Understanding and harnessing employee engagement is something that has challenged organisations and their leaders for decades.
Despite the ground-breaking book from Buckingham and Coffman, First, Break all the Rules, in 1999 which popularised the Gallup Q12 survey tool and shone a light on the ways in which managers can engage and motivate their staff - business leaders still struggle with the issues, attitudes and performance of their staff.
And, it's really not that surprising, given the period of rapid technological growth and now the acceleration of home-working over the last year, our people are now potentially on 24-7 availability; the pressure to perform has increased (just look at the impact of forced ranking if you want evidence of this!); the emphasis on short-term outputs is greater than ever. And, CEOs still want to be able to talk about the numeric employee engagement as part of their dialogue with stakeholders and investors; almost, without understanding the drivers that create authentic and meaningful engagement.
Organisations and HR teams are faced with the associated challenges of needing to decide how to pursue an effective employee engagement strategy: the dichotomy being how to provide meaningful information to managers and stakeholders whilst also developing actionable information that will drive greater employee commitment to doing a great job.
What is employee engagement anyway?
Academics have argued hard and long about the provenance, characteristics and effects of employee engagement. And some, Professor Rob Briner for example don't even acknowledge the existence of such a construct. A simple definition is employee engagement is the extent to which employees feel passionate about their jobs, are committed to the organisation and put discretionary effort into their work.
The annual employee survey has been a popular method for understanding employee mindset. However, the answers given will only provide part of the picture of current workforce attitudes.
There are issues of timing: once a year may not capture the full story. And, individual attitude and the influences on that at a given time may not reflect one's true sense of passion for the job. There are also the particular pressures at work at the time of completion; as well as other prevailing personal pressures. The output from a survey is expressed as a set of percentages, X% agree/disagree with statement Y, but why do they agree/disagree?
In short, the annual survey enables businesses to understand what issues individuals are facing, but not the why that may lie behind these problems.
The problem with focus groups
For businesses hoping to receive clearer insight into the results of their annual survey, one of the common approaches traditionally has been to hold a series of focus groups, where individuals have the chance to air their opinion in a controlled setting. While undoubtedly offering a number of benefits, including the ability to talk directly with team members and hear about their grievances, attitudes, daily headaches, etc, there are many reasons to change this practice in future, as we'll now explain.
Focus groups are:
- Not always representative
- Expensive, if done properly
- Not timely
- A platform for the loudest voices
- Insensitive - not all issues can be discussed in the open forum of a focus group
- Sometimes biased by the facilitator and circumstances
- Potentially a breeding ground for discontent â€“ completely counter-productive
As you can see, the problems surrounding the use of focus groups to delve into employee issues are many; and often, the outcomes that are achieved based on this practice are not adequate to fully resolve engagement issues for staff.
So, what can organisations do about it?
Ultimately, for an organisation that hopes to achieve a timely, in-depth and accurate snapshot of the levels of engagement within their business, there needs to be a shift in approach from the staid application of surveys and focus groups to follow.
Surveys can be a positive tool for organisations to continue to make use of, but the way this information is collated and acted upon needs to change. Once complete, the next stage should be to properly assess the responses and pinpoint those segments of respondents that raise interesting issues whether good or bad - and then return to them to expand on their responses.
This process of a more targeted dialogue allows a business to start a conversation with their staff. It means that serious problems can be addressed in a more thoughtful, personable and sensitive manner, hopefully leading to more effective and lasting change.
How to do this without breaking confidentiality or putting people 'on the spot'?
Primeast has recently formed a powerful new relationship with Peachy Mondays, an organisation that has solved this conundrum. They have developed an anonymous employee feedback platform that gives deep insight in days rather than months. It allows you to capture WHAT your people feel, have targeted anonymous dialogue to find out WHY, and efficiently manage and analyse responses at enterprise scale. This opens up the subject of employee engagement, staff opinions and meaningful two-way employee communications to new opportunities.
David Evans, Primeast Associate, recently met with Gordon Adam, Peachy Mondays co-founder. He explained that the simple and flexible survey tool that he and his partner, James Anderson, have created answers the killer-questions that employee surveys raise, quickly, effectively and anonymously.
"It's the issue of anonymity that has defeated other efforts to get below the surface of employee opinion," Gordon says. "If people's privacy can be assured, so that they can explain safely why they replied to certain questions the way they did, surveys really can surface the issues and root-causes that will otherwise remain hidden or at least ambiguous. As they fester and spread, they will erode employee engagement."
Peachy Mondays can offer a simple, quick and revealing solution to employee opinion, and Primeast sees it as a compelling diagnostic tool for the work we do in people and organisational development.
Beating the confines of dead-end data
Drilling deeper into the responses of staff means the information contained in employee surveys can be used more as a starting point in delivering improved levels of engagement, rather than it being an end in itself, as is sometimes now the case.
By overhauling employee engagement programmes to focus on specific issues and individual responses, data become an avenue to creating a programme for further evaluation and the means to take positive action. Through follow-up surveys, one-to-one intervention and a targeted approach to individual problems, issues that plague organisational performance can be more easily defined and addressed. At the same time, staff themselves can be reassured their problems are being listened to.
You can find out more about the importance of better understanding employee behaviour and attitudes, as well as the need to bridge gaps in communication at all levels of any successful organisation, by reading Transparent communication at the heart of business performance.
For more about Peachy Mondays, visit wwww.peachymondays.com