The 3 Myths of Employee Engagement Programs

Is your employee engagement program underperforming? If so, it may be built on surveying practices popularized some 15 years ago that are still followed today at many organizations, even though these methodologies are proven to have limited effectiveness over time.

Myth #1 – Census
This is the idea that every employee should get the exact same survey. A one-size-fits-all design is said to improve efficiency and organizational momentum, while avoiding employee confusion over why people got different sets of questions. There is no academic or real-world proof that this belief is valid and, in fact, just the opposite is true.  There are dozens, if not hundreds, of examples where a more robust design provided enhanced (in quality and quantity) insights. If you have 20,000 employees and I give you a questionnaire of 40 questions, I can, in turn, provide you with insights on only 40 items. A far better design is to craft a core set of 30 to 35 questions and then create an additional 10 to 15 modules of 3 to 5 questions each.  These “modules” can be distributed on a random, geographic, or functional or experiential basis. The average survey is still only 40 questions long – but you and your leaders have now gained insights into 100 different items across the organization.

Myth #2 – Consistency

Or, as I call it, laziness. According to the consistency myth, each new survey has to match the one that went before in order to measure progress and trends reliably. On the face of it, that seems logical. Trouble is, organizations are organic not static entities. Show me a company that hasn’t changed over the course of a year, or doesn’t have new issues to deal with.  You can’t. Your survey instrument needs to change by at least 10% each wave to stay relevant to your current direction, structure, and needs, and enable you to uncover information that will be useful strategically or tactically. Again, optimized design and proper use of modules can achieve this without impacting your core survey.  You need a platform with the speed, agility and flexibility to keep up with the reality of business in the 21st century.

Myth #3 – Comparability

Everybody wants to measure themselves against the next guy and that’s why it’s easy to fall for the myth of comparability. Comparability is founded on the questionable value of benchmarking. The vendor has accumulated a database of companies whose employees have answered the exact same questions (word for word) that your employees are being asked. You are promised that you’ll gain tremendous insights by seeing how your employees stack up against the “industry-wide norm.” However, the companies in such a database are only convenience-based samples and are not representative of an industry or geography. In fact, you will learn little of value because while industries tend to be consistent, organizations exhibit tremendous variability – variability in how the culture operates, what concepts mean, how they do what they do. Convenience-based comparisons based on standardized surveys won’t help you improve. Instead, customizing your questions to your company’s unique culture, situation and needs will help you uncover your organization’s unique strengths and weaknesses to get the insights that enable meaningful change.

The three C myths have gained another C-word – credibility – over the years because of the sheer number of organizations that bought into them. But, if we’re honest, we know this outdated approach to employee engagement stalls out over time and provides limited realization of business-wide benefits. A better C-word to describe it would be – common.

Instead, I’d like to see companies move towards more enlightened practices that align better to changing business needs … obsess over improvement rather than comparisons … demand as much accountability from senior leaders as from front-line managers … and drive toward targeted actions that leverage organizational strength and remove the barriers to engagement.

How about your company? Are you satisfied with your surveying practices? Are there other “myths” when it comes to employee engagement?

 

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