How to improve employee engagement

Savvy organizations know that improving employee engagement isn’t just about running a survey, hosting more events or creating more recognition opportunities.

Improving employee engagement comes from understanding the unique drivers of engagement at your organization and using that data to drive targeted action.

There are many employee engagement initiatives that companies have used with great success to improve employee engagement. However, it’s most important to spend your time and resources on the things that matter most in your organization’s specific context.

But how do you know which actions will have the biggest impact on improving employee engagement?

In this article, we’ll answer this question and dig into:

Why improving employee engagement is a process

To make lasting improvements on employee engagement, you can’t approach it as a one-time project. While quick tips and top ten lists might seem enticing, improving employee engagement is ultimately an ongoing process.  

This process is captured by the employee feedback loop.

Employee feedback loop

These three steps - design and collect, analyze and understand, share and act - are how you should approach your employee engagement survey, and they’re the foundation for ongoing improvement.

The employee feedback loop creates an ongoing conversation between the organization and its employees through surveys. Employees want to be heard, and they want to know that some action will be taken based on their feedback. If you can show them that the organization is listening and taking action, they’ll respond with more and better feedback.

The cadence of this process is up to you, and will be guided by how quickly you can move through each step. We’ll be focusing on the analyze and understand and share and act aspects of the feedback loop for the remainder of this article. 

However, if you want to learn more about collecting data: 

 

Identifying the drivers of employee engagement

Once you’ve received data through your engagement surveys, you can start analyzing and understanding feedback your employees are sharing. The main tool for understanding this feedback is a statistical technique called driver analysis.

What is a driver?
Drivers are what is assessed by a survey to be most likely to move the needle on a particular outcome, in this case, improving employee engagement.

Understanding the unique drivers of engagement at your company helps you move beyond assessing “low” or “high” scores to a particular survey question. It’s easy to assume that taking action on a factor with a low score - say work/life balance - will help lift engagement. But if work/life balance isn’t what’s driving engagement at your company, investing in this area won’t make a difference to engagement levels.

In 2018, the top factors driving employee engagement based on Culture Amp’s data were:

  • Learning and development
  • Leadership
  • Service and quality focus

While this is what we see across industries, each company can have different drivers of engagement, and they can change over time. A good survey will identify the top drivers for you as a basis for the next step in the feedback loop - action. This is why a regular survey cadence is important fuel for improving employee engagement, it gets you the right data for action.


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How the best organizations take action to improve employee engagement

Employee engagement surveys offer a lot of information. Which is great of course, except that even with driver analysis narrowing down your action list, it can still be difficult to know where to start.

After years of working with companies that put culture first, we’ve learned a lot about how these organizations stay on top of their game. One of the main things we’ve noticed is that they consistently drive meaningful change by doing less rather than more. They also take the time to communicate why a certain action is being taken. 

Finding a focus area

When it comes to improving employee engagement, these organizations don’t choose five, or even three focus areas. They choose one. Maybe two at a stretch. This ensures that the actions they do take make the most impact.

Finding a focus area takes discipline, but these three steps can help guide leaders at all levels of the organization:

  1. Make use of advanced analytics - This includes driver analysis as well as other survey tools like Culture Amp’s embedded focus agent to identify a shortlist of opportunities for action.
  2. Align - Encourage leaders to evaluate feedback against organizational objectives and prioritize a focus area that’s closely aligned to these. This way your focus benefits both employees and ensures impact on business success.
  3. Vote - If you don’t get there with the first two steps, take a simple vote with the team. Start with the focus area that gets the most votes but make note of other potential focus areas to take on after you act on the primary one.

From focus to action

Once you have your focus area for improving employee engagement, you can begin action planning.

Start by framing your action area as a forward-focused question. We like the ‘How might we…’ formula.

For example, if collaboration was identified as a high driver of engagement, you might ask: How might we improve collaboration across organizational boundaries?

Sometimes it’s useful at this point to dig a little deeper with your employees to find the root cause of the issue. This might mean setting up a quick follow up survey or running an in-person workshop.

Either way, you can ask employees:

  • What does this focus area mean to you? (E.g. for the collaboration focus area, you could ask: what does working more collaboratively across organizational boundaries look like to you?)
  • Where are we doing well? (E.g. where are we collaborating well?)
  • Where are we not doing well? (E.g. where do we need to collaborate better?)

Then, it’s about coming up with creative ideas to address the focus area to improve engagement. Involve employees in coming up with ideas - asking for volunteers across the business is a good way to get a cross-section of employees who are bought into the process.

We’re now at the act stage of the feedback loop. Coming up with the actions does take a lot of energy and sometimes organizations get stuck at the planning stage. But real improvement in employee engagement requires you to push through and bring all that planning to life through action.

Don’t be afraid to test ideas - holding out for the perfect approach can lead to inaction. Instead, just start. You can easily communicate progress on actions, gather feedback from employees and make any necessary adjustments.

Then, it’s time to start the feedback loop again. Improving employee engagement is a continuous conversation, not a monologue.   

About Culture Amp

Culture Amp helps you make your company a better place to work. By making it easy to collect, understand and act on employee feedback, we enable HR leaders to make better decisions, demonstrate impact, and turn company culture into a competitive edge.

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