Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How Surveys and Feedback Improve Organizations, and a Note of Caution

Motivation to improve is the bedrock of employee engagement efforts. While engagement is intellectually interesting, engagement surveys are conducted to improve organizations. Let's revisit how this happens.

Last week I attended a conference for organizational psychologists and spent a lot of time on employee engagement.  One presenter, Scott Brooks, provided a great model of “what employee surveys provide.” His work elaborates the above diagram . Dr. Brooks has clearly worked with, and thought about, organizational surveys a lot.
According to Scott’s model, Surveys help by providing
1.    Motivation to inspire/drive change
2.    Guidance by focusing action on what to change
3.    Enablement to help change
4.    Tracking to provide a measure of change

This model a clarifies why feedback works to improve engagement. Further, by targeting and amplifying these four areas, we can get better results from engagement surveys.  When planning engagement feedback consider all four areas.  The model also helps plan how leadership, HR, supervisors and others key roles can support improvement from the survey.  For example, leadership can drive organizational change by interpreting implications of the survey results (Motivation), directing appropriate actions (guidance), supporting others to take action (enablement) and setting goals for improvement (tracking).  

Use correctly, the model can organize the management team to work harmoniously for organizational improvement.
A Note of Caution
Many stakeholders want organizational change—it is not just management that hopes for change.  The traditional advice is "do not complete a survey unless you plan to do something about the results."  When employees complete a survey, their expectations are raised.  Raising expectations and doing nothing only decreases engagement.  Decreased morale can be an unintended consequence of surveying! 

The model also highlights how employees view survey results.  Many want to be in a different work environment and the survey results can provide motivation, guidance and enablement on how it should be better!  But employees understanding of survey results can can hurt and help management. Survey results can provide negative and outspoken employee more to complain about.  These employees may use the results to support their own negative agenda with work teams and peers.  Results can help management focus employees on the positive aspects of improving the organization for all stake holders—employees, customers, and shareholders. It is better to proactively frame the issues and the forward-looking agenda.

When providing results to employees, it is important to communicate the four factors.  It is especially important to state how the results will drive change (motivation), what will change (guidance), request employees help with the change (enablement) and to note how the changes will be measured (tracking).  This will allow management to stay in control of the messages and conversations about the survey.


michael cardus said...

thank you for mentioning the issue with surveys causing some employees to only strengthen their view of the organization.
The model is one that is helpful for all members gaining clarity and relevance of information.

Charley C Morrow said...

Thanks, we have to be in the habit of thinking about each phase of engagement campaigns (planning, measurement, feedback and action) as an opportunity to advance organizational goals and engagement. This starts with considering employee reactions.