Ask the Dr. Article

Question from a Human Ressource Director at a Quebec SME

We are currently in a process of changing our organizational culture and we would like our employees to feel engaged. We want to improve productivity, to foster a culture focused on customer service, and to maintain a good working environment. Are there any tools that would help us reach these objectives while ensuring a good return on our investment, taking our limited financial flexibility into account?

This is an excellent question. First, a couple of observations: The objectives you have set are laudable but ambitious. Cultural change is a difficult process that can succeed only if we ensure the right conditions for success are in place. Furthermore, I think you are working towards objectives that can sometimes be contradictory: improving productivity and maintaining a good working environment are two elements that do not always go hand in hand. That said, there are ways to reach these objectives, and I would like to focus particularly on the last part of your question, about using tools to facilitate this process.

The ideal tool for this situation is the engagement survey. We have used this tool several times, notably in the context of major cultural changes. In every case, the information provided by the survey has played a central role both in making decisions and in implementing action plans.

First, the engagement survey allows you to get a read on your employees at a specific point in time. Survey technology now allows measuring many aspects while restricting questions to a reasonable number (usually fewer than 50). The surveys we use at the firm systematically cover three fundamental aspects that play a predominant role, not only in the day-to-day management of employees, but also in cultural changes:

  • The engagement index allows for verifying whether employees are engaged, i.e. whether they are proud to work for the organization, are satisfied with their workplace, want to stay with the organization, and if they would recommend the organization to other people. Engagement is critical in the context of cultural change because it will determine how much effort employees are willing to devote towards reaching the objectives set by the organization.
  • The performance index checks whether employees have the necessary means to achieve the set objectives. Employees may well be engaged, but then unable to offer their best performance because they lack the necessary tools.
  • The employee experience index measures how strongly employees feel or perceive themselves as being part of a team, how important they feel their job is, how happy and enthusiastic they are at work, and whether they have a sense of fulfillment.

Engagement surveys can also assess many other subjects. For example, in your case, it would make sense to measure the customer service level as your employees perceive it. Using this measure, you can determine whether employees feel that customer service is sufficient or whether they feel that improvement is also necessary. The answer to this question can be used to calibrate the changes you make to help employees improve this aspect. Furthermore, the survey can tackle many other elements, such as teamwork, workplace health and safety, the organizational vision, managers’ leadership skills, and so on. A thoughtful choice of elements to measure in a survey allows you to get a read on the organization and prepare you to intervene effectively.

At the same time, best practices indicate that the engagement survey will have no real impact unless two other conditions are implemented.

Use of an Action Plan

First, the survey results must be reflected in specific action plans. The tool we use at the firm can both generate and monitor action plans that are directly linked to aspects that have a major impact on employee engagement levels. Each organization, and even each manager, faces an environment and constraints specific to them. That’s why it is essential that action plans be adjusted according to these realities. A high-quality survey tool will make it possible to develop specific suggestions, which will take the elements with the greatest impact on engagement levels into account. Once action plans have been identified, they must be closely monitored to ensure that intentions are being implemented through concrete measures. Cultural change can be achieved only when all managers act in a concerted and directed way and when the organization follows up on implemented action plans.

Continuous Listening

Secondly, more organizations are recognizing the value of “continuous listening.” This approach encourages the use of mini-surveys (pulse surveys) to get a read on employees regarding a particular aspect. For example, in the context of cultural change, we are interested in periodically checking whether actions taken by the organization result in the expected changes.

Understanding the Investment and Its returns

Finally, it is clear that using engagement surveys involves a certain cost for an organization. However, it is now possible to access a range of different survey solutions that any organization can benefit from.

That being said, it is important to understand that using this technology is, first and foremost, an investment for organizations. Indeed, several studies, including those conducted by the IBM Institute, have shown that improving one or more fundamental indices generates significant return on investment. For example, we know that an increase of 0.25 points on the engagement index and an improvement in performance will significantly improve client satisfaction (2.04 points on the American Customer Satisfaction Index), shareholders’ total gains, and employee performance. Similarly, an IBM study of 23,000 employees in 45 countries demonstrated that an increase in the employee experience index improved performance and work effort, and reduced intentions to resign.

Engagement surveys are, therefore, a powerful tool for any organization. I wish you success in your cultural change process.