Tag Archives: pulse surveys

Devil’s advocate: Why do we bother with employee engagement surveys?

In well-meaning organisations across the UK, an enormous and comprehensive survey has become an annual ritual.

It consumes time and money and produces volumes of data, consuming more time and, by implication, money. But does anything useful come of it?

People will say “yes” and point to good things they believe have improved their organisation. They’ll say this justifies the investment. But I beg to differ. Too often the return is marginal.

At worst, annual engagement surveys have been allowed to become an indulgent distraction – wasting hours and cash, producing misleading results, and focusing energies in the wrong direction. They invite complaints, place unimportant issues on the agenda, lead us down the wrong path and distract us from doing things that matter.

It’s a broad and damning condemnation. But if I’m wrong, how do we explain that, despite a massive and increasing investment in IC and engagement, productivity is getting worse and worse?

The gap between our Olympic superstate and the rest of the civilised world is greater than at any time since records began. For every hour Herman the German works, he produces 36 per cent more than his British equivalent.

The French are 30 per cent more productive. And the Italians are 10 per cent ahead of us. Hardly surprising that, like for like, the average German earns £43,449 each year – while the Brit struggles along on £27,199.

I am in no way suggesting that IC and employee engagement are a waste of time. I believe passionately that they rank among the most powerful tools in the armoury of a business. But put to the wrong use, powerful tools can be ineffective or dangerous.

My case is this: The full-hit annual engagement survey is relatively ineffective. It can waste time and money – and can lead us to focus on issues that have only a minor impact on the organisations we serve or the people they employ.

We’re a young, naïve profession and now might be a good time to consider our course. I suggest a three-pronged strategy for the future direction of IC:

1: More leading, less listening

Farmers achieve porky pigs through instinct and experience – the scales merely confirm what they already know. In IC we should listen by all means, but not let it get in the way of leading. No truly great leader governs according to the findings of focus groups. They draw
on their own expertise, experience and instinct to set the agenda.

2: Pulse check, not routine medical 

Make measurement meaningful – timely and succinct. We make choices, express opinions and change our minds by the nanosecond. Now matters. So we should listen little and often and tackle big issues as they arise. We have the tools, accessible via the mobile in our pockets. Pulse checks are infinitely more valuable than cumbersome surveys and reams of analysis.

3: Stop navel-gazing and start doing real stuff

Liberate your business, your board and yourself from the bureaucratic burden of the all-encompassing annual survey. There may be a few gems in there, but as a whole it risk being an enormous distraction. So scrap it. Let leaders lead – and invest the hours, money and energy on doing things that will actually help make your business a happier, more successful place to be.