Is the employee engagement survey dead?
Twice this year we have been invited into organisations hard on the heels of a MORI-style employee engagement survey. The results were in but something didn’t add up.
With each client, the survey had delivered an abundance of data – this had gone up, that had gone down. But for the Internal Communications team, two crucial questions remained unanswered: ‘Why?’ and ‘What do we do about it?’
The value of these all-staff annual engagement surveys is questionable – if you’ll excuse the pun. They are long on statistics and short on learning.
Let me explain. Ask 30,000 staff ‘Do you understand your company’s business strategy?’ and give them a ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘maybe’, ‘don’t know’ option. Say, 100% of your workforce ticks the ‘yes’ box? Should you rejoice? No, because what this survey is not telling you is that your workforce is interpreting that strategy in 30,000 different ways.
Ask them: ‘What does success look like?’ and you are no longer generating statistics, you are generating insight.
Not only do these surveys ask the wrong questions, they ask them in the wrong way. What matters is not only what people say, but how they say it. In our Acid Test Audit, we ask questions face-to-face, in confidence. We never say who said what. We encourage openness and honesty. It’s not just their answers. We are noting body language, behaviour, attitudes and underlying issues.
Our questions measure knowledge and alignment – the ‘acid test’ of great communication.
We start by interviewing the CEO. We might ask: ‘What are the goals of the organisation?’ or ‘What are the internal and external obstacles to success?’ When it comes to communications, we might ask ‘What does the term internal communications mean to you?’ or ‘How do you believe internal communications can affect the performance of an organisation?’ We might even say, ‘You now have a magic wand and communications is working perfectly, describe what’s happening?’
The CEO usually says he can only spare us 30 minutes. Then, he ends up talking for over an hour. During an Acid Test for a global bank, the CEO spent an hour and a half answering our questions. Then, not satisfied he had fully answered them, he asked us to return later in the day. In all, we had three hours of interview notes. When was the last time anyone spent three-hours considering their responses to a tick-box survey?
After the CEO, we interview every member of his or her management team. We ask exactly the same questions. Then, we ask middle managers, line mangers and those on the frontline.
As knowledge gatherers, we are taking a privileged peek inside the minds of some very diverse people.
After about 30 interviews a pattern usually starts to emerge – even in workforces of 30,000 or more.
We find ‘communication gaps’ – where people are failing to listen and hear each other, and where misunderstanding is rife. We uncover weaknesses in internal communication and, more importantly, we set out a vision for communications. Not a vision that’s in some best practice manual – but the vision that’s inside the minds of those running and working for the company.
Acid Test is a powerful tool. From the beginning, we look for quick wins that will improve communications fast.
The result is an action plan – not a deck of slides. There’s no need to ask yet more questions or wonder want to do next.