Ms. Merbach

Human Resources, Recruitment & Training

Caught in the Engagement Survey Spin Cycle?

Move From Fruitless Manager Action Plans to Real Solutions

By Sherri Merbach, Managing Director, C-Suite Analytics

Employee engagement in the U.S. is a mess. Gallup tells us only 32% of our employees are engaged, and that figure has hardly budged over 15 years. Worse, Deloitte says we are about to spend $1.53 billion a year to "fix" it. Unless we get smarter, we'll be flushing that fortune instead of fixing.

It gets worse. Again according to Gallup, those remaining 68% are either sleepwalking or sabotaging. So unless your company is different, two-thirds of your employees aren't giving their all. One has to wonder: How much better would our economy be if we solved employee engagement? What if we found the turnkey solution to getting our employees to work their best?

It's time we took a hard look in the mirror and stop blaming disengagement on low wages or video games. The problem is we are all playing follow the leader, doing what other companies do and expecting better results. Let's start with some heavily-researched truths.

Employee Surveys Don't Solve Anything

Engagement surveys and exit surveys provide data but don't give us solutions. Left on our own, we decide that the super-fix to more recognition is employee appreciation week so we bring in food and a dunk tank. Or we name an employee of the month which irritates the others who really know who pulls the work. For engagement, no one is accountable to make their scores better…and few companies actually set a goal. They are pleased instead to beat last year's score or beat the benchmark. Beating a benchmark in this case means scoring a hair better than mediocre, against competition that's as baffled as we are for a true fix.

Exit Surveys are worse. We've surveyed 8,300 HR execs on whether their exit surveys have made their companies better. Twenty said yes for a winning percentage of .0024. There is now a book that advises to never tell the truth during exit surveys, to say instead you needed a career change. In fact the most popular answer on exit surveys is "better opportunity". What the heck does that mean? And how do we fix it?

Most CFOs Are Clueless About Employee Engagement's Power

We have a saying in our office which is "If CFOs learned the true cost of turnover and disengagement in CFO school, every company would be managed better". The standard monthly management meeting has the CFO reporting the important numbers and then HR talking about engagement and retention. CFOs need to learn that engagement and retention drive all those other numbers. We help clients put dollar values on both and require that their CFOs participate. One call center rep exit costs a client more than $29,000. A warehouse truck loader's cost of turnover per person is $4,955. Losing one-truck drivers costs over $60,000. Now turnover is about profit and loss versus a stand-alone turnover percentage.

For engagement, Gallup tells us the companies in their surveys who score in the top 25% for engagement are 22% more profitable than those that score in the bottom 25%. Another study brings home engagement's power in a more tangible setting: salespeople who give 10% more effort sell 23% more products. That's real money.

Tell these figures to your CFO and the logical next step is that she reports turnover and engagement to the top team instead of HR…as she should.

Who Impacts Engagement the Most?

First-Line Supervisors. This is the heart-breaker because it makes engagement so much harder to fix. Or we can turn this heavily-researched finding sideways and say, "No wonder engagement is stuck". It would be easier to continue our quest for the magic pill…more meetings to improve communication, a new recognition program, career ladders to fix development, vision care to make benefits competitive, bring in food trucks on Thursdays. We've all been there. And we need to make a shift.

The common trait among all of those examples is each supervisor is invisible. We've worked around our supervisors as though they have no role in engagement, that they don't matter at all. In reality, though, that role is the starring role and each supervisor has a different impact because some are really good…and some are really bad.

How do we know? Those Gallup smarties surveyed employees on the most powerful manager statement I can imagine, "My manager and I have one of the strongest personal relationships in my life." Then they correlated the data based on whether each responding employee was engaged, not engaged or sleep-walking, or what they called actively disengaged which they also called sabotaging. Here are the results:

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What jumps out? A full 65% of the engaged employees scored their manager relationship a 3 or higher on a five-point scale, whereas 80% of the sabotagers scored their relationships a 1.

The bottom line is a jerk boss will trump any good employee program you put in place. Most programs we do for employees are good, better to have them than not. But they can't stand alone. No one says "My boss treats me like dirt but I'm holding on for employee appreciation week.

