Okay, sometimes they do. Despite themselves ... and their authors ... they can sometimes work in very specific situations like ... well, I'm not sure.
Let's back up. If participant surveys worked wouldn't our government, particularly Congress, work? They and their sponsors spend millions on surveys, every year (every week in presidential campaign season), far more than your company has in revenues much less a survey budget. How's that working out for us, the surveyed? It's working out great for them, not so well for us.
The setting, the dynamic, is no different when you're surveying employees for their opinions. As you move up the corporate ladder the tendency is to become more and more disengaged with frontline employees just like as a politician moves up in public office they become more and more disengaged from voters, once they reach Washington i.e., headquarters or home office, voters are a distant memory. Same dynamic. So, to keep in touch, a corporate management team will commission a survey of the [employees] back home on the frontlines. What's rarely, if ever acknowledged, is that the leadership team that created the disengaged workforce is the same leadership team that will approve the wording, schedule and purpose of the survey. They'll also be the ones to interpret the answers or bury them.
You can't have the same thinkers solve the problem they created. And if they were truly interested in their employees, wouldn't it be cheaper to walk out of their office and talk with their employees, face-to-face, unscripted? I digress.
Two posts in the recent days caught my eye about the inherent bias (folly) of large-scale employee surveys. The first one is the sad state of affairs at the Department of Homeland Security.
Afflicted with the lowest morale of any large federal agency, the Department of Homeland Security did what comes naturally to many in government.
It decided to study the problem. And then study it some more.
The first study cost about $1 million. When it was finished, it was put in a drawer. The next one cost less but duplicated the first. It also ended up in a drawer.
The lowest morale of any large federal agency ... that's quite an achievement.
Tell me what's different about that as compared to a corporate business environment that regularly sees only 30% of its employees engaged in their work, year after year, annual survey after annual survey?
The second one is the Democratic Victory Task Force, National Narrative, sometimes known as a pig-painting contest (lipstick provided.) The same leaders that have led their party into a series of election debacles are the ones now saying that in order to [win elections] we need to get people – in all communities – excited about the opportunities present when you get deeply involved in your community and prepare them for the challenges of running for office.
( First off, people are already excited about working in their communities, thank you very much. They're just not excited about you or working with you. )
Back to business, that's like the Board of Directors who've ignored their employees for a decade and facing the threat of bankruptcy send a memo to those same employees.
In order to compete in the global economy we need to get employees – in all departments – excited about the opportunities present when you get deeply involved in your work and prepare yourselves for the challenges of working and managing in a global marketplace.
Frankly, you don't need a weatherman to know the way the wind blows and you don't need a survey to tell you your employees are disengaged and why. Just use the Golden Ratio: 2 ears to one mouth. Listen twice as much as you talk. They'll tell you. They want to tell you. All you have to do is listen. And do something about what they tell you, everyday in every way.
Sure, there's a place for an employee survey. But it's at the end of a long line of actions and steps you take with employees ... every day ... to build a relationship, one marked with openness and trust and the willingness to ask questions and take a stand.
If you're looking to improve employee morale or raise employee engagement scores, don't hide behind a survey that only echoes your bias. Have the decency, the courage, to go out and talk face-to-face with your employees. That's the essence of employee engagement. That IS employee engagement.