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Are Your Engagement Initiatives Bearing Fruit?

Every organization should implement some sort of assessment program to make sure their efforts are tracking and paying off

By Andrew Mazer

We all know that Enterprise Engagement isn’t a short-term project, it’s a continuous process of launching new initiatives and refining existing programs to meet the challenges of a constantly changing business environment and the evolving roles of employees. Because engagement programs require both financial and human resources, every organization should implement some sort of assessment program to make sure their efforts are tracking and paying off.

Assessments give companies the insights they need to avoid inconsistent interactions with their stakeholders – employees, customers, partners and suppliers. Poor engagement at any interaction point can tarnish brands, damage reputations and adversely affect the bottom line.


Engagement assessments utilize surveys to measure progress against key benchmarks. Many organizations are using surveys to measure employee satisfaction, but an engagement assessment focuses on areas like commitment to helping the company succeed, awareness of an organization’s goals and messaging, willingness to promote the company using social media and to what extent employees exceed job expectations.

According to engagement consultant Kevin Sheridan, there are five key drivers of engagement that assessment should measure:

  1. Recognition. To what extent do employee feel their efforts are appreciated and acknowledged?
  2. Career Development. Does the organization make it a priority to encourage job growth and skills development among employees?
  3. Quality of Management. Do managers and executives work with employees in a positive and constructive manner, coaching them and helping them succeed?
  4. Strategy and Mission. Do workers understand the overall mission and how they contribute to achieving it?
  5. Job Content. Are workers empowered to make decisions about how they execute their tasks?

An effective survey provides insight into the precise reasons why your engagement programs are succeeding or lagging. If structured correctly, an assessment can identify whether poor engagement is due to a faulty recognition program or management issues, for instance.


It’s possible to find generic, one-size-fits-all engagement surveys online. It’s also relatively easy to design your own engagement survey and use tools like SurveyMonkey to poll employees or other groups. But beware of falling into the trap of the quick and easy solution, says Bob Kelleher, President of The Employee Engagement Group, a consulting firm in Woburn, MA.

“The biggest mistake companies make is trying to create their own survey,” says Kelleher. “They’re not survey experts. Moreover, there’s also the issue of trust – if employees know it’s their own companies that are managing the survey, you’ll often get a much lower participation rate, because of employee concerns about confidentiality.”

Designing a custom assessment survey that can identify whether your engagement efforts are effective (or even harmful) requires skill and expertise. “Because engagement is tightly correlated with turnover, productivity, customer satisfaction and retention, you want to design the questions to be specific to the client’s business,” says Bill Schiemann, CEO of NJ-based Metrus Group. “Highly validated metrics can shed light on where training and growth opportunities are the key drivers, and where other factors are key, such as recognition or how well managers are communicating.”

The best assessment surveys are succinct, yet deliver enough detail to support decision-making. “A company may be doing a great job conveying its mission, but do a lousy job of giving performance feedback or managing its rewards system,” says Kelleher. “A survey that’s designed for your organization’s specific needs will help you determine if there are unhealthy places in your culture where there’s little employee recognition or transparency in communication.”

Be mindful that an assessment survey is just a first step. “It’s a waste to put a lot resources into conducting a survey if you’re not prepared to follow through with effective action,” says Shannon Vincent, an advisor at Avatar Solutions, a leading provider of employee engagement surveys. “An effective survey should be a strategic priority; it gives employees a voice and provides the organization with an opportunity to respond with action.”

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While some experts recommend performing comprehensive assessments every 12 or 18 months, others advocate more frequent ‘pulse’ surveys. Although much less detailed than a 60- or 80-question assessment, pulse surveys keep the conversation on hot topics going and are a great way to validate that the changes your organization is making are having the desired impact. Pulse surveys are also valuable after events like departmental restructuring or a merger/acquisition by highlighting areas where trust needs to be rebuilt or partnerships strengthened.

