by one… You can imagine the quality of the results.
The role of line managers is to encourage their teams and to be creative with recognition and support of the “first responders”, ensuring the desired participation rate – but in such a way that no one could be identified even indirectly.
5. Do not misinterpret the survey results.
This is collateral to “shaping opinions” mentioned above. Obfuscating the survey findings may sound like a good strategy to a failing manager – but this is equivalent to hiding one’s head in the sand. I bet you know where the bullet will hit?…
While researching and measuring my clients’ employee engagement, I created the Q13 Employee Engagement Enquiry that I use with my clients and partners. It can be administered anonymously either on-line or “on-paper” – in case there are any IT concerns or limitations. The “back-end” (the math) behind the survey is entirely my own. Although it is not instant, the customized report contains more valuable insights than its “on-tap” predecessor. Besides, the tool calculates – based on the HR data provided by the client – the approximate savings the engagement improvement will bring.
Still, you can go one step further: just calculate the “yes” and “no” answers and keep the ratio as your baseline. You’ve got to make a start to get started, so just get going.
After the survey, you need to discuss the results within the team(s) and work out the next steps. You may then consider a cultural assessment of your business to gauge its performance potential. While we are still going through the lockdown, my Collectiver Q7 Culture Compass tool is free for qualified teams, contact me for details and next steps.