Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Survey seems to be the hardest word

The knives are out for employee engagement surveys. Detractors are speaking out ever-more strongly, criticising the value such surveys deliver and attacking the cottage industry that has sprung up around them. I have been at events where such objections have been strident and impassioned. But are they really fair?

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.

Friday, 18 July 2014

The flexibility challenge

The increasing popularity of flexible working across Great Britain has been highlighted this week in a report from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC).  The study – Flex appeal: Why freelancers, contractors and agency workers choose to work this way – says that more than one in three people has worked as a contractor, freelancer or agency worker at some point, and 41% of people are considering working that way in the future.

Increasing flexibility can offer benefits to people on both sides of the working equation. It can help employers introduce more fluidity to their staffing plans as they seek to get the right people, in the right places, at the right time – and can increase their ability to change plans rapidly where needed. It can also give workers, many of whom are now meshing rather than balancing work and home lives, the chance to exercise more control over their short- and long-term assignments.  There is a potential ‘win win’ for everyone involved.
From an employer’s point of view, however, this does bring its challenges.  After all, workers might want flexibility – but customers want cohesion. They neither know nor care whether the people they deal with are temps or ‘lifers’. They just want consistent, top-quality service and will judge the company – and decide the future of their custom – on their experience. So it’s essential that all the workers concerned are engaged and equipped to deliver brand values day in, day out.

The growing array of employment arrangements, patterns and/or locations makes this more difficult. Organisations must connect and communicate with an ever-broader range of people to ensure they understand and can deliver the behaviour needed from them. And this means a more sophisticated approach to engagement may be required: from greater understanding of each group to tailored programmes of activity that inspire spark and sustain the response desired from them. 
As ever, this is not just about sharing information, but also about building dialogue; whether someone is with you for a week or 20+ years, they need the same opportunities to ask questions or raise concerns. They may even bring fresh ideas that long-standing employees would never have thought of.
Flexibility in, cohesion out. It’s a process of increasing importance to employers of all types and sizes. And a more sophisticated approach to engagement holds the key.