What gets measured, gets managed. An old adage that often creates heated discussion. Debates aside, the point is that measuring something can give you the information you need in order to make sure you actually achieve what you set out to do.
However, today’s businesses can be an elaborate labyrinth of different measurements – a confusing area to navigate for many. In particular, measuring employee engagement, and then acting on the results can be a hard nut to crack.
At Spotify, we’ve recently given the strategy for how we best measure employee engagement through surveys a complete overhaul. We took a ‘blank sheet of white paper and start again’ approach. This wasn’t because what we were doing before was wrong, or bad, but importantly we knew we could do it better. It wasn’t easy – employee engagement touches every part of the organisation, and as is often the case with people related initiatives, everyone’s got an opinion, and on this topic, more so than most.
The Child in the Candy Shop
The first stage of any survey design is establishing what it is you want to ask.
Like the child with an empty candy bag it’s really tempting to overfill it with as much as you can carry. Finding questions to ask won’t be a problem – the challenge is being disciplined in asking the questions that provide an output on a particular topic that can be actioned upon.
As a minimum, we looked to have at least one question in each of the areas that mattered for us. We only added additional questions in that area where we felt they were suitably distinguished from one another, but together gave us a much better understanding of the topic. Think of it as the goldilocks principle, and how to layer questions across topics that are interesting in their own right, but when combined are far more impactful in providing an understanding of employee engagement.
A heavily debated area of employee engagement surveys is how frequently do you survey employees.
Traditionally, this has been annually, with the trend in more recent years to “pulse” employees on a more regular basis. As with any heavily debated point, perspective will ultimately decide which side you fall on, but we have taken the lens of what supports action to be taken on the results. Back to the goldilocks principle, annual didn’t feel enough, quarterly felt too much, so we settled on bi-annual (twice a year).
One of the biggest challenges in this area is that people like data, and the more we survey people, the more data we have to ensure we’re not missing anything. But this can create a reactive culture where you jump from one action area to another. For example, employee engagement naturally fluctuates, but gaining insights on the longer term core issues is much more valuable. Therefore, the time spent addressing these deeper rooted topics will have a much higher impact than responding to the fluctuations in feelings.
And let’s not forget – employee engagement surveys don’t replace good old fashioned people management. Surveys are a marker to sense check and identify areas that potentially need addressing at scale. Seeking frequent input of understanding of how people are feeling shouldn’t be done by a survey – instead it should be done by creating a culture where employees can voice their opinions, and be heard in day-to-day interactions.
You can not miss the importance of action being taken from survey results. To be blunt, the whole exercise of surveying employees is next to pointless without it, but it’s traditionally an area where people struggle.
It’s always tempting to have a large, comprehensive action plan of all the areas that could be improved, but the trick is do a small number of things really well, or even one thing really, really well depending on the depth of the employee sentiment around it.
Much like our approach to question set design, it’s about being disciplined. Think about executing brilliantly on the few for the benefits of the many, and importantly build in sensible timelines that allow you to achieve that.
Time Will Tell
We’re starting out a new part of our journey with our revised approach to measuring, and use data to impact on employee engagement, so time will tell whether we’ve got it right. If you ask us whether we’re measuring it to make sure we’re managing it, we’ll mark it as “quietly confident” for now, but it’ll be important to be flexible in our approach should we spot the opportunity to have an even bigger impact.