“We live in a data-driven, real-time world, and pulse surveys with two to four questions are great for doing a temperature check of your organization’s culture,” says David Bator, VP of Client Strategy at TemboStatus a Canadian engagement survey software company. “Our system turns data into actionable insight – HR can see participation and evaluate employee sentiments in real-time, and employees can compare their opinions with their peers, which relieves having to rush to crunch numbers and report back.”

TemboStatus’ ‘secret sauce’ is an algorithm that identifies the three key areas an organization should focus on for maximum positive impact on the bottom line. A new ‘outlier analysis’ feature highlights the three most positive and three most negative outliers to identify unexpected, granular insights.


An engagement assessment takes a snapshot of a company at a specific point in time. To understand how much progress is occurring, you will want to compare the results with these benchmarks:

  • Your organization’s historical record. What trending have you seen since the last survey?
  • Other results within your organization. How engaged is your Accounting department compared to Customer Service? How does your western region compare with your eastern one?
  • Other organizations in your industry. Is your company more or less engaged than the industry norm?

Comparing results against your own organization’s history is the most important benchmark, says Schiemann. “Organizations need to track their progress and set goals against where they’ve been. It’s more useful to determine that you’re moving toward better engagement than to focus on absolute scores and compare them to other companies.”

Analyzing engagement levels across an organization is also critical, says Kelleher: “By looking at engagement scores between different departments and geographies, you can do real apples-to-apples comparisons and identify where leadership deficits or other issues may be present.”

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Engagement Assessment: A Best Practices Checklist

Before You Start

  • Do NOT do an engagement assessment unless your organization is committed to acting on the results. “The last thing you want to do is raise expectations and do nothing,” says Bob Kelleher.
  • Do NOT try to create your own survey. Employees worry about confidentiality when surveyed by their employers – plus it requires expertise to frame questions properly, crunch the data quickly and reliably, and interpret the findings in a meaningful way. A benefit of using a third party is that they can enable you to compare results against other companies in their industry or geography. “We can help clients compare by job functions and the rate of change over time,” says Shannon Vincent. “It can be powerful to see how far your organization has progressed compared to peer organizations.”

Designing the Survey

  • If the survey is comprehensive and issued every year or two, include enough questions to support key decisions your company expects to make. Many experts suggest limiting the assessment survey to 70 questions.
  • With today’s technology it’s easy to ask everyone in a target group to participate – the larger the sample size, the more credible the data.
  • Make the survey user-friendly and break results down to deliver granular findings so individual departments/geographies can see how they perform compared to others.
  • Do NOT spend a lot of money collecting data; vendors should be able to collect data economically.
  • Remember: the lowest scoring areas are not necessarily the most important to address. “You have to consider context,” says Bill Schiemann. “If your company is downsizing, you have to expect that people will rate job security low.”

Choosing a Vendor

  • Partner with an assessment vendor who can tailor the survey to your company’s specific needs and provide guidance on where to best focus your efforts to improve engagement.
  • Do NOT choose a vendor based on how attractively they package the survey results. Instead, look for a vendor who is a thought leader in engagement and who offers quality consulting to help you follow-up effectively.
  • If it’s important to validate the changes your company is making on a continual basis, look for a vendor who understands pulse surveys and how to interpret data quickly to support fast decision-making.

Have an Implementation Strategy

Chances are your engagement survey will reveal opportunities and challenges. You’ll get the best results if you have a clear implementation strategy to address whatever those findings might indicate, including, as noted above:

  • Recognition. Do you have a recognition strategy that achieves the needs of your organization?
  • Career Development. Do you have a plan in place to address concerns about career opportunities?
  • Quality of Management. Do you have a plan in place to coach, development or potentially change the role of managers who de-motivate employees?
  • Strategy and Mission. Do you have an overall communications and learning strategy that makes sure people are aligned with your goals and plan?
  • Job Content. Do you have a means in place to empower employees to have greater control of their jobs or to contribute in other ways to the organization’s mission through ideas or other efforts?

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