Candies or Charcoal: What is Santa rating your engagement skills as?

kudos_blog_leadbanner_-01

You better watch out, you better not cry
Better not pout, I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is comin’ to town
He’s making a list and checking it twice
Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice
Santa Claus is comin’ to town

(Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town, Lonestar)

Children around the world are told all year round that if they misbehave, On Christmas day Santa will skip the candies and give them charcoal instead.When companies carry out their annual employee engagement surveys, some managers too get their lumps of charcoal. Surveys and studies comes back with the clear message that ‘People leave managers, not companies

Continue reading “Candies or Charcoal: What is Santa rating your engagement skills as?”

Ongoing Conversations: Time to Bring Stay Interviews to the Fore

interview: /ˈɪntəvjuː/ noun
a meeting of people face to face, especially for consultation.

It is that time of the year. Annual performance appraisals are underway. The dreaded bell-curves will be created. Feedback sessions will be held with employees and then the resignations will come pouring in. And here is something that I have always found hilarious: when employees leave they are asked to attend an exit interview – or worse fill out a form – conducted by a junior employee who clearly would be just checking some boxes.

So lets see: there are multiple rounds of interviews when the employee applies to the company for a position. A single (perfunctory) round when the employee leaves. And here is ‘funny’ part – no “interviews” during her entire stint, which might run into decades! Somehow like a bad marriage the conversation just seems to dry up between the employee and her manager(s) till it really is too late.KwenchBlog_StayInterview_Banner1_

Most managers seem to be flummoxed when they get the resignation email (or instant message at times) from their team members. They seem to have no idea how the employee really felt about the work they were doing and often get upset about the resignation. Reactions range from ‘Nobody is indispensable’ to the nasty – refusing to accept the resignation, refusing to release the resource, making the exit of the employee as painful as possible citing pending projects that absolutely need to be completed.

The really smart managers avoid this situation by actively engaging their employees in a continuously ongoing conversation about their work, the organization, their engagement levels, challenges they face and everything else in between. That is, these managers conduct stay interviews regularly, get the pulse of what the employees are thinking and act on it!

First the Do-Not’s:

Do not couple with performance reviews: This is tempting and in fact many companies already do it;  but in my opinion it is not a good idea. An annual performance review in itself is an inefficient event and understandably stressful for both the employee and the manager – siince there would be a lot of ground to cover and there is bound to be differences of opinion of what did or did not happen in that time. Besides the employee is going to be focused on a single number – the rating on the bell curve and would hardly be giving honest and unbiased opinions on how they feel about work and the organization.

Do not outsource: It might be tempting to setup an online survey or tell HR to conduct the stay interviews, but that simply defeats the purpose. The primary objective of a stay interview is to determine the engagement level and immediate concerns of the team member – something that is best understood (and appreciated) by the immediate manager. Immediate supervisor(s) or someone higher up in the direct chain of command of the employee must conduct stay interviews.

Do not cherry-pick: There is no two ways about this. You have to talk to everyone in your team while doing the stay interviews. If you talk only to a select set of people – what ever be the criterion you decided, it will be perceived as discriminatory. If at this point you are wondering about how to talk to the 50 odd people reporting to you, then you have a different problem. If your span of control is more than 10, fix that first!

 

KwenchBlog_StayInterview_Banner2_ 

Now the Do’s:

Do look for what “makes ‘em tick”: Talk to everyone on your team, especially the high performers and try to ascertain attributes that make them successful. If the only common thing you can find is that they are all smokers and join you in the smoker’s zone, then you might want to take a deep look inwards. Jokes apart, find out what motivates the top performers about working for the company, how do they tackle the challenges that others are not able to, etc. This information is not only helpful for you to guide the less engaged employees but also useful when deciding new hires.

The magic of engagement does depend a lot on the personality match of the employee with the organizational culture. For example if the culture is in-your-face-aggressive then hiring the most qualified introvert won’t really help.

Do use the same questions: Ask everyone you are talking to the same set of questions. Only then will you be able to determine the differences across top performers and the rest and be able to help the others engage better.

Do wrap it up quickly: Don’t extend the exercise beyond a couple of weeks at maximum. If you take a few months to get around to talking to everyone lots of things would have changed – most of which would be out of your control. The stay interviews are like a snapshot of the present and it should be done quickly enough to be a true representation of what your team is thinking.

