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Welcome to episode 24 of the Rethink HR podcast, brought to you by bettHR.

In today’s episode, we go deep about employee engagement surveys. How to use the survey that you have and the results that your vendor provides you, to improve the employee experience which drives real engagement. Included are the five steps to take to go from survey results to action plans painlessly.

Employee engagement as an HR “thing,” is important, even if we’re not measuring the right thing. But since we haven’t yet moved off of engagement as a measurement of our talent, leadership, and culture (yet), instead, let’s use our employee engagement surveys to help us improve the employee experience. Which ultimately will help us achieve the desired result of increased engagement.

To do so, it starts with leveraging the survey questions and data that you currently have. In an ideal world, you’d have more influence over it, but for now, use what your company has already committed to. Once the results come in, evaluate the information through the lens of importance and your company’s Essentialism goal (the one thing that you need to do to create a better relationship between your employees and your company). Then, you’ll find your outliers – both high and low, to see where there are potential areas to dig into deeper. When those have been identified, step three is to probe deeper into the outliers that directly relate to your Essentialism goal… and ONLY those items. Then you will rank each outlier in order of importance to drive the ultimate change you are after. And finally, you are going to tackle the first item on the list and move forward one action item at a time.

With your one item, it’s all about defining your employee experience framework for it. What do your employees need to Know, Feel, Act, and Touch – to have a positive experience with that one thing, to move the needle of engagement? And then it’s about doing the work based on this action plan that you create at a macro (company-wide) level, or help your leaders create at a micro-level. One item at a time.

Listen in to learn more!

In This Episode

  • Why employee engagement is important (even if it’s not something we can influence on its own).
  • How employee experience helps drive the right engagement activities.
  • Using your survey data correctly, without over-investing money or time, to ensure you’re focusing on the right categories or questions to drive your company’s ultimate goal.


Your employee engagement survey results are important, but only if you make them work for you, your employees, & your #employeeexperience. #HR #employeeengagement Click To Tweet

Melissa Anzman (00:00): Once we have that in place, we are able to take steps forward intentionally through the employee experience lens to impact actual employee engagement results. I'm Melissa Anzman, HR practitioner turned CEO of a thriving employee experience company, but it wasn't all that long ago that I worked as an HR business partner responsible for increasing employee engagement at companies nationwide. And I struggled to move the needle even after trying everything under the sun, fast forward, past many failed tactics and lessons learned. And you'll see how I've been able to crack the code and replicated at companies of all sizes for creating true engagement and doing HR work that matters work that changes the lives of leaders, HR professionals, and employees. By focusing on the employee experience, I created the rethink HR podcast to give you actionable step by step strategies to help you make an impact.

Melissa Anzman (00:59): If you're an HR leader or one on the rise, who's looking to stop spinning your wheels, doing the same tired activities that aren't driving results, or you want to have a career. You love your in the right place. Let's get started today. I want to Wade into one of my favorite topics to sort of be contrarian about, which is employee engagement surveys. Now they serve a purpose. So don't think that this podcast is going to be all about how not to do employee engagement surveys anymore. I understand that it is going to take a very long time for the word employee engagement to be redefined by HR, by companies, by senior leaders, and that the entire premise of the employee experience solution book that I created is about that, of how we need to change that, how and why we've been focused on the wrong thing, which is also why we haven't been able to get a lot of traction in what's defined as employee engagement.

Melissa Anzman (02:07): But before I get into that, I really want to take a step back and chat more about why employee engagement matters, why it became a thing so that we're able to make sure we understand that as we move forward with our employee engagement surveys. So it became a thing because employee engagement is become sort of a gauge as to where our talent is and how things are working or not working for that talent and throughout sort of our organization in different things. It also helps us identify leadership wins and gaps across your company. It also can show, um, the various friction points and gaps very clearly at a macro level at the company wide level of what needs some attention and focus. And what's actually running as smoothly as can be. And then finally it is a quick poll. So maybe more of a glance as to how and what you define your company culture as your basically hacking in to make sure that the company is running in the way that it should be, that your employees are doing what they should be, that they have, what they need.

