When leaders in organisations decide to measure employee engagement, they know that it’s a two-edged sword. There’s been some fevered discussion on LinkedIn in the past few weeks about KPMG’s decision to “stop” measuring employee engagement across its workforce. Some commentators have been almost vitriolic in their response. Not at KPMG, but at the poor old employee survey for daring to intrude on their working lives in the way that it evidently has in the past. They can’t wait to shake the dust of it off their shoes.
Hmmm. I think they might be crowing too soon over the demise of the annual employee survey. As might KPMG themselves. If you look more closely at the story which appeared in the Australian Financial Review, KPMG’s lead HR transformation partner Bolton talks about replacing the survey with “a new deal diagnostic tool” which looks more specifically at the nature of the deal between employee and employee. An employment value proposition, in other words. Now, I have a background in employer branding and in employee engagement. I also do employee surveys. So I must declare an interest – I am very supportive of these concepts and believe they continue to have value. And the one thing that I am totally confident about is that if an employment value proposition is going to hold water, then it HAS to be based on canvassing employees about what they truly value about their work. In other words, surveying them for their opinion. If a “new deal” is just based on a top-down, C-suite view of what employees might value, then you might as well pack up and go home. Because that’s what your employees will do sooner or later after you introduce such a package. Cynicism levels can rocket inside organisations if these initiatives are not carefully handled and employees not genuinely engaged through the process.
And once the “new deal” is constituted and implemented – guess what?! Employees are going to have to be regularly polled to check whether their experience of the deal matches up to the deal promise. So some kind of employee survey will continue to stick around, even if it is called something else and conducted less frequently.
There has been a huge amount of research into employee engagement, motivation and performance over the years. And quite frankly, the jury in research circles is still out on whether performance causes motivation and engagement or vice-versa. Whichever version you support, the key thing to remember is that there is a link between the two. And qualitative data – as well as quantitative – has validity when you are trying to measure employee engagement. Clearly, you need to make sure you’ve got your sample size right. But decrying qualitative data as “not robust” is a bit silly. We are talking about human beings, after all, who have attitudes, distinct personalities and unique personal histories. Not widgets.
What I do have some sympathy for amongst the fevered commentators of recent days is their frustration with the genuine impact of the employee survey upon organisations. This brings us back to the first line of my blog. Leaders introduce employee surveys in their organisations with the best of intentions. They do want to know what their employees think about their jobs and working conditions. But then they get busy doing other stuff. And once the qualitative data has been collected, analysed and followup action plans drawn up, those same leaders can risk getting egg on their faces if another year has rolled by and nothing has happened since the last survey. Their employees’ cynicism levels will surely rise again! It happens all too often. So that’s when the employee survey starts becoming a heavy yoke around the neck of the HR director and the employee comms manager. And they start resorting to social media to vent their spleen…. Leaders HAVE to take these measurement instruments seriously. As I said earlier, employee surveys are a two-edged sword. Reputational risk for the C-suite is very high if they don’t do the promised followup.
What is your view of employee surveys? How do you think we can make these work better than they currently do? Love to hear your experience of what works.
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