Do close the loop: The sales professionals live by the ABC mantra – Always Be Closing. Well it applies to you too – take the feedback you receive (directly and what the collated data tells you) seriously. The zone of engagement depends on the overlap of what the organization and the employee wants, and if your insights can help increase the overlap – everyone wins! (See the figure above)

The final word: Remember, stay interviews give you an opportunity to connect with and take genuine interest in what motivates and engages your team members. If you come across as just ticking off boxes, then a golden chance would be missed. You couldn’t do much worse than having a 1-hour conversation, take notes and then do absolutely nothing.

 

 

DIY Employee Engagement Surveys (Part 2): Moving beyond Analysis Paralysis

AnalysisParalysis_Congratulations! You have completed the task of designing and rolling out the survey. It has been a hectic few days while you kept things going smoothly. Now the posters and mailers exhorting people to tell what they really feel are pulled down. The entire organization has stepped up and answered the questions diligently over the last few days.

You whistle a preppy tune as you walk into office and settle down in your chair to take a look at the data. But before that you see that you have a mail from the HR Head: ‘Congrats on getting the survey done, can’t wait to get our long pending Engagement issues fixed based on your insights. Meet me tomorrow.’

Your heart skips a beat.

Tomorrow? Actionable insights? In one day?

This is a common enough situation that once the first hill of designing and conducting a survey is done; senior executives want things to move fast. By the very act of conducting a survey, you have raised the expectations of both senior management and the employees that ‘something’ will be done – and fast.

And that is where you, the survey and data expert, have to separate the wheat from the chaff. (Don’t be perturbed; this is exactly how experts are crowned.)

 

Sidestepping Data Pukes:

It is fairly straightforward to check the statistical validation of your testable questions. Stats101 at your B-school (you were paying attention weren’t you?) or even some high-school background will suffice. (or dust off your old statistics text book and brush up on Mean, Median, Standard Deviations and Confidence Intervals)

The time consuming part is analyzing the responses to your open-ended questions. Some of the sites like Surveymonkey provide you with a decent free-text analysis in their paid version. There are tools available online that will easily crunch through a few MB of data and spit out what seems to be on top of people’s minds. At the extreme end if you are really on a shoestring budget, import free-text into an Excel sheet. Split Text to Columns, remove the ‘noisy’ words and do a frequency sort. Voila! You have a (pretty imperfect) list of top concerns – but at least you know where to start focusing your attention.

But that is hardly enough. Quite often this is where executives (and consultants) stumble. An elaborate report with responses to every question represented in fancy looking frequency distributions is dumped onto a bewildered HR Executive.

At the end of the day this report has little or no value. It is just a “data-puke” which represents text in graphical format and conveys little in terms of insights or actionable information.

 

Slice and Dice:

The real insights won’t come from presenting data, but from looking at it in intelligent ways. In a way your data’s ability to actually provide you with intelligent insights has a lot to do with how well you have thought through your ‘research questions’. (No shortcuts here, sorry!)

Some of the intelligent ways to look for insights is to segment the responses based on criterion that have bearing on engagement drivers.

  • A Generational Slice: Todays workforce is like a melting pot of seemingly entirely different eras. The ‘independence’ babies are retiring. Gen-X is moving into senior management roles. Gen-Y is starting to constitute a substantial chunk of the workforce in companies. Chances are there are substantial differences in the responses given by people in each of these cohorts – not just because of their past experiences, their understanding of how things are or should be, but also because of what motivates them, and their perception towards concepts like collaboration, team-work, transparency and organizational loyalty.

Any survey dashboard, which looks at the workforce as one homogenous entity, is going to get it wrong. Each generation needs a different shade of engagement actions for it to resonate and extracting that insight from your data can be a very useful first step.

  • Department/Geographical Dice: Senior management likes managers who deliver business results. But they may not be the ones who are good at engaging their teams. It might be possible to obtain short-term gains derived by driving teams hard and establishing an authoritarian management style, but it is sure to hurt in the long term. Your survey might just throw up such ‘surprises’ and a deep dive into data will uncover such managers. Such insights are priceless in helping top management correct employee engagement snafus brought about by perceptions.
  • A Gender cut: Very useful when used in the right way. Very easy to get it all wrong and spoil your entire analysis. Differences in Gender attitude towards the research questions have to be dealt with correctly. Validate the data and stick to what the data is actually saying. It is easy to let popular perceptions or personal beliefs cloud your judgment while presenting the analysis. But having a proper understanding of what each genders perception of issues are will go a long way in establishing a truly equal opportunity workplace – with facilities and processes that help employee rise to their true potential.

