So, how do we change this? The first thing to do is to take action quickly after the survey. There are also a few tactics specific to communication about the survey that can help you avoid key problems we often see, even when companies do act quickly.
1. Link actions to survey results (all the time)
Don't forget to consistently, even persistently, mention when discussions and actions are based on the survey results. Communicate that the actions are linked to the quantitative results of the survey and that comments are mainly used to help understand the overall results - not that every comment is going to have an action associated with it. The reason we use a survey is that every respondent gets one vote and that makes it more democratic than just acting on individual comments. This is about linking action and discussion to the survey and setting realistic expectations.
2. Acknowledge survey limitations
Communicate that the survey does not answer everything or solve everything. You need everyone's input to understand the overall results further and their involvement in coming up with actions that relate to the overall results. Again, this is setting expectations and acknowledging that the survey is not a perfect measurement instrument. This helps you gain credibility too by showing you understand the limitations of the survey while communicating that it is also a democratic way of finding out what to focus on first and foremost.
3. Set realistic progress expectations
The whole time you're linking your discussions and action planning around the survey results don't forget to mention that you're not expecting to have everything solved by the next survey or next time they are asked. Your intention and aim should be to start working on it and to begin making some progress–make incremental change. That is a positive outcome. You can also communicate that culture and engagement is something that will always be a moving target and that the aim is to maintain and improve as best you can all the time - much like a relationship the aim is to keep the communication channels open and your mind open too.
4. Encourage open and honest two-way communication
Communicate that the relationship is mutual and that if a team is disengaged then they may need to look at why other teams in the same company might be more engaged. You should encourage people to view this as something that is potentially about themselves too - not just a manager or a department leader for example. You're all in it together.