Want The Right Answers? Ask The Right Questions ... And Be Ready For The Truth

By Kate LaMons

“Will your survey tell us what we need to know?” 

Often one of the first questions out of any client’s mouth, this question is laden with caveats and can be big trouble for consultants if not addressed properly.  There are two layers to an effective response: one, instilling confidence that the best questions are being asked, and two, ensuring that the client is prepared to hear the answer.  In many cases, neither of these actually happens. 

Here’s why: an organizational engagement survey, in order to be truly effective, should address all the dark, secret topics that nobody likes to talk about at the company Christmas party.  Pay, trust, communication, leadership, pride, relationships, and commitment are all on the table.  What are we not as concerned about?  If people like the paint on the walls, satisfaction with base compensation, or how happy they are with their 9-5 work hours.  While important, these are not the things that truly move the employee engagement needle. 

There is a reason employee engagement is so powerful. 

Engagement drives productivity, profitability, and reduced turnover through its origins in the gritty, less tangible side of employee behavior.  We want to know if people feel pride in what they do, and if they connect with the mission and values of the company in their day-to-day work.  We want to know if they trust their manager to tell them what they need to know, if they are inspired by Senior Leadership, and if they’re willing to go above and beyond their required duties.  These impactful/meaningful emotions are fuzzy, personal, and difficult to identify….yet incredibly important.  To get to the heart of the matter, an effective engagement survey thus needs to measure between the lines.

Enter the consultant.

If you allow us to ask the tough questions, please know that we’ll be there to help you figure out what to do about them.  What’s more, we get excited about using the survey data as a guide as we travel along the path of meaningful change!  If you are feeling a little uncomfortable and little vulnerable, then you’re definitely on the right track.  Why?  Because this means that the information you’re receiving is personal to you.  You care about your organization and what happens to the employees that work there.  Congratulations – we would love to work with you to bring your organization to the next level.  Taking a risk in asking the difficult questions is the first step to making that happen. 

The next step in the process is being open to really hearing the answers that you get.  Not just at the surface, but at a deeper level - absorbing and digesting what your employees tell you through the survey.  While it sounds pretty straightforward, it’s often not.  Clients have ranged from shifting the focus from the responses to the survey methodology, to at times even outright denial, both of which are unsurprisingly common initial reactions.  The difference between leaders that remain paralyzed and the leaders who take action, is the willingness to accept that the message can be difficult, and to be able to sit with that discomfort.  Then, after the discomfort passes, it’s about drawing your employees in to discuss what was found on that survey and deciding together to do something about it.   

Vulnerability?  Yes.  Authenticity?  Yes.  Openness?  Yes.  And, results?  Yes.