Melissa Anzman (03:20): They have the knowledge, they have the understanding. They have the leadership they're acting within the culture confines and all of those things. It is a check that our employees, these are aligned with what we have. I hope we want them to be from a macro level that's being implemented on the daily lives of our employees. The intent of these surveys is really good. Knowing where our employees are emotionally and relationship wise with our company is super great. But we can't. I measure this through employee engagement factors, which is why so many people are not engaged and the survey results haven't been moving in the desired direction. Now I can talk about this for hours as I'm sure you know, but employee engagement as defined as I define it, as I invite you to join me in definition is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals.

Melissa Anzman (04:22): That's what employee engagement is emotional commitment. Now, when we talk about employee experience, these, this means all of the way, ways in which your employees interact with your company, your leaders, human resources, all leading to one consistent prediction find experience. So how are you put these things together? Is that engaged in boys is an outcome. Um, they are an outcome of how employees expect experience your company. We can't influence and emotional commitment. We can't just target how people feel without putting in how they experience that, how those feelings are created and influenced. I used to joke when I was speaking live on stage now, virtually I still do it, but I used to always say like, if you have kids and you tell them to go do something, maybe it's clean up your room or put your dishes away, or what have you. Their response is, no, I don't want to.

Melissa Anzman (05:26): I'm not doing that. No. And the reason being is there, there's nothing in it for them, our emotional reaction, our gut jerk, knee jerk reaction. When someone says do something is they're like, yeah, no, I'm cool. I'm my own person. I make the decisions here. I'm not going to do that. Cause you're telling me to, and how we've approached employee engagement is we do these surveys and we're like, that's great. You're not engaged. Now go be engaged. I'm going to do the thousand and things for employee engagement to make you engaged. I have a whole thing about that, but that being said, we're not going to influence an emotional connection if we're not influencing, if we're not being intentional on the things that lead to that decision. And that's what employee experience is, engagement is a thing don't get me wrong, but engaged employees are the outcome of all the work that you've put in to your employee experience.

Melissa Anzman (06:30): And knowing that, knowing that we aren't able to influence it on its own, this is something where we can take the employee engagement survey and we can use it as it's part of our employee experience is especially as we wait for the employee experience to become more commonplace, but for now, why don't we use what we have make it work better, make it work for us, make it add actual value and add to be intentional, intentional about our employee experience instead of it just being a resource or tool that doesn't add a ton of value, maybe it's something we don't follow up on. Maybe it's something we hand off to leaders, whatever that is your employee engagement surveys can do much better. So let's dive into the how, now that we know why it's important, how it fits into the employee experience and why it's something you should focus on as you continue to grow more into the employee experience.

Melissa Anzman (07:39): So employee engagement, surveys, tactics, pulse checks, they're all commonplace at most companies, particularly companies that are on the larger size is definitely over a thousand people. Most companies that size have something that's an engagement survey. And when they first came on the scene about 25 years ago, they were a lot less advanced than they are today. But the same premise is still in place. We use a survey to find out what employees are thinking, see how engaged they are with the company. Now I've already outlined why this approach doesn't work, but as it is the only way that most companies are asking for feedback consistently, or at least annually from employees, I want to be sure that you're leveraging it in the best way possible. Now these surveys are going to provide you with information and data, regardless of their engagement, influence or outcomes, or what have you use.

Melissa Anzman (08:35): So it's important to understand how to use this to your advantage, to create positive employee experiences that is going to be critical for the success of your employees and for your business. Now, most of us in HR, aren't able to influence, especially in a very quick or short amount time, the survey vendor or the questions asked, or if we're doing it or not. And I am not going to ask you to do that here. Remember I want you to do things that add value and impact that you can actually do right now. Not that are going to take you, you know, five years, lots and lots of approvals to do it. So instead, I'm going to assume the following restraints that we all have, if you don't have them more power to you, but I'm just going to make these assumptions. The first is you're using questions that are broad and based on your vendors survey pool, the second is that the questions or the same or similar year after year, at least for the past few years, you have some consistency there.

Melissa Anzman (09:37): And the third is that the surveys administered online, especially right now and it's anonymous. So if you have different variables or those don't ring true, that's totally okay. Use your own variables for your baseline. But those are the ones that I see most commonly that are consistent for a wide range of employers. The most important thing for you to know about these surveys is that employees only care about this. Why would I bother to provide feedback? Will I be retaliated against it for being honest, will leaders actually make any changes based on my feedback, basically, why is this worth my time really consider that from a company perspective, this feedback and information is really important, but we tend to have to cajole or bribe, or what have you to have people take the survey because they are not clearly seeing what's in it for them.

