Employee engagement surveys have been around for decades, but executives constantly tell us that they don’t know what to do with the information they receive from them. One CEO recently said to me, “We get the same score every year, and I don’t know how to make improvements based on a generic set of survey results.”
What good is having the data if you can’t use it to your company’s benefit?
Despite the issues with measurement techniques, employee engagement is critical to every organization’s success. Recent studies show that companies with highly engaged workers enjoy significant advantages over their competitors, including 21 percent higher productivity and 22 percent higher profitability.
How can executive leadership transform engagement metrics into real improvements? As complex as the problem seems, the answer is simple: Companies need to stop focusing on boosting engagement and start using metrics to create a better company culture.
Measuring Without Purpose
Contrary to popular belief, engagement and culture are two distinct things. Culture refers to what employees prioritize and value, while engagement refers to how they feel about the time they spend at the office. To influence engagement, you have to get to the source of what makes employees tick: the underlying company culture.
Surveys tell executives whether they have engagement problems within their organizations, but too often, that data isn’t tied to other important metrics like performance and turnover. Most importantly, engagement surveys don’t help executives improve results over time, which can make the surveys themselves seem like a waste of resources to employees.
This shortfall exists because surveys are only one part of a whole, yet many executives treat them like the end-all, be-all of measuring engagement. To improve employee performance, happiness, and productivity and to decrease turnover, executives must understand that influencing employee engagement outcomes means addressing the culture that drives their behavior.
Boosting Engagement Through Culture
- Work closely with human resources. C-suite executives and HR must work together to define goals and success metrics for employee engagement and performance. Major issues arise when HR leaders purchase analytics tools but don’t coordinate with company leaders to ensure the tools actually address the issues leadership wants to tackle.HR and the C-suite must speak the same language and share a clearly defined mandate regarding measurement tools and techniques. It’s not uncommon for HR to have a different frame of reference from the C-suite. While HR often cares about employee engagement, performance, and turnover, the C-suite may be more focused on how these metrics affect the financial performance of the company as a whole. To make employee engagement relevant to the C-suite, there needs to be a clear relationship between engagement survey metrics and firm productivity and performance. Most importantly, there must be actionable ways for leaders to improve engagement systematically.
- Measure culture, not just engagement. Engagement surveys and analytics alone are not enough to effect meaningful change within an organization. Culture analytics enable leaders to solve problems rather than just identify them.Distilling the strengths and substance of company culture into easy-to-understand analytics can show executives how the culture predicts engagement and performance. Once they understand the forces driving employee engagement, the data might compel them to consider making changes to the company’s core values and incentive programs.
- Set goals, and track your progress. Identify goals for both engagement and cultural metrics, and track progress toward those goals regularly and over the long term. Accountability can be a challenge for any long-term project, and many engagement surveys have seen limited success to date because so few companies actually set goals based on the information they provide.If you don’t know what success should look like, why bother spending money on analytical tools to measure engagement and culture in the first place? Establish goals from the outset, and set up regular quality check-ins on both culture and engagement to prevent your efforts from going to waste.
- Allow your culture to evolve. Culture isn’t a static concept. It changes as your company grows and your strategy evolves — and it should! Your employees’ values will evolve, both with the times and as the demographics of your staff change.Continually monitor what employees prioritize and how they feel their work fits in with those priorities in order to make conscious, thoughtful decisions about what will drive success. We recommend an annual culture reset and debriefing so you can evaluate your current trajectory and decide whether to move in a new direction.
The Image of Success
If you don’t know what a high-quality culture and good engagement within your company should look like, consider the companies that are getting it right.
Buffer, a social media technology company, might be as well-known for its approach to culture and values as its actual services. Positivity, transparency, and personality set Buffer apart from the crowd. Its leaders don’t have to fake anything to boost employee engagement — employees are engaged because Buffer has created a culture that champions workers and makes them want to devote their energy to the growth of the company.
On a larger scale, Southwest Airlines demonstrates how seamless the connection between HR and the C-suite can be. From its marketing to its internal affairs, Southwest understands how creating a fun, friendly, people-centric culture translates to more engaged employees.
Employee engagement isn’t some unsolvable mystery — we’ve just been going about it the wrong way. Stop taking engagement surveys as gospel, and start focusing more on the company culture that drives engagement from within. Through better communication, smarter metrics, well-conceived goals, and evolving values, your company can become an example to others of how better cultures create better companies.
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Catherine Spence , Co-Founder at Pomello.