Research shows that employees who work for organizations with a feedback program in place are more engaged. Taking it a step further, organizations that turn employee feedback into action “really well” have employees who are twice as engaged as those whose employer does not act on feedback well or at all.1 Despite these positive outcomes, only 35% of employees indicate that their organization turns feedback into action in a meaningful way to improve engagement.2
Beware of the dangers of collecting employee experience feedback without acting on it!
A common refrain in the world of employee listening is “asking is not enough.” In addition to missing out on the benefits that acting on feedback yields, not acting can have harmful effects such as:
- Not identifying or understanding opportunities for improvement
- Skepticism about the purpose or intent of the survey
- Apathy in employees’ willingness to provide input (e.g., low participation rates)
- Not obtaining open and honest feedback
As a result, leaders miss out on the ability to draw rich insights from their people and their experiences. Instead, they may be faced with inaccurate or insufficient data that won’t guide them in making critical business decisions that affect positive change.
So, who is responsible for taking action? In too many organizations, the answer defaults to Human Resources. The Head of EX Advisory Services at Qualtrics, Benjamin Granger, states that “action planning is not the job of HR. HR supports and equips operations—planning and execution are the jobs of managers.”3 At Newmeasures, we believe the survey team and HR can have significant impact by orchestrating a plan for how to take action, including identifying accountability among leaders and managers, even before a listening program launches.
But how exactly, can you hold leaders and managers accountable?
Our experience shows that promoting data transparency, focusing on areas with the highest impact to engagement, and supporting people leaders all enable organizations to see faster improvements in employee engagement.
Here are five dos and don’ts for driving accountability
1) DON’T restrict managers from creating a local action plan that is customized to their work area.
- Increase data transparency by providing access to people leaders that are best positioned to take action.
- Include managers in the action planning process, allowing autonomy and flexibility in how to prioritize the action planning activities that are most important to the business area.
Senior Leaders can support frontline managers by communicating what managers are empowered to act on. Delegating actioning can create more trust between senior leaders and managers, give managers an opportunity to develop new skills, and free up time for senior leaders to focus on organization-wide initiatives.
2) DON’T incentivize (or disincentivize) leaders for achieving a specific engagement score.
Tying an engagement score to performance management processes or rewarding through bonus compensation can create negative downstream impacts on how leaders respond to actioning and how they communicate with their direct reports. If employees feel pressured to respond more favorably to future surveys, it could affect employee morale and lead to inaccurate data.
- Incentivize leaders for taking action that leads to positive business outcomes such as reducing turnover, increasing productivity, and improving customer service.
- Follow-up with employees via future engagement and/or pulse surveys. Ask whether their managers shared engagement survey feedback and whether the organization took visible action from the feedback. Note, when you do plan to follow-up with employees on future surveys, ensure leaders are aware and reminded that employees will be asked about these items.4
If you work for an executive who is adamant about incentivizing scores, the Qualtrics XM Institute illustrates the risks of tying bonuses to employee experience metrics.
3) DON’T only focus on the lowest scoring areas to determine action items.
- Make sure that leaders are focusing on items that have the biggest impact on engagement. Identify key drivers of engagement by using statistical correlation analysis to determine survey items that have the strongest relationship to overall engagement.
- Leverage open-ended comments to create a deeper and richer context for the quantitative scores. Comments may identify quick actions that local managers can support like fixing/replacing a piece of broken equipment that is causing employees a headache.
- Celebrate the positives! Acknowledge high-scoring items that are important to employees. Recognizing top performing leaders can also promote buy-in for action accountability.
- Continue to measure engagement on an ongoing survey cycle using year-over-year comparisons to track progress.
- Utilize appropriate external benchmarks as a reference point for results.
4) DON’T make actioning a burdensome process.
- Allow space for informal actioning. Equip leaders with tools to support one-on-one discussions about a theme from the survey or hold a team meeting to share results and prioritize actions as a group. Involving frontline employees will enhance transparency and trust while providing another layer of accountability from the bottom-up.
- Incorporate employee experience as an agenda item during operational meetings and in one-on-ones with people leaders. Senior leaders can create accountability by using this forum to encourage updates on action planning progress, provide additional resources/support as needed, and share any learnings (i.e., what’s working well or what didn’t work).
- Avoid creating additional work! Documenting action planning activities is helpful to keep leaders focused and accountable but it’s important to use the simplest approach possible. Consider using current workforce systems that are already in place rather than initiating a new system. (One of our clients creates a simple table for capturing and tracking plans, important project milestones, timelines/deadlines, sponsor/person responsible for executing plans, and status.)
- Consider the goal and objectives that you have for your business area and incorporate employee feedback into activities that you are already focused on. Close the loop by communicating how the activities will support what you heard from employees.
5) DON’T focus on too many actions for improvement or set unrealistic implementation timeframes.
- Start with 1-2 changes or goals and do them really well. Employees would rather see progress on one thing instead of hearing good intentions on a long list of items.
- Set a realistic schedule for ongoing listening. Evaluate survey frequency to ensure managers have time to execute actions and to realize the benefits of recent changes.
- Consider timing for survey administration and action planning. (One client administers engagement surveys just prior to annual budget review cycles so that actions requiring additional resources can be included for the upcoming year, e.g., equipment/supply/software needs, team-building activities, training and development programs.)
Follow these dos and don’ts to hold your organization’s leaders accountable for acting on employee feedback in a way that will improve engagement and ensure employees feel heard.