Melissa Anzman (10:35): They're not seeing why they should invest the time or bother with providing feedback, whether it's a time thing or the fear of retaliation or all of the above, we aren't providing a positive experience of why to do it. Why to jump in, why to take the survey at all, our current perspective and approach to these surveys have us in HR being the hero. And if you don't know what I mean by that, go back and listen to the storytelling for HR podcast episode, where I talk about HRS role and what the hero means and all that fun stuff. So do that. So we want to learn right now how we have it set up. We want to learn the information first because it's something we're required to do by our boss annually, but also to see at a high level where things are. And once we get the results, we quickly remove ourselves as fast as possible from the equation and let managers who aren't skilled in this, by the way, manage the results and create Kubota unquote action plans to increase engagement.

Melissa Anzman (11:41): I mean, just think about that process for a moment. We're asking people who are not skilled in experts in this to analyze results, fix the very things that they broke themselves or, and knew it or didn't know it, but didn't care enough to fix it on their own, to then make these changes. It just doesn't make a ton of sense. Now, in addition to all that, you usually have senior leaders in one of two camps, they want to read everything, all of their verbatims fully understand what's going on, or they don't have time like it's. And so, because they don't have time, they want to remove the open ended questions. So we have to find a balance as to how to make this work, how to make these surveys valuable, not only for each of those senior leaders, but for UNHR. And most importantly for your employees, we want our employees to tell us what's on their mind. We want to include verbatims, how you deal with us. I'm going to address in a little bit, but if we're asking for feedback, that's going to be critical that we provide verbatims, which are open ended questions, where they can provide comments and feedback at length if they want to in the survey, because otherwise what we're saying to our employees is, you know what you have to say, isn't important.

Speaker 2 (13:06): We'll stop. We want you to do what

Melissa Anzman (13:08): We want you to do. We want you to take this survey and answer these pre thought about questions that are pretty broad and super ambiguous. And aren't super great, but yeah, no, I don't actually care what you have to say. So it fails. It feels for everybody. So starting from that perspective, I want you to find the right balance to get your employees feedback, using the questions that are usually like set up as Likert scale, which is like a one to five using open-ended text as well. And then what it's up to you to do is find a way to summarize those verbatims, summarize the results in a way that works for the type of CEO or leader that you have, whether yeah. They want all the verbatims or they're like, no, thank you. So just like I would recommend you do for any other project.

Melissa Anzman (13:59): I would recommend for these to start with the employee experience framework. So here's kind of what it would usually look like when we talk about the know factor, what the question is, is why should I bother taking my time to do this and will anything be done with the results? That's what your employees are questioning the feel is we want to create an emotion that they feel open to sharing their feedback and safe, that it will be received anonymously and constructively for act. We want them to complete the survey intentionally. We don't want them to feel like they have to give us false results or complete it because we've, uh, bribed them with a pizza party or whatever we can do virtually these days. But we want it to be an intentional action that they're doing. And finally for touch, we want an online that can anonymize participants and fully full stop there.

Melissa Anzman (14:56): We're not doing that. It's anonymous, but if you click the link here, I can actually track you, which a lot of those big vendors can do. We're going to make it actually anonymous so that we get the best feedback as possible. Once you have your no feel, act, and touch in place. And you've defined that for this project, I want you to take inventory and see what can, and can't be changed in this process. Are the questions going to be the question? Are they grouped by topic? Are they grouped by core value? What are they? And then I want you to draw a line and you know, I'm big about actually getting a piece of paper out and drawing a line from one side to the other, between what is there. And what's important to the company and your employee experience, and you're going to find gaps and you're gonna find things that have absolutely no value on one of those levels.

Melissa Anzman (15:48): And we know that we have to still ask that question. Now earlier I shared why having your leaders like own engagement, right? Having them responsible for the action plan is a bad idea, but I want to talk through, um, how you can use best practices to tackle your engagement surveys. Remembering that the way we have to think about employee engagement needs to shift a little bit. I know that we want our leaders to own this process. And I believe in that we need them to be accountable to it, but like people need more, they need more guidance from HR in this, even if it's just at a macro level, handing off the results that we have to our leaders to then manage or create action plans is not going to be enough. So here's how you can do that quickly and easily. The first step is to create your essential ism goal.

