Is 2017 FINALLY the end of the annual engagement survey?

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Rob Catalano
Co-founder
WorkTango
Columnist
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According to recent writings from Deloitte, organisations and researchers alike are finding that the traditional model of the annual employee engagement survey just isn’t providing actionable insight anymore.

As companies try to adapt to a faster moving workforce that has become more competitive than ever to recruit and retain talent, companies are moving towards frequent measurement of engagement to get insight into their workforce on a consistent basis and react accordingly to positively impact employee engagement. 

Industry research is now recommending that organisations employ tools and methods that measure and capture employee feedback and sentiment on a real-time, local basis. Yet, some companies are behind the curve and hesitating to make this shift.

Why does employee engagement even matter?

Most companies have bought into why employee engagement is important. If you haven’t, or need some ammo to sell this into your organisation, here are a few reasons why engagement matters in the first place.

According to Harvard Business Review research, firms in top-quartile of employee engagement see:

  • 65% lower turnover
  • 48% fewer safety incidents
  • 41% fewer quality incidents (defects).

Taking it further, recent Aon research showed that firms in top-quartile of employee engagement see:

  • 55% higher Net Promoter Scores
  • Employees are 36% more likely to stay
  • 4% increase in incremental operating margin

There is more research that shows the correlation of engagement to success in the workplace.

A great resource that I have the pleasure of being involved with is Engage for Success based out of the UK.

Their mission is to grow awareness about the power and potential of employee engagement, encourage people to think more about it, and to provoke them to take action where they work.

Ok, I’m bought in. Now what?

It’s tough to change things we’ve been doing for a long time, but our workforce solutions need to change. Clearly, what we’re currently doing isn’t working and is why we keep hearing every year that almost 70% of employees are disengaged.  Proof-positive that current approaches aren’t working.

Now, I think there’s something that separates the great companies from the good ones.

Great companies don’t wait for poor engagement to measure it more often and do something about it. Great companies get in front of employee engagement, are proactive, and ensure its part of the daily conversation and strategic direction of the organisation.

When it comes to the annual engagement survey, I hope that it’s time is up in 2017. I think we’re close as many companies are starting to shift their approaches.

I couldn’t say it any better than the HR Technology Disruptions for 2017 publication by Bersin by Deloitte: “There is a new understanding in the people management market that feedback and always-on engagement measurement are critical to business success.”

And that’s the key… business success.

It’s amazing to me how many HR executives I speak to tell me how difficult it is to purchase new HR technology, or change processes, and they must ‘sell it into their CFO’ or CEO.

At the end of the day, the outputs that companies want like high customer satisfaction and profitability comes from the biggest input you can control – the behaviours, retention and engagement of every employee. 

This focus on employees is becoming important, and is echoed in Bersin by Deloitte’s report as the second major technology disruption in 2017 that they call “An Explosion in Real-Time Engagement Evaluation.” [PDF]

Survey says?

I stated earlier that annual engagement surveys aren’t working.

The reality is that it’s not the actual survey itself, it’s the inability to get continuous insight into employees to spark the right actions. When there is a frequent voice of the employee, that gives companies a pulse on how employees are feeling and collect feedback on where to make an impact.

So, the survey says… ‘act informed’. I’ve always told teams in the past to act on data, not desire, and your engagement practices need to reflect that.

The more frequent you can evaluate how your company is engaged, dig deeper, and have the right conversations, you’ll be able to act accordingly.

Insight is King… and Queen

That “always-on engagement measurement” is what offers the insight that makes the difference.

Companies realise that when they can instantly see an issue with a specific department, location, team, type of employee or a specific leader it allows them to dig deeper and ‘deal with smoke before fire.’ 

This insight needs to be as real-time as at other important metrics companies look at frequently. Do companies look at revenues or margins annually? Clearly not. 

According to the aforementioned Deloitte report, “People Analytics have now truly arrived.” Technology has now enabled it to happen a lot easier.

Where do I start?

At WorkTango, we spend a lot of time thinking about this issue and supporting this shift through technology.

Check out the 2017 Guide to Measuring and Acting on Employee Engagement that I authoured to learn more.

It will offer considerations about moving forward to a more continuous and real-time engagement and insight approach.

All this talk about employee engagement insight is important, but engagement isn’t the only thing getting away from the annual process.

In a recent Forbes article, 10 Workplace Trends You’ll See in 2017, they also explain how “Annual performance reviews evolve into more continuous reviews” getting into more real-time HR practices.

Good luck, and I look forward to seeing these trends continue to change our workplace moving into 2018.

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