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Complete Guide to Running Employee Surveys: Part 4 - Action

How should you go about action planning to get the most from your employee survey, boosting employee engagement future participation?

This blog, on action planning and management, is the fourth and final part of our series of blogs on running employee surveys.

Taking action on survey results is critical for employee engagement

Your employee survey results are in. The clock is ticking. People will soon start asking about action planning. And they should, right? That shows that they care. So, are you going to be ahead of the game and seen as taking a measured, proactive approach; or will you be behind the curve and reacting to pressure?

Without action, your employee survey is pointless. In fact, it might be worse than that and drive disengagement. After all, if people have taken the time to give you their feedback it’s plain rude to ignore it. Add to that the time, effort and money that you’ll have wasted running the survey. Yet. It happens.

So how should you go about action planning to maximise the benefits of your employee survey, both for employee engagement in general and for future participation in the process?

Plan for action planning in advance

When it comes to acting on your results, the first tip is that you need to plan your approach to taking action before you launch the survey. Otherwise your response will be slower, less clear and ultimately, less convincing. So, you employee survey should be governed, and that includes:

  • Who will interpret the results?
  • How will the actions be determined and prioritise them?
  • How will ownership be decided? By whom?
  • Where will actions be stored and monitored? By whom?

Making these decisions in advance of launching your survey will make your like much easier after you’ve launched it.

Communicate the action planning process

You could communicate the timetable and outline process for action planning in advance of the survey. That would demonstrate to your people that the survey is part of a bigger plan that has been well-thought through and help build confidence in the process.

That must be weighed up against the simplicity and clarity of a message that focuses on the opening and closing dates of the survey and emphasises the importance of participation.

If you choose the latter, share the plan as soon as the survey has closed. Start by thanking employees for their participation, share the response rates, and outline the next steps. By doing so you will build accountability and increase the likelihood that your survey will deliver business value.

Clearly communicate key results and insights

A key next step should be to highlight company-wide results and insights. While you might not yet know what the action plan looks like, this provides an opportunity to engage by highlighting what you would like to celebrate, as well as some potential areas of opportunity. Do you need to investigate some of these further to understand them fully? If so, say so. Manage the expectation and don’t create a vacuum for people to fill with their own reasons why you’re not doing anything.

Encourage and enable bottom up / operational action

We see a lot of debate about whether to take a top-down or a bottom-up approach to survey action planning, but would advise doing both, for different reasons. If you can quickly start a bottom-up process you can create ‘wins’ at an operational level, enabling people to influence their work environment feel and see some progress.

By being transparent with their teams and facilitating a session that team members to openly respond to the results and contribute to action planning, line managers can build trust and engagement.

A bottom-up process should begin with discussion of the results and what they mean from the team’s perspective:

  • What was surprising or expected about the results
  • What they don’t see, or weren’t asked about
  • What the team can celebrate or keep doing / stop and start
  • What the team can’t influence
  • What mitigating actions can they take?
  • What needs to be escalated to the next level (without encouraging unnecessary ‘upwards delegation’)

A well-planned and executed bottom-up action planning process can also provide additional insight to the more strategic, top-down process without adding excessive delay. We suggest taking an approach that encourages teams to take ownership of what they can, then carefully considering what to raise to their manager’s team, and so on.

Eventually, there will be action taken at each level in the organisation as well as passing up insights and issues that need attention – it’s then interesting to see what gets raised to the executive team!

AND consider strategic, top-down actions

While a bottom-up process gets the ball rolling, it can also give a bit of time for the executive team to take a more considered, strategic perspective. HR can play an important role as facilitators and advisors during strategic action planning, but accountability sit with business leaders.

At a strategic level ‘employee survey action planning’ is a bit of a misnomer. What’s more likely to come from an executive team is a number of broad objectives and / or initiatives that need to be carefully defined, scoped and planned. The kinds of questions that should be considered at a strategic level are different therefore, for example:

  • What broad issues does the data throw up?
  • Are there any business areas or demographics that need further attention?
  • What are the implications of any identified issues for the business and its vision / mission?
  • How could we respond to these implications? What are our broad options?
  • What further evidence / insights might we need?
  • Who would be an appropriate owner / sponsor for this (and why)?

Involve a diverse audience in solving ‘problems’

You will find that the planning process creates potential initiatives or projects that address less easily defined problems. This may be as true within operational teams as it is at senior or strategic levels.

These projects represent excellent opportunities to build engagement, by involving employees and enabling them to influence their work environment; recognising and bringing diverse perspectives and voices to stimulate more creative solutions; creating development opportunities; and stimulating cross-team collaboration.

Manage actions as ‘core’ activity

While action planning is likely to require dedicated workshops to take place, we strongly recommend that, wherever possible, they are integrated into existing management processes and viewed as ‘core’ activity.

By monitoring survey / engagement actions as part of a regular management team meeting, for example, or using the business’s normal task management tools, you make manging employee engagement part of managing the business and not an ‘add on’.

Communicate progress regularly

The potential risk associated with ‘normalising’ actions and projects arising from employee surveys is that people forget that any changes have come from their feedback. It’s important, therefore, to communicate continually on progress, making the link from employee feedback to strategic plans, change, and benefits delivered.

By providing regular updates as part of a continuous process of keeping people informed about what’s happening in the business, you will avoid the classic pitfall of rushing to tell people what you’ve done for them just before you launch the next survey. That’s as ineffective as it is obvious and can raise levels of cynicism exactly when you need it least!

Final thoughts

Taking action on employee feedback is critical to engagement but doesn’t always mean rushing to act. While actions that represent ‘quick wins’ absolutely should be taken and celebrated, all action without thought and reflection is likely to lead to short-term, transactional gains, but little long-term impact. A balance between short- and long-term (operational and strategic) action is therefore important.

As you can see it is communication is critical at every stage. It’s important not to see your survey as an event, but a process that has communication ‘baked in’.

We hope you've found our guide to running employee surveys useful and thought provoking. If you have any questions why not tweet @ThePXHub or drop us a message.

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