I have taken the Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey since its inception in 2003. My experience with this annual ritual spans three agencies that have cabinet-level status. Despite this huge investment of human and financial capital into a well-meaning exercise, I have yet to see one credible example of how this yearly examination helps employees bring discretionary effort to their work.
Dave Weisbeck of Visier makes the long overdue case that annual engagement surveys should be a thing of the past. They are relics left over from a 20th century workplace that does not exist anymore. Besides being unfit for 21st century workers, they are fraught with inherent bias. Here are some reasons why.
Annual inventories of anything rely heavily on the here and now. It is a 20 minute momentary snapshot of an approximate 260 day work year. You could be having a great day or a bad day when you take the survey. Things may be going well with your boss or going south when you click the send button. These are all influences that could skew your responses to engagement survey questions.
We do it all the time. Engagement surveys are no exception. We manipulate things and systems for our own preconceived outcomes. You want to impress you supervisor so you inflate your responses to reflect more positivity in the workplace than actually exists. Your manager made a good faith effort to improve team morale this year but you decided to stick it to him/her due to one bad interaction.
According to Mark Hammer from Bloomfire, there are other drawbacks to annual engagement surveys:
Hard to Make Actionable
Annual engagement questionnaires pull in a lot of data across diverse business units. It is challenging to take this information and make sense of it throughout the entire organization. What plays in marketing may not play in finance and what makes sense in human resources does not fit in information technology. An annual survey may answer the “what” but rarely answers the “why.”
This is my biggest objection to the annual engagement survey. Why do we rely so heavily on the opinions of people who do not have the guts to tell us their identity? Why can’t we step into the sunshine of full disclosure, put our money where our mouth is and say this is what is wrong with the organization and I am putting my name on the dotted line to do something about it.
If we would make these assessments more frequently and out in the open it would enable the examination to feel less like “big brother is watching” and more like an “everyone is in this together.”
If an organization does not know who the people are they need to have the conversation with to improve the organization, how will anything ever change?
Shall we follow the advice of Dave Weisbeck of Visier? Let’s turn annual engagement surveys into more frequent pulse surveys. In much the same way the doctor checks your pulse during a physical, these surveys allow leaders to monitor the “heart beat” of the organization. That way we:
• Don’t overwhelm our employees with a massive data dump.
• Get real time feedback instead a snapshot of the workplace.
• Obtain up to the moment results.
• Change engagement from a once a year routine into a year round activity.
Let’s have engagement conversations more than once a year. That way maybe we can realize engagement in a way where one day, we do not have to talk about it at all.