Melissa Anzman (16:45): Now I highly recommend the book essentialism by Greg McCown. Um, if you have no idea what I'm talking about, that's where your essential ism goal comes from. Um, take a little read on the book to just sort of understand, but the cliff notes version here is determine what are the singular focused and desired outcomes for increasing your employee engagement. This is your experience. Y so what we mean here is, is it's like, why is it critical for engagement to be increased in this area or at a high level at the total result, top line or the core values, whatever grouping you're looking at, why do we need people to be engaged here? What are we trying to solve? What are we trying to avoid? What are we trying to fix? And what is the one outcome that's necessary for engagement to be deemed high? And it sounds a little easy.

Melissa Anzman (17:43): It just means you aren't digging into the actual essential ism goal. Um, but I want you to dig deeper and say, so what, so here's the thing. If you skip this step, we're just going to continue to be giving reports about employee engagement, survey results. Like they are right now lacking strategic advice, delivery components, et cetera. So let's do this, let's do this because this helps set the stage as to why activities that we do in HR are important. Versus you're just doing something year after year because you have the budget for it. So your essential ism goal, like one of my clients could be driving. Employee engagement will help us become a better employer of choice in the industry and significantly decrease key talent turnover by 10%. So if that is your goal and whatever your company goal is, why engagement matters. Usually it's tied to bottom line to turnover, to key talent, um, to P like tenure, like whatever that is for your company, what is important?

Melissa Anzman (18:47): I want you to hang on to that. And because once you create that goal, everything that you do from this step, his leg, laser focus on how to decrease that number, that thing, and be, and achieve the goal. If the actions and activities, the, as part of your action plan for the survey, don't March towards that, then you leave them on the table and your essential ism goal is going to narrow your focus even more to ensure your results. It's going to feel strange because you're no longer thinking about getting everything more than 90% for each of those levels, or just going after your lowest scores and working on those as a company for the year ahead. But if it doesn't match your overall goal, if that category, if that question, if that thing isn't adding direct value, then it's not something that you should be focused on.

Melissa Anzman (19:43): The next thing I want you to look at is your outliers finding those. So if you start with that in centralism goal in mind, as you always, well, I want you to look at their results through the lens of identifying outliers, which things like what categories, which questions is your company doing really well to support the goal and which ones are not meeting expectations to do that, and look at things that are outside of the average result by category. And by question, your standard deviation is going to vary based on results. But I want you to look at the numbers with a questioning perspective. Is this interesting? Why is that different? That's not quite aligned like that is your outlier. So do that in this case, your outliers may show huge gaps in engagement, or they may have smaller skews, but an outlier is something, whether it's a high outlier or a low outlier, meaning it's higher than expected or lower than expected, they're going to show something important and it's sows you that you need to review it and consider it.

Melissa Anzman (20:48): You are going to re re like we can't do this for everything. So instead of having, if you've 12 categories of questions, or if you have 60 questions you're looking at, or what have you, we cannot increase engagement in 60 different questions. First of all, that's crazy second who has time for that? And third, those 60 questions are not all of top value and the same goes for those 12 categories. So instead if we're focusing on our essential ism goal for our company of what's truly important and why engagement matters for us, we are more focused. And we're more able to look at things like the outliers and understand them to, to know what to do with them going forward. Now, in the employee experience solution book, I have some examples of how to find the outliers and what to do with that. I think you know how to look for them, but the whole point here is getting you to step three, which is to probe deeper, which is digging in further to these outliers and into your results.

Melissa Anzman (21:55): Now, this is a little bit more work than we're currently doing, especially if you're one of those companies that get your results from your vendor and you pass that PDF or that PowerPoint onto your leaders and call it a day. But this is actually fun. And it can be really strategic work and have huge payoff. And especially if you're already paying for these results, which are why don't we actually take a look at them, spend about an hour or two of our life with this may be more if you're like me and nerdy about metrics, but dig into the topics and understand where these outliers are. Results from a company wide engagement survey are totally helpful, but you have to remember that they have a ton of biases and skews baked into them who participates, who doesn't, who feels safe, answering, honestly, who wouldn't for a hundred dollars.

