If you’re a leader of a team, chances are you’ve received some “constructive” results from a company engagement survey.
Engagement surveys have become the go-to tool for large and growing companies to understand how their employees are feeling about work. These surveys are powerful in their ability to provide employees with a safe, confidential way to communicate about their experiences.
That said, the key to successfully improving engagement doesn’t lie with the survey itself.
The power of engagement surveys comes from the actions that leaders take after the survey ends.
And, that’s where things can get tricky.
While executives and People Operations can drive company-wide initiatives, most employees actually see their immediate leaders as most responsible for their engagement.
And yet, if you are given only summarized data (to protect anonymity), then understanding what’s going on can be difficult. You’re often tasked with supporting your teams, fixing engagement, and achieving work goals with the knowledge that your personal performance will be judged based on the next round of survey results.
You end up caught between being responsible for solving engagement issues and simultaneously not having enough information or resources to effect change.
As a former engagement survey aficionado (both internally at Medium and as a consultant to tech companies of all sizes), I’d love to share with you my process for figuring out what to do after the survey is done.
Step 1: Prioritize and understand the results
Engagement surveys can cover a lot of different topics. Most good software (e.g., Culture Amp, Glint) will identify the key questions that drive engagement, but you have to spend time exploring and understanding the results for your team. As you do, it’s important to identify which topics are the ones that you have agency over vs. ones where you don’t.
For instance, a question like “How frequently do you receive recognition from your manager?” is one where you have a lot of agency: Changing your behavior will directly impact how the team’s experience.
Compare that to a question on compensation where you may have more limited agency depending on your seniority or relationship with the People Operations team.
Take note of which topics fall into each category, and unfortunately, some questions like “Do you have a clear understanding of your career or promotion path?” may be a mix since they relate to both company policies and how you support your team.
I like to keep a scratch spreadsheet where I note each topic and my level of agency. Questions where you have limited agency shouldn’t be ignored—you can still advocate for change on behalf of your team.
As you’re noting down these topics, also note whether the entire team feels similarly or one group feels more or less strongly. For example, questions about promotions often have different responses from folks from underrepresented backgrounds. Inclusion is difficult to get right, and it’s incredibly important to track what’s going well and what’s not.
Step 2: Listen to your team
Now that you have a better understanding of the engagement survey topics and results, it’s time to learn more.
Engagement surveys are anonymous for a reason: It protects confidentiality, allows people to be more honest, and prevents retribution.
That said, anonymity can only get you so far. It can limit your ability to understand nuance and to solicit the team’s help in resolving problems. Whenever a leader asks me how to solve an engagement issue, I tell them “Ask your team. They already know the answer.” And that’s usually true. It’s also good to remember that you’re not alone, the team can help with solutions and implementation.
You can start talking with the teams in 1:1s, soliciting deeper understanding or asking for suggestions. At some point, I do strongly encourage group sessions where you raise some of the topics from the survey and encourage deeper sharing. Two things are important to note here:
- Your role as a leader is a facilitator for this meeting, so it’s your job to set a tone of openness and trust. Make sure not to shift too quickly from a topic and be sure to also share your own experiences.
- Don’t just focus on the problems. You don’t want to end the session on “Sigh, everything sucks.” Instead, designate time to discuss solutions and ideas.
The goal of this information gathering is to help you in identifying, enacting, and advocating changes.
Step 3: Act on what you’ve learned
With all of this information, it’s now time to act. Acting can look like many different paths: changing how you or the team runs a process, sharing information with other leaders or People Operations to push for broader changes, or even making no change because after gathering more information, it turned out the right solution was already in place.
The key part of this step is communicating about the changes that you’re making and why. If it’s implementing a new process, write and share a doc about what’s going to happen, ask for feedback on it, and let the team know that you’ll continue to iterate.
If you’re going to be advocating for a broader change or something led by another department, collect all of your information in one place so that you can share it more effectively. Make sure your team knows you’re sharing their feedback, and be sure to consistently follow up with other leaders and teams. Making a change may not be a priority now, but there should be a reason why that you can share with your team. Try to be as open and honest as you can.
And finally, what do you do if you don’t think a change is the right step? Communicate with the team. Explain your thought process and ask for pushback. Check back in six weeks or a quarter to see how the team is feeling, noting that if it’s still an issue you can make a change then.
Step 4: Repeat
Engagement surveys are done yearly, quarterly, or even monthly. Your goal should be that the next set of survey results doesn’t take you by surprise. That’s not always possible, but set up recurring ways to learn from, and get feedback from, your team about what’s going on with them. That way, you can dynamically adjust what you’re doing, and you won’t need to make big changes as often.
Then, you can start going to the People Operations team and asking for new questions to be added that address areas you’re concerned about or don't have enough insight into.
Engagement surveys are a powerful tool when leaders are equipped to take action on the results. If you’re struggling to figure out what to do with your results, let us know, and we’re happy to be your thought partner.