Three research-backed ways to improve employee engagement

The best way to understand what’s driving employee engagement is by using feedback captured in an employee engagement survey. Over 1,500 organizations have used Culture Amp’s employee engagement survey to find out what matters to employees. Every year we analyze this data to understand trends in what’s driving employee engagement.

Research from our 2018 benchmark data revealed that learning and development, leadership, and service and quality focus were the top three factors driving employee engagement across industries.

While these three factors show up often, how individual companies take action on them differs. This complexity is what led our team at Culture Amp to create the inspiration engine, which provides decision makers with tested ideas from our community to address specific focus areas related to employee engagement.

Here, we share inspirations for action on the top three factors driving employee engagement, based on our 2018 benchmark research.  

Improving employee engagement through learning and development    

Learning and development is about having the opportunities to learn new skills and grow personally and professionally, either formally or informally. The survey question, “This is a great company for me to make a contribution to my development,” in particular has shown up as a driver of engagement for the past three years. According to Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, authors of An Everyone Culture, development focused organizations will prosper as they are more deeply aligned with people's strongest motive, which is to grow.

Lunch and learns with leaders

Increase visibility and accessibility of leaders by holding regular lunches hosted by executives. At one organization executives have one lunch a month with a team that is randomly selected. Leaders have an opportunity to meet and get to know employees outside their team. Leaders connect with employees in outside day-to-day activities and employees have a chance to get to know leaders on a more personal level.

Enable employees to test different roles

Give employees a chance to test out different jobs within the business. One company set up a job exchange program which enables employees to expand their experience and develop skills outside core capabilities. Job exchanges ensure people are given an opportunity to learn and develop even if there are not new roles to move into. At this company, the exchange is generally initiated by an employee and facilitated by the manager and human resources team to ensure employees exchanging roles are set up to succeed.

Learning and development case study

At Vend, learning and development was identified as a high driver of engagement. In their June 2016 engagement survey, 79% of people at Vend favorably rated the statement: “I have access to the learning and development I need to do my current job well.” To continuously improve on this factor, they began empowering people to make decisions that fit with their career and encouraging managers to have conversations with their teams about individual learning and development.
Read the full Vend case study

Improving employee engagement through leadership

Historically, employee perceptions of leadership have had an outsized impact on employee engagement. In 2018 that trend continues. Specifically, we see that confidence in leaders, their ability to communicate a motivating vision (and connect the vision to what employees are doing on a daily basis), have a large impact on employee engagement. Below are some actions we have seen organizations implement to improve perceptions of leadership.

Lunch Drop-Ins

Increase visibility and accessibility of leaders by holding regular lunches hosted by executives. One option is for executives to have one lunch a month with a team that is randomly selected. Leaders connect with employees outside of day-to-day activities and employees have a chance to get to know leaders on a more personal level.

Public Executive Channel

Enable greater transparency in decision making by making executive discussions on internal communication channels available to anyone in the company. Another option is to record executive meetings and make the recordings available to everyone in the organization. If that sounds too intrusive, an alternative is to share the meeting notes during all hands meetings. This gives employees a better understanding of what executives see as important. It also provides clarity on executives' views on those topics.

Leadership case study

At JacTravel, leadership communication was identified as a high driver of employee engagement. “What we heard from the survey was there wasn’t enough explanation from leadership of the course we’re on and why we’re on it,” says Deputy Chief Executive Officer Peter Clements. To address this, Clements arranged a series of meetings across the company’s global offices to spend time talking with employees. “It was a really constructive and informative period that helped bridge the gap between the executive team and people within the business. Off the back of that, we’re enacting a number of initiatives around communication and engagement,” he says.
Read the full JacTravel Case Study

Learn more about the connection between leadership and retention from our Chief Scientist.

Improving employee engagement with a focus on service and quality

While learning and development and leadership have been consistent drivers of engagement over time, a focus on service and quality is an emerging factor of importance. This factor represents an organization's attitude towards their product quality and services, internally and externally.

Project retrospectives

One organization holds frequent project retrospectives which allow teams to work together to identify mistakes, what went well and ultimately apply learning toward the next project. For larger teams, they scale retrospectives using a few additional steps. First, a team of facilitators are identified and trained. Then, those facilitators perform focus groups around standardized themes with project team members. Next, the facilitators compare notes. Finally, the themes are presented at an all hands meeting to share learnings and get feedback.

Highlight impact from customers

Share the value that customers experience with employees on a regular basis. One company invites a panel of customers to be a part of their all hands meetings. Each customer explains how using their product has positively impacted their business and shares some things they wish the product could do (or ways the product has failed them). An employee moderates a Q&A session between the customer panel and attendees. Team Level: The team lead can invite a panel of internal customers to be a part of their team meeting. The internal customers can explain how the team helps them achieve their goals, but also highlight some difficulties in working together.

Service and quality case study

At Culture Amp, we have a customer-focused mindset when it comes to the quality of our product. We regularly seek out feedback from customers and our product team leads the charge on making sure this feedback is implemented.

Here are a few ways we do this:

  1. Our Product Managers (and broader Product Group) members regularly sit in on prospect demos and customer success meetings to hear directly from customers about what’s working well and where we can improve our product.
  2. Our voice of the customer program in which we ask customers, “Would you recommend Culture Amp, and if so, why?” We regularly follow up with Promoters/Detractors to better understand their feedback.
  3. Customer Discovery - Every product feature moves through a process of discovery to truly understand the problem to be solved, along with several iterations of design, and a staged rollout. At each stage, customer feedback is used to understand how to improve the product.
  4. Product usage data to understand adoption and where customers are/aren’t engaging with the product.
  5. Capturing unsolicited feedback from customers via support requests
  6. Capturing feedback from Campers regularly interacting with customers 

All of these various customer feedback mechanisms contribute to our short and longer term product roadmap planning

How to improve employee engagement

Our data shows that learning and development, leadership, and service and quality focus are drivers of engagement across industries. The examples above are a great start to take action towards improving employee engagement.

Using an employee engagement survey at your company will reveal what's unique to your employees. 

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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