As a new member of the Humankind team, I have recently enjoyed a great on-boarding process, and have felt very welcome. When I have had questions, I’ve asked them; when I have had feedback, I’ve given it. Not surprisingly, simply talking about ‘how we do things around here’ has been the best way to get informed and make quick progress.
This experience has made me think about the relevance of the veteran campaigner of the feedback world, one I have invested a lot of time and energy in – the humble employee engagement survey. While they’re a great way to get standardised feedback about predefined topics, surveys are prone to huge variety in interpretation, manipulation, and delay. We ask people to respond about a topic that is important to us, but often don’t allow for clarification or personal expression. Those running surveys are inclined to quickly dismiss peoples’ concerns that a survey is a waste of time, and then proceed to take months to analyse and report on data – and may not even get to the point of discussing the feedback or making any changes.
The traditional employee survey model is broken, and completely mainstream. So many of us have become accustomed to reporting engagement and other survey metrics in executive, board and annual reports, it can be hard to see how we can step away. However, if your survey isn’t actually driving change, I would suggest the cost of retaining this broken model is higher.
With the demise of the IBM Kenexa Best Workplaces Survey, hundreds of New Zealand organisations have been given the opportunity to hit pause and reflect on how they measure their employee experience. While I am proud of the impact that the Best Workplaces programme had in many organisations, the fact remained that a greater number found meaningful improvement in engagement elusive. For me, it comes down to whether survey results actually galvanise people into action.
In my own experience, insight and change is more likely to come from conversations. They take more time and are more personal, but they create narratives that inspire. They get to the heart of the matter, instead of brushing over a topic and then promising to come back to it later. Eyes light up when people tell stories about their experiences; eyes can often glaze over when experiences are distilled into numbers.
I’m convinced that the future of improving the employee experience is through more conversations, not more structured survey data. This is particularly the case in small organisations, which dominate the New Zealand landscape. Now is a great time to assess how well surveys are working for your organisation, and look beyond the digital survey walls to see what else is out there.