Member Since: 16th May 2014
Head of Business Psychology Head Light
16th May 2014
Thank you for your comments and certainly culture and resources are part of the picture. As with any HR practice or intervention, we would always advise that an organisation look carefully at the prevailing culture and work on removing any barriers to success before investing in software, or before creating elaborate surveys and processes to address the presenting issues. It would be much the same with performance management systems, 360 degree feedback and assessment processes; engagement surveys need to have the right cultural precursors in place in order to add value, and trust or fear of retribution would be among those considerations.
Anonymity is clearly important in engagement surveys and our software has a number of checks and balances in it to ensure feedback sources are protected. For organisations that have a mature, open culture where managers are used to receiving feedback and can be trusted to use that feedback to up their own game rather than seek revenge, there tends to be less concern around consequences and more honest feedback is provided. Where there is a clear culture of blame, where there is a history of confidentiality breaches and inappropriate management behaviour, then of course caution is needed but in our experience, these sorts of organisations are in the minority.
Taking the view that “We don’t trust our managers to deal constructively and responsibly with the results of an engagement survey so we don’t want to ask any questions” may only serve to perpetuate the perception that senior leaders are uninterested in hearing employees’ views. And this is likely to suppress engagement levels further; our review found that open, two-way communication and trust were two of the key influencers over how people felt at work. If fear is a cultural feature then there is a clear need to do something about that; granted, an engagement survey would not be the first port of call but fear is likely to create a range of performance issues, increase turnover and absenteeism and quash creativity, and knowing exactly where that fear might be coming from could be useful in determining what an organisation could do about it.
In any event, we would thoroughly support the need to consider the questions you use in an engagement very carefully, to encourage people to provide honest responses, to ensure relevance and to ensure the process is non-threatening. The questions in our default survey reflect the kinds of thing you would see in a 360 degree questionnaire; we don’t ask “Has your manager shouted at you recently?” or “Are you concerned that your manager is fiddling his or her expenses?”. The questions that relate to managers are constructive; reflecting good management practice which clearly point towards behaviours that will help a team to feel a greater degree of engagement, not provoke a witch hunt. The questions are not just focused on managers; some ask about the individual’s own behaviours and feelings, as well as looking at what the most senior leaders do and focusing on the broader organisation and culture.
On the subject of cost, I would wholeheartedly agree that training can be expensive, and that the organisations we work with have a limited development budget that would quickly be eaten up if training were the answer to most engagement issues. I would say that training is rarely the answer, but it does tend to be a reflexive and easy one; to be engaged I need personal development and personal development equals a training course. But I would argue that often the best learning opportunities are not provided on training courses and that there are other more cost effective and time efficient ways of developing people. Our survey tool contains a wide array of suggestions, many of them which cost nothing more than a few minutes of people’s time, which provide a stimulus for employees to think about options other than training. In our experience, people can usually tell you how they feel about work, but find it more difficult to say what they could do in order to feel better about it. We’re saying that if you provide a bigger range of options, offer suggestions and ideas for people to try at little or no cost, and spread these efforts throughout the whole organisation rather than relying on the HR team or the training budget to drive up engagement levels, then we should see greater return on investment in employee surveys.