Connect business results to employee engagement in 4 steps

There’s finally a way to show executives how your employee engagement strategy is helping the company. Alleluia!

Organizations struggle to quantify the impact engaged employees have on business results. Intuitively, it’s a no-brainer—engaged employees cost less and produce more. It’s that simple.

Many studies and reports support this hunch: Engaged companies have stronger levels of profitability and retain their employees.

So, why do most organizations have difficulty quantifying this? It’s primarily because of the process. Here is how we (unfortunately) see an employee engagement survey process play out in many organizations:

An organization conducts an employee engagement survey. The corporate communications or HR team presents the results to the executive team. The executive team asks, “How does this tie to our business results?” (Say this in your best CFO voice.) The communications/HR team scrambles to find data and metrics to make comparisons. The team realizes the process was not designed to make effective comparisons. The team can’t share any comparisons.

This is certainly not the best return on your survey investment.

There are many reasons why comparing employee engagement survey data to business metrics is difficult. Here are four ways to overcome these difficulties to show valid comparisons:

1. Collect data by groups.

To provide good internal comparisons, you will need to look at variance in engagement scores across the organization’s groups (think locations, departments, managers, etc.). Do this by asking demographic questions on the survey or by coding the groups on the back end. Don’t bother with comparisons if you can only look at an overall company score.

2. Decide on metrics.

Find out what data is important to your organization. This may include data on profitability, turnover, customer service or productivity. Make sure you have data that you can compare across groups. Ask yourself, “What do we really want to know? What’s most important for us to understand?”

If you’re about to head into an acquisition, decide what factors will tell you what to expect from people. If you suddenly have high levels of attrition in a certain department, measure factors that relate to attrition. You get the picture.

Remember, a standard, off-the-shelf survey seldom measures all elements most critical to your organization.

3. Measure employee engagement correctly.

Many organizations equate overall employee engagement with the aggregate of all questions on a survey. In other words, they take the average score from questions on compensation, meaning, leadership, communication and, say, safety and call it the employee engagement score.

This is dangerous. It’s not employee engagement. Some questions on a survey don’t even relate to engagement, although they may be nice-to-knows. Don’t measure engagement by using the average score of all survey questions.

You also don’t want to measure engagement based on one survey question. Instead, use the aggregate score of five or six anchor questions that only measure engagement.

4. Isolate factors.

Now that you have measured engagement correctly and have groups to compare, make sure you analyze external variables that could influence the results. This may not always be possible since we continually face external factors that could impact engagement.

The point is that it’s important to understand these factors. Did one site recently lay off people? Did the manager of a specific group change in the past three months? If so, consider these factors when you make comparisons.

When you effectively prepare your employee engagement survey process before employees take the survey, you can make some powerful comparisons to business results that will get the executive team to buy in and lead to changes in the organization.

Do you have any other ideas to add to this list? Share your experiences in the comments.

Charles Rogel is director of business development at DecisionWise, a management consulting firm. A version of this article originally appeared on the DecisionWise blog.

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