Let me get this straight, I am no apologist for employee engagement surveys. I do think they can be overly complex and, in my view, too many research houses roll out a set methodology to everyone, rather than identifying and pursuing the type of research that best suits a particular organisation and its goals.But I feel they may be getting a raw deal here.
Surely, the fact that we have research dedicated to employee engagement is a step forward. We now have employers who recognise the importance of the topic, see the difference that it can make to their organisations and want to understand what they can do better. In the days when employee engagement or internal communication were dismissed as distractions from core business, that was never the case. But now, we have research exploring the environment from many different angles, rather than – at most – a few vague questions in a much broader survey.The large research houses have clearly invested in developing robust methodologies, as is their wont, having seen a commercial opportunity to extend their research expertise into this area. You can’t blame them for that. As highlighted above, I do have concerns over ‘one size fits all’ methodologies, but at least there is now a ready-made range of options for those organisations who want to take action. And I know some have derived useful insights from them.
Of more immediate concern, I think, are the organisations who go ahead and conduct research but then do nothing with it. You know the situation: an organisation launches a survey – with or without a research partner – and tells people it’s a chance to ‘have your say’. People give their time and views – but nothing ever happens. At the very least, as someone who takes part in research, you expect some sort of acknowledgement and feedback, if only to know why certain suggestions won’t be followed up. You’re probably hoping for change in some areas. Instead, you hear nothing as the research findings get filed in the proverbial drawer and left to gather dust.There may be many reasons behind this this lack of action. Insights might be complex. Actions might be unclear. Resources might be tight. But all of these can be overcome.
Analyse the findings in more depth to crystallise the most powerful insights. Share findings for functions or departments with the leaders there, and get them to create action plans with their people. Identify volunteers to help you make progress on ‘quick wins’. There are many different ways of using the research itself as a catalyst for action, rather than it becoming a roadblock to progress.
In these situations, research really is killing engagement rather than helping it. That’s why, to me, lack of action is the most immediate issue to address. If research is more routinely seen as a launch pad for progress, rather than a self-contained exercise, we’ll see surveys as a practical tool to improve engagement and value them more highly as a result. If research is not approached in this context, it can be more destructive to engagement than not doing anything at all.