Engaging employees the right way

This post first appeared in DNA India on August 24th, 2017.

If you are working or have ever worked for a large organisation, you know the familiar scenario with employee engagement. There is usually an annual or even a once in one-and-a-half year jamboree called the employee satisfaction survey. The leadership rolls it out with much fanfare. HR starts driving managers to “encourage” their team members to fill in the surveys. Multiple emails fly around asking managers to ensure that “our team” or “our region” has the highest percentage of completion of these surveys. The completion percentage of the survey itself becomes a metric that HR can flaunt or use as their KPI at the end of the year.

If that isn’t enough, there is the actual survey itself. Since the survey is done once in a blue moon, it tries to cover as many facets as possible with the result that there are typically anywhere between 12 (if you are lucky) and 75 (for most of the unlucky ones) questions that employees have to answer. I have done these before and found that by the time employees hit the 35th question, they would be in autopilot mode, with the answers increasingly being chosen from a random distribution.

Once the surveys are done and HR has patted itself on the back for ensuring a 99.x% completion rate, the surveying agency takes a couple of months to put together all the data into a report that they then pass on to the HR team. The HR team, in turn, mulls over the report trying to identify the hidden nuggets that can be shared and the much larger nuggets that needed to be kept from the overall population. Once this is done, they present their findings to the executive board along with a set of action items which the board approves. Only post this, does the HR team actually start working on the action plans. This whole process can take anywhere from 3-6 months post the survey.

Now consider a scenario where managers have access to all the data in real time. They can see what is going on in their respective teams. They can identify areas for improvement and have anonymous conversations with their teams to come up with solutions to challenges that employees face. They can then set up action plans which are transparent to their teams as well as to their managers, cascading up all the way to the top. They can specify target goals to be achieved, say in terms of scores for a particular category. What if the system tracks progress towards these goals in an automated way and tells them whether they have achieved their goals or not? Isn’t this a much nicer way to make sure that organisations respond to their employees’ concerns? What if I were to tell you that this is not in the realm of fantasy but that there actually are systems that can enable organisations to do just that?