5 engagement questions we need to be asking

By in Engagement
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Employee engagement surveys around the world have begun to look disturbingly similar. I use the term ‘disturbing’ because I have two major complaints against these surveys. Firstly, none of them provide the answers I’m really looking for. Last week, I spent a frustrating amount of time scouring dozens of engagement surveys run by organizations. What I noticed was a stark similarity in the way these surveys shy away from asking difficult questions. Some organizations provide a fresh breath of air by asking tough questions and pushing employees to think, but these are few and far in between.

Yes, I definitely want to know if an employee would recommend the organization to his friends and family. I am also interested to find out if she feels that the management is effective or if her career aspirations are being met. However, what I really need is answers to questions that will truly check the health of the organization and the management team. I need an engagement survey to ask questions that make people uncomfortable; and if there is anything that my experience with surveys has taught me, it is that surveys do not like uncomfortable questions. They have a sneaky tendency to modify questions. The moment we feel that the question could spark a revolution, it is phrased in a way that would make an employee think twice before answering. They are often left feeling unsure if they’ve understood the question right.

So here are five questions that I would really like the answers to:

  1. Do you trust your manager to take the right decisions?
  2. Does your manager trust you?
  3. Do you think the organization does a good job of identifying top performers?
  4. Do you think the organization does a good job of identifying bottom performers?
  5. Does the organization know who to promote and who not to promote?

Of course, I’d like the opinion of employees on many more, but these are a good place to start. There are, without a doubt, multiple arguments that one could make against including such questions. However, given the many ways to measure the health of the organization and its practices, listening to what the people have to say is probably the most important. I would go as far as to say that you could throw out all of the existing questions and it won’t make an ounce of a difference if you replace them with questions that really matter.

My second complaint with surveys is that they conveniently shy away from addressing ownership. The beauty of surveys is that they can influence the way an employee thinks about engagement. Let’s take for example the question, “I have regular 1:1s with my manager.” It is extremely easy for a respondent to walk away from this question thinking that it’s the manager’s responsibility to set up 1:1 meetings. Change it to, “I set up regular 1:1 meetings with my manager,” and notice the mind-shift. Similarly, change the question of receiving appreciation once a week to ask how many times the respondent has appreciated someone in the organization in the past week. Framing has an impact that is often under-leveraged in engagement surveys.

I’m not surprised, though. Isn’t this what usually happens when HR professionals create a survey in isolation, without the assistance of data scientists or scientific research? Any researcher would point out that most surveys have extremely poor validity and rarely reflect true sentiments on the floor. It’s time that we begin to understand the power of surveys and put science and thought behind it instead of running them just because we must.

I also wonder if employee engagement surveys need to be anonymous but let’s save that discussion for another time, shall we?

By ankita poddar
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