Engagement surveys have been a huge success in some organizations and a bit frustrating in others. If you find yourself in the latter category, it's probably because despite all the work your HR team has put into crafting the perfect engagement survey for your people, you haven't made much meaningful progress. The first step is to get leaders to take employee engagement personally and then deploy an execution strategy built on that alignment. From there, new ideas and technology offer the tools to revitalize engagement programs and deliver better results. It's not too much of a stretch to say that we now know what to do to take engagement to the next level.
Rethinking our analog approach to employee pulse surveys
The current engagement survey process has its problems: It's not real time, it's not personalized and it's not much fun. It's the unfortunate, natural result of the days of paper surveys. In the analog era, teams couldn't deliver survey results in real time, they couldn't personalize the surveys, and it was pretty challenging to make it a fun process.
Thanks to digital talent systems enabled by new technology, we're now in a position to revise that cumbersome process. We've long had the ability to send out attractive, short surveys to mobile devices. We can even send personalized surveys to different groups based on something in their professional profile, such as their team, tenure or interests.
The technology is now widely viewed as standard but it's still pretty easy to get some of the talent strategy fundamentals wrong – especially when addressing employee engagement. The technology is easy enough that we can re-invent how we do engagement surveys – all we need are some guiding principles to help move the needle on improving and tracking employee engagement. Here are three modern principles of personalizing employee engagement surveys to help get you started:
Principle 1: Personalize pulse surveys for better engagement outcomes
If your team is looking to push for even better results, personalized employee pulse surveys offer more dramatic engagement outcomes. For example, an established, stable team might not need a pulse survey more than once a quarter, whereas a dynamic team going through dramatic changes might benefit from weekly updates. You can potentially send different survey questions based on personality, tenure, location, job type or their previous responses. Here are some specifics to consider:
Safeguard privacy as personalization priority #1
Be aware of privacy issues. With personalized surveys, the system sends the survey to specific people, so it knows who is who. Be sure there is adequate protection of privacy, possibly by using a third-party vendor. If you send your survey using an internal tool, consider adjusting your questions so that sensitive feedback cannot be traced back to a team or an individual. For example, if you're sending a specific engagement survey to a team of five people and two are on holiday, adjust your timing along with how you frame your questions. Your people will be much less likely to participate – or be honest! – if they think their feedback could have negative repercussions.
Know your audience
Start by asking, "For which groups does the pulse survey not make much sense?" then tweak your questions or your respondent group accordingly. A simple example of a non-sensible question would be asking junior people in high-turnover roles about whether they like the pension plan.
Experiment and embrace setbacks
If personalizing employee engagement surveys is a new initiative at your organization, recognize that you're not going to get it right the first – or even the second – time. So experiment and learn! Start out with a low-stakes personalization project, recruit a test group or consult some experts. Fail fast and learn from your mistakes. Dip your toe in the waters of personalization and, if you're committed to getting it right, you'll figure it out over time.
Principle 2: Share survey results in real time
Pulse surveys are easy to do and have become a common tool to measure and drive employee engagement. But to maximize their benefits, you need to deploy them strategically so that once the results roll in, your team is able to share that feedback in a timely manner. Here are a few considerations to manage in advance:
Ensure speedy results turnaround
Don't hoard the information – even if the responses are less than positive. Give your people quick feedback. Respondents should know that when they've completed the survey that they'll see the results in a couple of days. Ensure the appropriate members of your leadership team take the time to address the results, if necessary. If they need more time to reflect after publishing the results, say so. Transparency is a key health indicator of a high-performing organization.
Look for engagement patterns to stay on-trend
Where possible, use questions pulled from your annual engagement survey so that the results are comparable. If you've identified a few main drivers of engagement, then use the questions that relate to those topics or issues – not "flavor of the week" ideas.
Make employee engagement tracking activities an ongoing responsibility
Employee engagement tracking should never be a "one-and-done" HR activity. HR leaders should plan the year's pulse surveys in advance to address all issues in a systematic way. Think of employee engagement surveys as an ongoing program to assess and lead to action on engagement. Remember: Just as your business needs can pivot on a moment's notice, so can the needs of your employees. It's highly likely that you'll encounter major employee engagement hurdles along the way, so you may have to adjust your plan as needed.
Principle 3: Make participating in engagement surveys a fun experience
To expect any kind of engagement survey to be truly fun can be a bit of a stretch – unless you take the time to get to know your target audience. You need to speak their language. I'm not necessarily suggesting you write your survey questions solely in emojis or using the slang of the moment (such efforts are superficial, at best). The good news is that we can do a few things that will not only better live up to employees' expectations, but also boost employee engagement and participation. Here are a few ideas:
Provide a strong UX
No one likes attempting to navigate a clunky, '90s-esque interface – especially when they're taking valuable time out of their day to fill out a pulse survey. Instead, keep it simple and elegant. Ensure your engagement survey provides a good user experience with a modern interface. Tailor it to your company's branding if you like but, above all, make it user-friendly and straightforward. This should be obvious, but many HR systems have an out-of-date look and feel.
Gamify the process
Gamification has become a hallmark of the rewards and recognition programs at many high-performing organizations. When employees understand that they can earn points, badges and tangible rewards for their participation in company initiatives (not to mention when they hit their performance goals), it can generate enthusiasm. Many people enjoy friendly competition: Announce that the first team or department to submit their survey responses get a pizza party. Or commit to choosing an employee (who has completed the survey) at random to earn bonus points that they can redeem at your company's digital rewards store. The options are endless and they don't have to be expensive or labor-intensive to make the survey process just a little more fun.
Show the impact
Most importantly, show employees that these surveys make an impact. In some cases, a survey will lead to a specific response by the company. Wherever that is possible, it's important to do so while making the response known. Let your people know you've heard them and are actively making a change that they've asked for. More commonly, the results will reinforce ongoing programs. For example, if the surveys are showing that recognition practices are poor, then communicate the various efforts the company is making to improve recognition as part of the feedback about the survey results.
That last point is worth underlining because it addresses another concern: survey fatigue. The best defense against survey fatigue is to ensure people see there's a meaningful reason for doing the survey.
The result: A culture of true engagement
Some companies have been doing annual engagement surveys for years without seeing great results. Rather than beating your head against this wall, take advantage of the opportunity to use a fresh approach with real-time, personalized pulse surveys that are (reasonably) fun. When people enjoy the process, feel their privacy is protected, and can see the value in participating in the process, survey participation and employee engagement will both naturally increase over time.
These three modern principles of personalizing employee engagement surveys are an integral part of engaging employees to create great experiences at work. It takes some time to get it right, so start making positive changes to your organization's engagement culture today.