Melissa Anzman (22:46): And so on. These are going to be those company wide ones are going to be your starting point, but you want to go deeper. And because we have our essential ism goal in mind, we're able to go deep in a focused manner versus being a mile wide and an inch deep, which doesn't actually influence change. We want to do some more one-on-one work either through focus groups, staff, meetings, lunch, and learns for feedback and so on, so that you can have more understanding around the results and get a conversation going between your employees and maybe even your leaders, so that you can ask about certain topics without any pressure. Once you've added a deeper touch point for your survey results. I want you to combine these with your outlier list so that you can capture additional insight here. And then finally, we're going to rank them.

Melissa Anzman (23:42): This is the action taking step for us. This is the fun part, because we've done all the necessary pre-work to make this pretty easy. We created our essential ism goal. We've created our outlier list. And from that list, yes, we have those items listed, you know, one, two, three, or what have you. And we've had supported insight from conversations under each one of them or verbatims, perhaps from the survey, if you haven't had those focus groups. So based on that, you are going to then rank based on what is most important for us to solve in order to meet our essential ism goal. And that's going to be different each year and each, you know, for each company, for each department, you can even do this, but you're going to just focus on those small list of outlier, things that need addressing that directly impact your essential ism goal.

Melissa Anzman (24:40): And what you're going to do is you're going to focus on solving that first one. That's it, we're focusing on one at a time. We're not having our top three or five. We're not creating action plans for everything. We are banging them out one by one, so that we're doing it of an order of importance to our essential ism goal. And we're not losing focus, notice what we're not going to do any longer. And we know that your managers aren't going to do this either, which is focus on those three categories to improve over the next year, stop that nonsense, or we're going to solve for the lowest hanging fruit items, which yeah. It's to solve for those, but they're low hanging fruit so we can solve those without a huge plan. And are they most important to your centralism goal? And my absolute favorite is we're not going to just pick our favorite one to solve and go forward.

Melissa Anzman (25:31): Okay. We are going to rank them based on essential ism goal, what our company cares about why it's important and going from there. And after we rank them, we're going to tackle because we're being strategic with our engagement factors and our action plan. We're starting one at a time and we're going to tackle it. We're going to create our own action plan for that specific one thing to ultimately increase engagement so we can meet that goal. So what's in that action plan. Well, I'm glad you asked, cause you know, I'm going to come back to the thing that makes all of this work. We have a lot of information to start with, you know, the specific question and category that needs your help. So you have the information, but now I want you to break it down, down into what actually impacts engagement, right? Which is your experience for, so for each one of those, you know, items that you're going to work on one at a time, my friend, you're going to create the know act, feel, and touch factor for that.

Melissa Anzman (26:32): And essentially no pun intended. What we're going to do is for each outlier, we are going to define what our employees need to know why it's important. Then we're going to say, what is the feeling we want to invoke here? Then the act, the action we need them to take and the touch. And once we have that in place, our action plan is actually actionable. So once we have that in place, so we are able to take steps forward intentionally through the employee experience lens, to impact actual employee engagement results. And this can be done at the macro level as the company. And you can help your leaders take ownership and accountability to do that with their own results on the micro level. So we're still utilizing all the information and insights that we're getting, but we're creating action plans around first, what actually matters to the company based on what we need our employees to do, based on what our culture needs are, what our employees needs are.

Melissa Anzman (27:39): All the things that we have been told are important. And then we are accomplishing things in a strategic, intentional manner. One at a time before we move forward. And with this focus approach, you and your leaders are not going to sort of be lost in it. They're not going to have a ton of things to focus on, which means they focus on nothing, but you're going to be able to go deep with that one activity to ensure true engagement, which again will deliver your focused results on your essential ism goal, which also increases actual engagement. Now I mentioned a book a little bit ago about how I have a story to tell, and that was the 1001 things about employee engagement to get employees engaged. I've used that book before. And in fact, I took a low performing engagement group and made it lower by a Bismal numbers.

Melissa Anzman (28:37): And I talk about this all the time, because this is how I realized that trying to impact engagement without the experiential factors is never going to work. So there are some great things that we know how to do, but the problem is the way we've been solving them, hasn't been strategic or intentional enough when we combine it with the employee experience. So I urge you to take a different view of your employee engagement survey results through the lens of the employee experience through a focused approach so that you can actually move the needle and finally increase that thing called employee engagement. This podcast is brought to you by bettHR microsites with your HR budgets being cut and you being on the hunt for ways to do more with less. Why not consider a total rewards or benefits microsite to not only increase your employee experience, but also deliver increased value at half the cost.

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