7. Why are Engagement Efforts so Cringe-Worthy?

Leaders who focus their energy on engagement efforts to improve metrics and results, may be looking in the wrong place.

This ONE BURNING QUESTION comes from an online follower, Kyle.

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Kyle, I went to an online group I belong to and asked them what they thought leadership got wrong about engagement and there was an OVERWHELMING response that engagement DOES NOT EQUAL PROGRAMS.

Have you been there before? Engagement surveys come back, and leadership gets buzzed on gamified benefit programs, drawings for gift cards, and super star nomination programs?

Surveys as a way to measure results, reach the hearts of their employees, or determine pain points will only go as far as every individual responsible for the giving and receiving of its fruits.

It’s not that leaders or your human resources department don’t want to find out if you love working for the company and why, but they cringe every time they hear the words “Engagement Survey” because they know the pitfalls and traps employees and leaders fall in to every time they’re issued.

Luckily, as small business owners, we have the luxury and responsibility to do engagement better.

Today, I’m sharing why over-thinking engagement or thinking of it in the same way large corporations do, will trap you every time.

Let’s look at five reasons Engagement becomes cringe-worthy:

1. We treat Engagement surveys as a way to collect discreet feedback.

If you’re multitasking, or driving in a haze right now, I want you to come back to me. And I say that knowing you might not like what I have to say next. But I want you to be a solid leader who rocks the world of those who look up to you, so I say this with my heart full for your success:

I can’t think of a more obvious way as a leader to say, “I ACKNOWLEDGE YOU ARE NOT COMFORTABLE TALKING TO ME OR ANOTHER MEMBER OF LEADERSHIP,” than to use a survey to discreetly get feedback. If you are doing this, especially as a small business owner, then you don’t need a survey to tell you what’s wrong in your organization. In huge corporations, I get where the survey might come in useful to get generalized feedback or simply to capture trends, but for the love of Pete, don’t do it in your business.

If we haven’t built the kind of relationship with our employees that they don’t feel comfortable coming to us to talk about some uncomfortable issues, then the problem is not employee engagement, it’s leadership.

Hey, I get it, you probably grew so fast, you had no idea you wouldn’t have the time to get to know all your employees. Or maybe you hired out of desperation and didn’t find the best fit with the rest of your team. There are a lot of reasons you may feel disengaged with your team, but it’s time to claim your leadership cap.

I want to give you something so simple, but so powerful, that once you start using it, you won’t need to extract feedback, it will come to you unsolicited. It’s this simple phrase that acknowledges your role in disengagement and invites your employee’s role in their own engagement:

“I’m sorry, it’s evident I haven’t been listening. What’s on your mind?”

Consider Susie, your social media manager. She’s disengaged and disconnected. Find a neutral place to talk or get on that zoom call and engage her. So next time, she doesn’t say a word in your staff meeting but you suspect she has “meetings after the meeting” or your brilliant 1:1 coaching results in crickets, don’t give her (or worse yet, your entire organization) a questionnaire, don’t send her an email or ask someone else what’s going on with Susie: stop and ask Susie what’s on her mind and then don’t say a word. Listen. Allow for awkward silence and let her keep talking.


2. The second engagement trap is confusing engagement ownership.

Who owns Susie’s engagement? Is it Susie or is it you? Did you just ride the fence and say both? Don’t worry, I do that too. But if you’re using engagement as a problem solving tool, you need to get clearer about this.

If you’re having trouble with Susie or her department coming through with results, instead of assuming you have a huge engagement problem, consider going back to your job posting and job description for her and other roles. Remember when you posted for the social media manager, you broadcasted that the candidate would be “perfect for this role if” they communicated directly and with tact? If Susie isn’t doing that, there is a gap. This is performance accountability, not engagement.

If you do not set up your hires this way, go back and listen to episode 5 to learn all about how to make this happen.

Think about how much Susie fits this descriptor. If she is super passive aggressive, you don’t need an engagement survey to figure out why she is disengaged during your 1:1 coaching sessions or doesn’t speak up in meetings.

Susie owns this. YOU were clear in your expectations when you hired for the role. Susie demonstrated she met those expectations during the interview process, or you would not have hired her, right?

