The employee engagement survey is probably the most common way for managers to understand what their teams think of their jobs and the firm that employs them.
Nearly all (92 percent) companies run employee engagement surveys, and they remain an important measuring tool: 80 percent of senior leaders believe good employee engagement is vital to achieving their business objectives, according to CEB data.
The problem is that managers from all parts of a company (from a senior IT exec to a regional product manager) have grown so accustomed to counting on the employee engagement survey for data and to chart their own contributions that they rarely pause to think about the business outcomes that the coveted increase in engagement should generate. Although teams work hard to produce the right survey, they rarely think about how it should be doing the same for them.
The wrong questions
Traditional employee engagement survey questions are designed to assess employees’ happiness and contentment with their role and the organization. Surveys often ask, “Do you receive enough recognition?” or, “Does your manager care about you as a person?” or maybe even, “Do you have a best friend at work?” Moreover, companies will often provide flashy offices and perks to keep workers happy.
That all makes sense. In the face of near constant change and growing uncertainty, businesses are scrambling to keep their workers feeling positive about the company and about change itself, especially given the troubling data that change can seriously harm performance.
Although a positive attitude and commitment do help, CEB research shows that the top three drivers of employee performance have many times the power of mere sentiment. These are “an understanding and connection to company goals,” “a commitment to co-workers,” and “having the right capabilities.”
The right questions
When coming up with employee engagement survey questions, managers should keep three elements in mind. This will help them frame the employee engagement survey questions to accomplish their ultimate objective: improving employee performance.
1. Understanding and connecting to company goals: To succeed in their jobs, employees must understand how they fit in with the rest of the organization. The successful implementation of a meticulously formulated strategy depends upon employees’ alignment to corporate goals, yet 61 percent of senior executives admit they’re struggling to bridge the gap between their big-picture ideas and day-to-day implementation.
It’s crucial that the engagement survey shows whether employees understand organization goals and the link between their own work and those objectives.
Ask yourself: Do your questions reveal whether employees try to get their job done “despite the strategy,” or in a way that methodically contributes to strategic goals.
2. A commitment to co-workers: One attribute that marks high-performing employees is that they learn from and teach one another. A changing and ever more global working environment means all employees must be as comfortable working with someone on another continent as they are with the person in the cube or office next to them.
The importance of complementary competencies, values and working styles requires a shift from glorifying superstars to encouraging strong network performance, as well as individual task performance.
Ask yourself: Will your questions help you understand whether employees are part of a multidisciplinary, collaborative team that helps them complete their best work?
3. The right capabilities: Capability – which consists of an employee’s comprehension, agility, network they work in, direction and expectations—is the key contributor to high performance during periods of significant change.
That alone has more than three times the impact of commitment to change itself, and CEB analysis shows that employees who have high commitment and low capability are 18 percent more likely to suffer from change-related stress, which leads to poor performance.
Ask yourself: Do your questions check whether employees are aware of and confident enough to make use of the tools, information and people that can help them navigate change?
Here are nine survey questions that will help managers look for the kind of meaningful engagement that can improve employee performance.
- Do you understand the strategic goals of the broader organization?
- Do you know what you should do to help the company meet its goals and objectives?
- Can you see a clear link between your work and the company’s goals and objectives?
- Are you proud to be a member of your team?
- Does your team inspire you to do your best work?
- Does your team help you to complete your work?
- Do you have the appropriate amount of information to make correct decisions about your work?
- Do you have a good understanding of informal structures and processes at the organization?
- When something unexpected comes up in your work, do you usually know whom to ask for help?