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Engagement surveys - not what managers need?

January 21, 2013

Feedback from early work on implementing our new tool for measuring engagement in real time - EngageMe - suggests that line managers are more enthusiastic about it than Company Leaders and HRDs. This highlights the need for a new approach, aimed directly at people-managers, to complement - not replace - the traditional engagement surveys used in so many organisations.

While HRDs continue to demand feedback from regular engagement surveys, working closely with line managers has revealed that they greatly prefer the immediacy of real-time feedback on engagement to the rear view mirror image derived from the conventional survey reporting process. The latter is usually out of date by some weeks or even months, making it difficult to respond to in a positive way.

This points up the fact that the interests of HR Directors, Company Leaders and Managers are different and that as a consequence they need different feedback tools and methods.

For Company Leaders and HRDs, the Engagement Survey Report is akin to a set of Annual Company Accounts: it provides an overview of engagement across the organisation at a particular time. The feedback highlights the most and least positive groups of employees, and explains the reasons for these variations. Engagement survey data can thus be used to align HR strategy and to allocate resources to employees in support of the overall mission and direction of the business. Survey data also represent benchmarks against which change and improvement can be monitored and measured.

People managers, on the other hand, have more pressing and immediate needs: their priority is getting the best performance from their people, today and every day. A 'traditional' survey doesn't really help. Data on how things were two months ago may well be of interest, but is of relatively little use in dealing with the here and now. For that managers need live, real time information about how their people are feeling. This is especially the case if staff are remote and/or not not easily accessible. Field Sales and technical people represent a good example of where managers need mechanisms which provide current information on engagement. Then they can respond rapidly and appropriately to the needs of their people.

That's what EngageMe does: two or more times a day during a two or three week survey period, team members are asked (online or via SMS message) to respond very briefly to three questions about they are feeling and what they have just been doing. After only a short time, a a clear picture begins to emerge of team members' engagement hour by hour. Managers can see when it's high or low and what activities and events seem to be having an influence: they can act to reinforce positive factors and eliminate negative ones.

We have observed managers re-crafting jobs, changing the structure of a working day or week, communicating differently or even altering the nature and process of organisational change - all as a result of accessing real-time engagement data.

None of this removes the need for the annual employee survey: the two approaches complement each other. What EngageMe does is to address directly the day-to-day needs of managers for effective ways to monitor and optimise engagement in the workplace.

As engagement specialists this is good news, for it demonstrates that we have to do more to contribute to this crucially important field.

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