Beware of Pyrite:

These just three of the possible ‘cuts’ you can make of the data. I must warn you that this can be pretty addictive and there is a risk of getting carried away and starting to look at the data from all kind of angles. Yes, those angles exist, but always bear in mind that at the end of it, any data/insight you present should be actionable within a realistic time frame. Don’t let this become an exercise to show number crunching or graphing abilities.

Presenting an ‘insight’ on the lines ‘67% of Gen-Y employees are disengaged and more than 80% of those disengaged feel disconnected with their manager, feel that the company is not working on correct technologies, is not competitive in pay and doesn’t have adequate work-life balance’ is liable to get you strange looks.

The real nuggets of insight are what matter. Fool’s gold is easy to find, but can send everyone on a wild-goose chase with nothing to show for all the effort.

 

Walk the Talk:

You have done a survey; you have analyzed the data and now its time to commit to action. The absolute worst thing you could do is taking no action. The trust deficit inaction would create will be nearly impossible to overcome.

  • Communicate: Before setting up teams to plan and monitor actions, communicate the results and insights from the survey – and ensure that top management gets involved in talking about it. Mailers, Intranet blog posts, Town-hall meetings the options are endless. The channel does not matter, the message does. When senior leadership is seen standing up talking about issues that are affecting engagement, insights they have gathered and what they plan to do about it, employees are reassured that the exercise was not done to tick off some checkbox in a ‘Best Employer’ participation requirement.
  •  Plan and Communicate: One way to make sure most (if not all) bases are covered is to set up a team that will plan the action calendar and monitor progress. Ideally this team should have representatives from all relevant cohorts (Generational, Geographical, Departmental, Gender) and be lead by some one in senior management. (You will need some firepower to get things moving at times when the usual priorities of sales, costs, projects etc. take over.) To keep the motivation within the organization, establish a transparent communication process, which shows what is planned, when and how much has been achieved.
  •  Check the Pulse: The follow-up detailed survey should not be done for at-least a year because the impact of most initiatives will take a long time to be felt. But pulse surveys – short surveys covering a few key questions (essentially a subset of your larger survey) are very useful in getting a sense of what people are feeling about the actions being taken and also providing positive reinforcement that the organization is serious about making change. To the team in overseeing the changes, these surveys provide valuable input to do any necessary midcourse-correction. Pulse surveys should avoid new or differently worded questions or it will be difficult to compare with previously obtained results.

 

These guidelines should help you design, conduct and analyze an insightful survey. But remember that a survey is a tool, like the thermometer. You might use an old mercury based one to get an approximate feel or a new digital one to get double-digit accuracy.

What really matter are the diagnosis and the treatment that follows.

 

Acknowledgements: 

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

DIY Employee Engagement Surveys: Bootstrapping your way to insights. (Part 1)

SurveyInsights_

Tell me what’s on your mind/ What you feel, what do you believe/What is inside you that makes you scream? / There’s something I need to say before you walk away – Tell Me, Failed Flight

The very first (and sometimes the only thing) most organizations do when they embark on the Employee Engagement journey is to conduct a survey. An in-depth and well designed organization wide survey still is the best way to capture what employees think and establish a baseline for current levels of engagement. (Till neuroscience catches up, but that’s still some way off)

Do you need an outside ‘expert’ to come do your survey? Maybe. But that depends on various factors.

How large and diverse is your organization? If you are a multinational spread across multiple countries with a large multicultural workforce, then maybe you are better off getting someone who truly knows his stuff. Getting an external source also usually gives you the added advantage of providing industry benchmarks.

Do you have resources to pull off a detailed survey? If you are a small or middle-sized organization, chances are your tech team is already stretched to the limit with work. There is always some new feature to roll out, some bug to fix. Telling them to setup the required tech for an employee engagement survey might not go down too well. On the other hand there are enough online resources that let you conduct your survey quite professionally with minimal effort. (Surveymonkey, Google Apps are two good options)

And the third (perhaps the most important question irrespective of size/budget/resources), do you know what to look for? Or rephrase it as do you know how to design a good survey?

To help answer that third question, let me dive a bit deeper into the two aspects of the survey that will determine its efficacy and ultimately determine ROI of years of effort and money that the company will put into Employee Engagement.

In-Depth:

The first question that most people try to tackle is how many questions does one ask employees? Are 5 enough, or do we need 50? And then the next question pops up: About what all aspects do we ask questions on?

If these questions are popping into your head – Stop! You are making the mistake of “putting the cart before the horse”. Before thinking of questions, focus on the goal. This means thinking deep into what factors you think drive employee engagement in your organization and then determining what about those drivers are you seeking to establish from the survey.

