Why the Annual Engagement Survey Isn’t Enough

“Let your voice be heard” is the yearly call in our inboxes, gently urging us to fill out an employee engagement survey. Most professionals have each had their experience with this activity, whether it means doggedly working through a tedious, multi-hour chore, or encountering a set of genuine questions that make one stop and reflect. Surveying for engagement is a staple of corporate life and will continue to be in a time when the subject is on every leader’s mind. However, the annual survey needs to be supported with further activities for organizations to maximize its impact.

Measuring Problems Without Finding Solutions

By nature, employee surveys are intended to root out large-scale problems. They serve to look back at how the employee experience has played out over the last year and identify issues at the organizational or departmental level. Although annual surveys are valuable, they come with inherent limitations: They are retroactive, they can’t be too detailed or lengthy, they must minimize bias which can make them dry, and they are a one-way flow of information.

What a survey certainly can’t do is deliver solutions to the issues it may uncover. If the survey questions are carefully asked, seeds of opportunity may be identified, but these need care and nurturing to become working initiatives which create meaningful change.

For example, perhaps you identify a morale issue in one department through the survey but can’t pinpoint the cause and need to do further investigation before beginning a plan of action. Maybe your survey is a degree more sophisticated, and you find that the department heads know that “innovation” is important to leadership, but their reports don’t feel they are being encouraged to think innovatively. There’s a gap there that needs to be addressed, but a high-level survey won’t necessarily explain how.

The annual survey has an important place, but the value comes from how a company uses results Click To Tweet

The annual survey has an important place, but the real value comes from how a company uses the results. Unfortunately, a common feeling among employees is that survey results don’t matter—meaning they don’t see real change stemming from their responses.

Annual surveys are expensive and time-consuming, so why do so many organizations seemingly fail to act on them?

Meaningful Problem-Solving Requires Insight

To close the gap between survey results and improving the employee experience, organizations need deeper insights. To continue the previous example, discovering that employees aren’t being encouraged to think innovatively is a good start, but you must understand why in order to do anything about it. Is the imperative to “think innovatively” not being communicated through the right channels by managers? Are people not seeing innovative thought rewarded on their team?

Working this kind of relevant detail into a once-a-year investigation is difficult. Often finer key metrics simply aren’t being gathered to track against, so more frequent dialogue opportunities become necessary to get those insights and make meaningful improvements. By maintaining a constant flow of feedback, you won’t just understand if people are happy and engaged, but what factors drive that. From there, executives can create an effective plan of action and understand how to track against it.

Many organizations have already realized the need to go beyond an annual survey Click To Tweet

Many organizations have already realized the need to go beyond an annual survey and get precise insights: Recent studies found that 45 percent of organizations with more than 1,000 employees are measuring engagement more often than once a year.

With the current pace of business, this is a logical step to keep the employee experience aligned with business needs. As the market moves, companies need to keep their people engaged and functioning at their best to remain competitive. Additionally, strategy at the C-suite level is now changing more dynamically over the course of a year, so leaders want to know that high-level strategic changes are permeating every corner of their organization.

Tools Help Close the Loop

Assessing engagement on a quarterly or monthly basis looks different than the all-encompassing annual survey. These touch points are more conversational since they should serve to monitor progress against a change plan, encourage engagement, and be forward-looking on emerging problems. The performance management and coaching tools we use every day are useful to conduct check-ins and goal setting which can incorporate these functions.

Engagement check-ins conducted with insightful tools allow leaders to steer in real time towards positive change and find the levers which influence employee experience. Yet the real impact comes from tying in ongoing employee goals and performance management.

The real impact comes from tying in ongoing employee goals and performance management Click To Tweet

To carry our running example all the way through: Say you’ve done some finer research as part of your monthly or quarterly evaluations and realized that managers in a department are not communicating the imperative to be innovative in the right way and employees aren’t seeing innovative thought rewarded on their teams. It’s causing a morale issue because employees always see leadership espousing innovative thought but aren’t being acknowledged or rewarded by their boss when they try to think outside the box.

This is a clear factor driving a negative experience, and a great place combat this is by building goals and check-ins around it using performance management tools. For managers, a quarterly goal might be to identify what channels and ways they can get this directive out effectively and how to reward those who follow it. For reports, they may receive a goal to dedicate a certain percentage of their work time to stretch projects or other innovation-focused activities.

This is a specific example, but the idea is that if you want employees to see a meaningful change, the organization must show a consistent commitment to the employee experience. Using robust tools turns engagement monitoring into a two-way street where leaders get continuous deep insights and employees see their feedback affecting change.

From Survey to Conversation

An annual engagement survey is not a conversation but acting on it properly and building the outcomes into ongoing activities will make employees feel heard and respected. By keeping the conversation going between surveys, leaders can stay on top of any issues and maintain a cycle of continuous improvement. In turn, when employees see the results of the survey influencing their day-to-day work, it feels more genuine and reinforces their commitment at work. Engagement is a crucial topic, so constant effort is key.

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