So, if there is a gap, the questions then become, “Susie, what piece of this do you own?” and you need to communicate to Susie, the pieces you own in order to close the gap. Maybe Susie has outgrown her role and she’s bored to tears and you need to start a conversation with that. Accountability to yourself and to others drives results.

If you continue to not address the differences, the ownership for the gap now rests on your shoulders.

3. We ask the wrong questions

The third engagement trap we fall into is asking the wrong questions. Asking your employees if they have a best friend at work may provide insight into how half of your employees engage with their work.

What this question DOES NOT TELL YOU is if not having a best friend at work disengages you. Around 40-50% of your employees are introverts and many of them will tell you they don’t have a best friend at work because they keep their personal and professional lives very separate intentionally. Introverts tend to be more private individuals and find themselves more productive when those lines aren’t crossed.

If you must do a survey, stick to questions that ask specifically what drives someone or stifles someone to produce in their work area. Stick to the relevancy of your mission.


4. The Fourth Trap to Employee Engagement is to Treat Engagement as a Data Point

I have 24 years in HR and have seen my fair share of Engagement Surveys over the years. Never once have I seen the engagement score as a metric or KPI that is reviewed on a quarterly or annual basis that ends up driving projects, initiatives, or efforts in anyone else’s department other than HR.

One company got close when the President dictated everyone’s score had to rise by X%. But let’s get real, that effort did not produce the desired results.

Yet, in these corporate settings, we’ve treated it as such. We give it a project number/manager, spend lots of money on it, create communication plans around it and cascade the results to something external, like a social audit, or an application for Best Places to Work, or as a justification for the activities committee to make a comeback.

While I do concede that Engagement Scores are technically a data point, people are answering these questions, based on how they feel at the moment. And if your sales person lost their biggest customer that day, or you just handed out the holiday bonuses, their answers are going to be swayed.

Which brings me to the final reason engagement surveys are cringe-worthy:

5. Engagement Surveys Set the Expectation that individual problems will be fixed.

Engagement surveys are supposed to be anonymous. I believe most companies do this well. But, because they’re anonymous, there’s no way to know exactly what is wrong in which department. The more a survey is filtered, the less anonymous the survey is and the less likely you are to get the information you’re looking for.

And employees tell themselves stories. We all do. It’s human. Something happens repeatedly and we disagree with it or we would do it differently and better, or it frustrates us somehow and we create this novel of characters and events and emotions that don’t really happen. So when someone puts a survey in front of us, and we have this story in our head, we select a 1 or a 2 expect those who are trying to interpret the results to know, acknowledge, and fix the problem exactly as we have created it in our head. This happens all the time. And never once was there any conversation. AND now someone is going to be assigned to create a program to make my made-up story better. It’s chaos.

Engagement surveys don’t always deliver the results or information we need to improve productivity, impress and delight our customers, or improve the development of our staff. Many of us left corporate jobs because we are called, created, and willed to do better than that. Let’s keep that front of mind.

I encourage you as the leader of your organization to meet with your team often, review the KPIs, focus on the project and strategies that are contributing to your mission, and create excitement around those. And when you have a gap, or Susie is being passive aggressive again, then talk about it.

,Engagement Surveys as a Small to Medium-sized Business Owner

Few large companies get surveys right without massive resources poured into the science, social science, and deeply complex strategies that define the culture of the organization and how it all works together to produce results everyone contributes to and believes in.

As engineering firms, salon owners, literary agencies, tattoo shop owners and other small and medium sized businesses, we do not have such resources and our time and energy is best used focused on how our values guide us to collaborate with, develop and lead our employees to exceed the objectives that achieve our mission.

As a small to medium sized business, I don’t want you to think about engagement surveys. I want you to think about engagement. Your own. Have you created the strategies you need to accomplish your goals? Have you provided the time for personal and professional development for yourself and your team that will help you accomplish what you set out to accomplish this quarter?

If you’ve struggled with results or connecting with your team, I hope you’ll reach out so we can discuss a few strategies to get you back on track. Click the picture to book your call.

These calls are free and will give you a win and will begin the start of building a mutual rapport. I hope to get to know you better.

I’m glad you’re here, checking out the show notes. Please join me in our private Facebook group Small Business Confidants where we come together to join, share, plan, create, and give.

So, what’s YOUR One Burning Question? Visit vimandvigor.biz/oneburningquestionform and it might just get on a future episode.

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