Newmeasures: Insights for an exceptional workforce

Is your post survey action planning a never ending game of Whac-a-Mole?

Have you ever felt like your organization works really hard to address one employee engagement concern, only then to have another topic come up on the next engagement survey? Or maybe your Human Resources or executive teams take action to address a specific issue, but scores on the engagement survey do not improve. These scenarios are all too common and the result is thinking, “Why do we bother focusing on employee engagement? It doesn’t seem to make a difference.”

It feels like we don’t have enough fingers to plug the holes that keep popping up.
We address one thing and then there is a new issue.

I recently worked with a client who worked hard to address employee concerns around conflict management and teamwork. The HR and executive team decided to send managers to teamwork and conflict management training, and from the executive point-of-view, it seemed like things were improving. On their next annual employee engagement survey, teamwork and conflict management did improve, but only for the management level. No impact was seen at the employee level. And this time a new issue came up on their engagement survey. In response, one senior executive said, “It feels like we don’t have enough fingers to plug the holes that keep popping up. We address one thing and then there is a new issue.”

What’s going on? If HR and executive teams are implementing solutions to employee feedback, why doesn’t it seem to make a difference in employee engagement? We see a common pattern with some clients, especially those that are new to working with employee engagement data. The pattern looks like this:

  • Executive team receives the data, speculates on what employees mean by the feedback, and come up with their own solutions.
  • Executives assume people are too busy and don’t have the skills to understand how to take action, so they leave front-line managers and employees out of the process of interpreting the feedback and identifying solutions. All action comes from the top and is implemented at the organizational level.
  • Executives assume employees see the changes that are implemented and make the connection to the feedback they provided on the survey.

While the intentions of this approach are good (being responsive, not adding more to people’s plates), it often fails. Change in any organization has to move top down and bottom up. While executives can address systematic and cultural concerns, much of employee engagement comes from the micro level (how employees interact with their supervisors and teams and challenges of their specific roles and functions). Further, executives assume they know what will address employee concerns and skip the important process of starting a dialogue with employees and getting their input on solutions.

In the example above, a decision was made to “train” managers on teamwork and conflict management, assuming this would address employee concerns. But employees were never asked about their specific concerns regarding teamwork, and managers were not held accountable for teaching and applying what they learned with their teams. The efforts did not go deep enough into the organization to address the real concerns.

It’s not that what these executives are trying to do is bad – after all, that’s what executive teams do, fix things. But executive teams can’t and don’t have all the answers. There are certain issues they can address, but more importantly their role is to invest in their managers so they can share the data and solicit feedback from their teams. This approach can feel a little scary and it raises legitimate concerns – do managers have the skills they need to do this successfully? Do we trust them to turn this into a positive conversation versus open a can of worms? The flip side is to view this as a development opportunity for your leaders. It shows that you trust them to “own” the concerns of their teams and be responsible for implementing positive change.

Here's the top-down, bottom-up approach that we see works best:


Step 1 - Review the engagement feedback

Senior executives review the engagement feedback and think about the meaning in light of their own engagement and the strategic objectives of the organization. Identify one area for action.


Step 2 - Share results

Share results with middle and frontline managers and discuss their results as it pertains to their engagement. This allows you to role model the process that you want managers to take with their teams, and it provides insight into the concerns and ideas of this very important group. Identify one area for action.


Each manager shares the results with their team and facilitates a conversation about how the information can be used to make the work they have to do easier to accomplish. Identify one area for action.


Step 3 - Collect progress reports

Collect quarterly progress updates and share success stories with the organization (i.e., here’s what you told us on the survey, here’s something we did and the result we saw, and here’s what we are doing next).

Using this process, all levels of the organization are engaged in addressing the concerns under their control. The result is a much bigger and more visible impact. The executive team will never have enough fingers to fill all the “holes,” but the good news is that your managers and employees do, you just have to ask them.

To learn more about effective action planning strategies, check out these posts:

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Leanne Buehler
Leanne has helped organizations and executive teams develop employee listening strategies for the last 20 years. She is passionate about cultivating deep human connections and unlocking each employee's potential.
Leanne Buehler, Ph.D.
Principal Science and Innovation Advisor
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