Start off by capturing the broad and general goals of the survey. For example you might come up with something like “We want to discover how employees feel about: (a) Compensation (b) Work Life Balance (c) Management … and so on.

If you are a startup in growth mode, Work-Life balance may not be a smart thing to ask employee about. (Chances are very few of them have anything remotely close to a balance. It comes with the territory of a startup) You might be better off checking if employees feel they are aligned on the larger goal because that is a critical success factor. But if you are fifteen year old mid-sized family run firm whose top-management insists they still ‘think like a start-up’ then Work-Life balance might be definitely something you want to think about.

This is the first stage in designing your survey and likely will take a few days and multiple iterations to cover all areas that might have an impact on employee engagement in your organization.

And Well-Designed:

Once we establish the goals of the survey, we take a deep breath; get a big cup of our favourite brew (best to stick to coffee and tea at this point); roll up shirtsleeves and dive deep into designing the survey!

The next step is for you to establish the ‘research’ questions. These are not the actual questions, but the questions that you are seeking to answer. If you have established the goals of the study this part should be a snap.

There are essentially two types of questions (statistically speaking)

  • Testable Questions (or Close ended Questions): These are the questions, which can be eventually boiled down to a point that can be validated/answered by a statistical test. For example a check to establish any significant relationship between the age of an employee and engagement is a testable question.
  • Non-Testable Questions (or Open ended Questions): These on the other hand are, you guessed it, questions that cannot be answered by performing a statistical test on the responses. They are typically used to collect information for which there could be a multitude of responses – for example, ‘What are things employees would like changed to improve their productivity?’

A good survey will usually have a mix of both close-ended and open-ended questions. Too many close-ended questions risk rendering your survey presumptive, since you will have to come up with all options and won’t have a chance to capture ideas and opinions. Too many open-ended questions might make your analysis phase a nightmare since dealing with free-text is anything but easy when the survey has hundreds or thousands of respondents.

“… the null hypothesis is never proved or established, but is possibly disproved, in the course of experimentation. Every experiment may be said to exist only to give the facts a chance of disproving the null hypothesis.” R. A. Fisher

In the final stage before you start thinking of questions, you need to convert each of your ‘research’ questions into a null hypothesis.

A research question ‘Is there a (significant) relationship between active mentoring by seniors and employee engagement?’

becomes a research hypothesis just by flipping the order of the first two words, ‘There is a (significant) relationship between active mentoring by seniors and employee engagement.”

One cannot test a hypothesis in statistics, so we convert the research-hypothesis into a null hypothesis: “There is NO (significant) relationship between active mentoring by seniors and employee engagement”

The corresponding question in your survey might be “Do you feel more engaged with your job role when you are mentored by a senior resource?” and have a response option on a Likert Scale with Five or Seven levels. A typical five-level Likert item is as follows:

  • Strongly Disagree
  • Disagree
  • Neither Agree nor Disagree
  • Agree
  • Strongly Agree

You might choose to remove the “neutral” option (c), and create an even-point scale to use a “forced choice” method.

Ironing out the creases:

When you are done designing your survey, there is one least thing to be done before you unleash it on the organization – get rid of or correct the confusing statements in there. When you have been immersed in creating the survey for days together, you might put statements in the survey that might seem obvious to you but might be confusing to an employee. And in any decent sized organization there will be no chance to correct it once the survey is live.

There are essentially two ways you can pre-empt this (in the best possible way).

  • Use Statistics (again): Send out your survey to a sample of 30 or more people and see their responses (and feedback). Make changes to those areas of the survey that seem confusing to the respondents.
  • Take a hands-on approach: Select a few respondents who are representative of the various segments in your organization (Age/Gender/Role) and be present when they take the survey. This will enable them to ask you questions when they are stuck or unsure of something in the survey. Any question a respondent asks is a defect – in the final version there will be no opportunity for respondents to ask questions. You can then fix those issues right away with a tight feedback loop.

My, my, just look at the time:

One last point about your survey – keep note of the time people take on an average to complete your survey. 2-3 minutes seems to be the sweet spot. Anything more than that and chances are your respondents will get fatigued and just click through without really paying attention. Less is better – as long as your respondents don’t feel underwhelmed and start to wonder what just happened when the Thank-You page pops-up. (The perception of a shallow survey can do more damage to your employee engagement efforts than you assume)

These broad guidelines should help you design a thorough Employee Engagement (or any other) survey for your organization. In the next (and concluding) part on DIY Employee Engagement Surveys, I will talk about the post-survey analysis.