Seven Essential Tips if Your Organization Creates its Own Employee Engagement Survey

Employee engagement surveyI get it. Some of the employee engagement surveys seem too short. Some too long. And others are not quite in sync with what you want to measure. Or it seems like a huge undertaking (or $$$) to work with a consulting firm to help get this off the ground. As a result, some organizations elect to create their own employee engagement survey with the plan to cherry pick questions from several leading surveys. Here are a few tips if you decide to design your own employee engagement survey.

1. Don’t mess with the question wording

There is so much careful thought and analysis baked into the exact wording of the questions that it’s worth trusting the statisticians. For example, take a question from Gallup’s Q12 survey, “At work I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.” You might be tempted to leave off ‘every day’ since it might seem like the bar is unreasonably high. But those words likely represent the differentiator between the engaged and the merely satisfied employee. So, if you use questions from different surveys, keep the question wording intact.

2. Measure more frequently

You will only be able to measure your results against, well… your own results. Using a validated survey however allows you to compare your scores immediately against a large database, and even perhaps draw comparisons within your industry. If you use a homegrown version, you really can’t create a yardstick comparison until you repeat. While an engagement survey is really just a snapshot in time, I recommend repeating the survey 2 to 3 times per year so you are building your own database of results.

3.Don’t be too content with an average score

A “four” on a five-point Likert scale sounds pretty decent right? But get this. A rating of 4.2 on the question “I know what is expected of me at work” actually registers in the danger range for employee engagement. A client I worked with found that this score landed them in the 24th percentile compared to the Gallup database. In part, this is due to the fact that this question is so foundational to engagement. If you could only focus on ONE thing, it should be this question. And really, shouldn’t every employee know what is expected of them? Otherwise it wastes time, makes people duplicate work, keeps employees guessing and honestly drive them crazy when they give 100% effort and only meet 50% of the grade.

4. Not all questions are created equal.

Where to begin? The danger of asking too many questions is that people become understandably overwhelmed or begin to dismiss some of the results. Remember, this process is supposed to bring about clarity, not confusion. Many people don’t realize is that there is a hierarchy to the questions with some having a greater bearing on engagement than others. This knowledge can really help leaders pinpoint what to focus on.

5. Be sure the questions are actionable

A question like, “How satisfied are you in your job?” doesn’t easily translate to action. As you consider each potential question to include in your survey, dismiss anything that is too fuzzy or doesn’t show a pathway forward. Otherwise it is just clutter. Interesting data is not the same as impactful data.

6. Tie results to the manager

One of the biggest mistakes I see is that employee engagement is often considered to be an HR or a C-suite problem. Though both bear responsibility, the real truth is that 70 % of whether you are engaged at work can be traced back to your manager. Since managers have the biggest potential to move the engagement needle, it is important to shift our thinking from the organizational level to the local level. A question like “I have the materials and resources to do my work right” will differ wildly from team to team. For example, one team I worked with was in dire need of larger desk space after a change in government regulations required them to look at two computer monitors. This was a huge pain point, but only for this team. The organization didn’t need larger desks, just this team of seven employees. The number one reason why organizations don’t roll up results to the manager is fear – fear that it will set up unhealthy competition. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here is another rule of thumb: share the aggregated organizational results at a town-wide meeting, and share the team results only with the team. But be sure that managers get the needed training and guidance after results are in as that is when the real work begins.

7. Don’t conduct a DIS-engagement survey!

Want to signal that you really don’t care? Ask people to be completely honest, have your CEO talk about how important this is, drive up participation with multiple reminders, get the results… and then do nothing. This can actually backfire and lead to higher DIS-engagement! If you are going to look under the rocks be prepared to take action. But that action doesn’t have to be time consuming or overwhelming. Basically, you need managers to open a conversation about the results and work with the team to identify a few areas to focus on going forward. And as suggested above, not all teams will identify the same barriers to engagement. Perhaps one manager is going to work on getting those larger desks as in the example above, while another is becoming aware that her team needs more praise and recognition.

At Strengths Now we work with leaders who are looking to make sense of existing employee engagement results, regardless of survey design. We also administer Gallup’s Q12 survey for organizations looking to kick-off this meaningful measure. Contact us to learn more!