Why Your Employee Engagement Survey Isn’t Paying Off

There aren’t many arguments against the importance of engagement in today’s organizations. The rub is how do you measure it and what do you do with the data once you have it? Our series on “Winning Employees through Engagement” continues with this post from our friend Jason Lauritsen. Jason, lays out a most practical, actionable post on making use of your engagement surveys. 


It seems like most organizations these days are spending significant time, money and energy in an effort to drive up employee engagement through surveys or other efforts. But, is that investment really paying off?

The engagement survey is a seductive mistress for leaders and human resources professionals. After all, who doesn’t want to have engaged employees? And, most employee engagement experts speak with great assurance in their voice when they tell you that engagement drives improved performance. And even better, the employee engagement survey is finally a way quantify the impact of the “softer” work we do in human resources on talent development and motivation. Win, win, win. We often don’t even need a business case to make the investment in employee engagement. It just seems to make too much sense.

But, as ESPN’s college football analyst Lee Corso is fond of saying, “Not so fast, my friend.”


The engagement survey is a seductive mistress for leaders and human resources professionals


Because so many organizations have been seduced by the siren call of engagement surveys, they’ve neglected to do some of the really important work necessary to unlock the real power of employee engagement. There are a few fundamental questions to answer that will guide you in pursuing employee engagement in a way that is more likely to produce a measurable impact on your organization’s business results.

As you think about your employee engagement efforts, start with these questions before you make and investments or decisions:

1. How do you define employee engagement for your organization?

The first step of measurement is definition. One of the biggest issues with employee engagement is that there seems to be as many definitions of engagement as there are people on the planet. In the absence of a standardized definition of engagement, it is absolutely critical to get clear on what engagement means for your organization. If you haven’t defined engagement for your organization clearly and you have been using an engagement survey from a vendor, you are defaulting to their definition of engagement which may or may not be relevant to your business.


The way you look at your data should mirror your management philosophy


2. How does engagement drive business results for your organization?

Definition is the first step. The second is to clearly articulate how that definition of engagement drives business results in your organization. And, you can’t take the word of an engagement survey vendor on this. When a vendor assures you that they have evidence that engagement drives results, here’s what they really mean: “We have some evidence that shows a correlation between our definition and method of measuring engagement to very specific business outcomes in a particular client’s organization.” This doesn’t mean squat to you unless your definition of engagement matches theirs and the research they did was in a company nearly identical to yours.

The answer to this question must be specific to your organization. It’s the answer to the CEO’s question, “Why should we do this?” Unless you can articulate what engagement is and draw a clear linkage to how it impacts the results that matter in your organization, this process will never be truly embraced by the executive suite.

3. How can we measure engagement in a way that enables us to take action that impacts business results?

Measuring employee engagement is ultimately about employee research. It’s not about a number. It’s about actionable insights that enable leadership to make informed decisions about how to improve the work environment towards achieving great results. With a definition in hand, it becomes much easier to make decisions related to the right survey tool and methodology to use.

When you think about how to do this research, one thing to consider seriously is the differentiation of employee responses. The way you look at your data should mirror your management philosophy. If you are a performance culture, how will you differentiate survey results by high versus low performers?


Because so many organizations have been seduced by the siren call of engagement surveys, they’ve neglected to do some of the really important work


4. How will we prove engagement’s impact on results?

Equipped with answers to the first three questions, don’t forget to collect the data that demonstrates the impact of all of your hard work. It’s one thing to say that engagement will produce better customer satisfaction. It’s another thing to show a direct linkage between the two data sets.

There is great potential in employee engagement. But, that potential is lost when we are careless about our definitions, measurement and actions to drive it. Employee engagement is a conceptual framework without a foundation of common definition. Build that foundation for your organization and you have a much greater opportunity to unleash its power within your organization.

Connect with Jason

Jason Lauritsen is a former human resources executive turned consultant, leadership trainer, and keynote speaker.  His company, Talent Anarchy, helps organizations become faster and more innovative by accelerating their talent.  He is the co-author of the book, Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationships  and is a frequently published writer and blogger on talent and leadership topics.


Photo by  Nicolas Raymond

Jason Lauritsen is a former human resources executive turned consultant and keynote speaker. His company with partner Cy Wakeman, Bulletproof Talent, helps organizations to develop accountable leaders and employees who are bulletproof to their circumstances. Their Reality-CheckTM employee engagement survey is changing the way companies measure and manage employee engagement by introducing personal accountability into the process. Jason is the co-author of the book, Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationships and is half of the dynamic and provocative speaking duo, Talent Anarchy.

  • Hi Jason
    thank you for your insightful post! It would have been a real treat if you could have added examples on point 1 to 5 as you raise questions, which I feel remain unanswered and theoretical although very relevant: Are you going to plan a second part to this post? Kind Regards from over the pond to you and thank you for your words of wisdom!

  • These are great questions to ask in planning an employee engagement program and engagement survey. The key point is tying the survey metrics to real-world business measures like sales, profitability, cost reduction, quality and customer satisfaction. Of course this is not easy, but it creates a system in which an organization can learn what works (and what doesn’t) in ways that are meaningful to the business.

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