Stop measuring team engagement, start measuring culture

Employee engagement has been a hot topic in HR for almost 20 years. The principles seem to be common sense – more engaged employees leads more satisfied customers (due to a better customer experience) which leads to greater profits. The Q12 survey is the most well-known team engagement survey after the Gallup organisation was able to identify 12 key drivers in its consulting research. Despite the wave of organisations measuring engagement, it’s somewhat shocking to see that employee engagement scores around the world have hardly moved in the last 15 years.

In New Zealand, we’re fortunate to have one of the highest rates of employee engagement but it’s still just 24 per cent.

In many workplaces engagement has been reduced to an annual measurement exercise, without a commitment to doing the work that’s needed on either side. Sure, you get a score, but the score is fairly meaningless if your organisation hasn’t paid attention to the elements that contribute to the engagement factors (and/or has no intention to paying attention to them after the survey). By ‘paying attention’ I mean making a positive impact through intent, strategy and action.

Occasionally we’re asked by clients to administer an annual employee survey. We always ask the purpose of the survey and what commitment there is to making changes based on the results. It’s often considered a good thing to do because other organisations do them, and it’ll be good acknowledgement for the leadership team. We remind clients that in most organisations perceptions differ greatly between leaders and employees and there is likely to be some confronting feedback. By surveying employees a business is effectively declaring a desire and willingness to make changes to the workplace and even themselves. Many leaders start out highly committed to change until they see the results! Some become defensive, or dismissive, or they sit on the results for longer than necessary. The risk of this reactionary approach is a (further) drop in engagement and a lower response rate to future surveys as employees begin to wonder “what’s the point?”.

In my opinion, it’s time to ditch the traditional team engagement survey. As an alternative, I propose a greater focus on your workplace culture.

Culture is not the sole responsibility of HR. Or even the leader. It certainly can’t be outsourced. Culture belongs to everyone in the organisation and needs to be developed and nurtured by all. I know a number of small business owners that have desperately tried to create a culture with a team of complacent employees that never saw it as their responsibility to contribute. Of course, I know there are just as many employees who are desperately trying to make positive changes in their workplaces and hit a brick wall with their bosses.

It’s important to identify what your internal culture should be (to align with what’s important to your customers) and what this means for day to day behaviours (i.e: what’s in and what’s out). The more specific to your organisation, the better. A #CultureCode is a great way to document these organisational values. The culture code should underpin everyday actions, feeding into every single HR/communication practice in your business: team meetings, recruitment, performance, recognition, remuneration, development etc.

Tests measure whether people know the culture code or not, and surveys measure people’s opinions about the real priorities compared to the stated values. It is usually possible to identify other measures of success for specific values, weightings can be applied and scores compared on a quarterly basis. Facilitated focus groups identify specific changes to strengthen the culture (to align with the culture code).

It requires more effort, but a greater focus on workplace culture will deliver a greater employee experience, a better customer experience and better results for your business than a standalone, tick-the-box, survey exercise.

We can help you to create your culture code, measure your culture, develop HR/communication strategies and deliver specific changes. Let’s chat.