Forget What They've Told You About Recognition.

he top supervisor skill is building trust. Recognition is easier because anyone can fake their way through words. Trust, though, requires deep-seated character traits that manifest themselves in our everyday behaviors. Here's how we know its power.

Fortune Magazine names the top 100 companies to work for each year, and they flout the wonderful things each company gives their employees. Google is their poster child by winning each of the past 5 years…and all you have to do to match them is give your employees artisan tea and coffee, 3 organic meals each day, massages, wash and fold, and free eyebrow shaping. Hidden, though, in Fortune's text is two-thirds of each company's score is based on an independent employee survey measuring their level of trust with their managers. The companies chosen by Fortune that are publicly-traded then return to their shareholders 366% more money than the market. The only conclusion you can draw is that building trust one-on-one, by each individual supervisor, drives profits.

Stay Interviews Are the Answer

This is a good-news article because we have the solution. Stay interviews are structured discussions a leader conducts with each individual employee to learn the specific actions she must take to strengthen that employee's engagement and retention with the organization. Stay interviews are the anti-survey because supervisors meet with employees one-on-one, look them in the eye, and then take action to make work better for that employee. What's a better way to build trust? Wait, you say. Won't they all want a raise? And a promotion? And eyebrow shaping, too? A few might, but our research makes clear that the single-most requested item during stay interviews is better work processes. Employees most want you to help them do more work. They'll tell you about reports nobody reads, departments that slow them down, and teammates who don't do their fair share. In fact, one way to think about stay interviews is they put front and center the sacred cows your company doesn't want to address. Then you get to go upstream and rightly say, "Here's what my team is telling me. If you want me to engage and retain them, help!"

Many outcomes are far simpler. For some employees, their greatest need is to get to daycare in time to avoid a fine. Others want to learn about some part of their job where they feel insufficient. Someone else will want to mentor others, to share their knowledge and skill. No survey will tell you these examples. And exit surveys are toe-tags as those employees are gone. That's why you can promise them anything.

Below are the five questions you should ask. As you read them through, imagine asking them to your top performer. Keep in mind that his responses are buried in employee surveys, given equal status as your worst performer's opinions. With stay interviews, you'll learn just what is important.

  1. When you travel to work each day, what things do you look forward to? We begin in the here and now, focusing on everyday work…and we want to know the highlights.

  2. What are you learning here? Want to learn? Some employees are continuous learners and others just want to work and go home. Careers are based on learning new skills.

  3. Why do you stay here? The money question. Let the employee take time to tell you…and tell herself. Then build part of her job around the activity she likes the most.

  4. When was the last time you thought about leaving our team? What prompted it? We want and need to know…and fix it if possible.

  5. What can I do to make your experience at work better for you? Put on your armor and learn how you should change your style.

Bring your very best listening skills, take notes, and probe to learn more. Grow comfortable digging for details by asking When was the last time you felt that way? Give me an example. Tell me more.

Then sit together and build a plan. Take a time-out if needed to check with your manager or HR for a fresh thought. The number of employee requests and their solutions is unlimited. You might have to say no to something, but rarely will you have nothing for which you can say yes. And your employee will be so glad you asked these questions that you'll leave the meeting with a sure win…and your employee will, too.

Let's end by returning to the top. Employee turnover is out of control and engagement is stuck. One-size-fits-all employee programs have failed us. When you glue together the power of leaders and the power of building trust, stay interviews become the very obvious solution. Good luck using them!

Sherri Merbach has extensive experience providing organizational development, executive coaching, leadership development, and consulting services. Ms. Merbach is a change agent creating a sustainable bottom-line impact. She brings her high degree of personal effectiveness plus her accumulated skills and experiences to clients. Known for her ability to connect with both CEOs, leaders at all levels, and front-line employees, Ms. Merbach brings three distinct credentials to her clients. Ms. Merbach is a business executive first, having earned her CPA designation while working with a top-5 global accounting firm and subsequently earning her MBA degree. Ms. Merbach can be contacted at 407-948-0321 or smerbach@c-suiteanalytics.com Please visit http://www.c-suiteanalytics.com for more information. Extended Bio...

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