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Article | EX Insights

Five ways to maximize employee engagement survey ROI

By Stephen Young | March 2015

How to create a more disciplined post-survey process.
Employee Engagement |Talent

There are two primary ways to maximize your return on investment (ROI) on an employee engagement survey program. One is to slash costs by deploying a short, sample pulse survey requiring limited follow-up. The return in terms of insights is also limited, which can be acceptable given the low costs of such an effort. This can be a good option when it is necessary to get a quick read of employee sentiment on a focused topic or to capture a high-level employee pulse on a frequent basis.

Unfortunately, this is generally not an option when the goal is to drive true sustainable organizational change — a situation requiring a more comprehensive, large-scale employee survey. In such an instance, although a larger investment is required, a far greater return can be achieved in the form of a transformed culture, heightened employee engagement and elevated business performance.

At Willis Towers Watson, we believe one of the keys to capturing this increased ROI is through the disciplined execution of a thoughtfully designed post-survey process. This requires candid discussion early on in the project, before the survey is even launched, with all relevant stakeholders. To guide these discussions, we focus on the following five factors:

  1. Who gets results? Many companies struggle with this basic first step, which sets the foundation for the entire post-survey process. Using the minimum group size cutoff as a guide, many assume that all managers with at least 10 employees should get a report and develop an action plan. This may indeed be appropriate for some companies, but for others, it simply is not. The issue is the level at which the company wants to drive action.  When you consider that much of the content in a typical employee engagement survey is focused on issues above the front-line manager, and that front-line managers in many companies have a very narrow degree of authority and influence, it often makes sense to report results and set expectations for taking action a level or two above the front line. That’s not to say results for smaller groups shouldn’t be examined to better understand the impact of individual managers, especially in the areas of empowerment and trust. But results are typically owned by a high-level leader. The exact level where results are owned will vary for each company, but it is important to make this determination early in the process and get alignment on the approach.
  2. What is shared with employees? In most companies,employees learn about high-level, companywide survey findings in a written communication or “town hall” meeting. They see local results in person so they can ask questions and join a discussion. There are two key tactics that will ensure success in this process. The first is having line leaders —and not HR colleagues — personally share the results. This underscores leaders’ commitment to the process and intention to act on the findings. If viewed as merely another HR initiative, this process will likely be ignored. The second is to provide some guidelines as to what specifically will be shared across the company. While leaders should be allowed to exercise some discretion in what they share locally, a few parameters (e.g., summary category scores, comparison to benchmarks, top or bottom 10 individual questions) need to be established. Providing employees in one department with a very granular review and others with only high-level findings can cause some to question the level of transparency.
  3. When is the information communicated? Another vital consideration in sharing results with employees is timing. Generally, the sooner employees hear about results, the better.  In fact, the longer you wait to share results, the higher employees’ expectations that you will also be in a position to share the details of how you will address any issues that have surfaced. For this reason, by sharing results earlier, you actually buy yourself more time for thoughtfully creating a plan to address your priority areas. When planning a result cascade, it is also important to consider how much time each level of leadership may require. For example, it often comes as a surprise to HR colleagues that once executive leaders have reviewed the survey findings, they may not be comfortable launching a broader cascade of communications until they’ve communicated their perspective on the issues. While this reaction is understandable, it will delay the post-survey process (perhaps considerably) and so communication of leadership perspectives should be planned in advance. A final consideration related to timing involves the coordination across groups in sharing local results. While perfect synchronization is not needed, having one department hear about results three weeks before another should be avoided, if possible. 
  4. Where do solutions come from? If leaders have been properly motivated to identify and communicate priorities, it is likely they will also be eager to find solutions to address these issues. To exploit this eagerness, the organization must have resources readily available. This might involve, for example, the ability to quickly commission focus groups, arrange meetings with internal or external subject matter experts, and connect managers who are struggling to find solutions with others who can help. It may also require the ability to provide automated, self-service solutions, such as a best practice library of recommendations for common issues. In many organizations, numerous requests for help are directed to HR during a very short post-survey window. If well prepared and coordinated, HR can seize the opportunity and act as a truly valued partner to the business. If the window of opportunity is missed, leaders may quickly turn their attention elsewhere, and the momentum sparked by the survey results will be lost.
  5. How will action plans be logged and progress tracked? A final issue to consider is the mechanism for recording and tracking progress across the company. Without this, you will inevitably be scrambling to identify what actions, if any, occurred in response to the survey — not exactly a recipe for continuous improvement. Solutions can range from old-fashioned manual approaches to sleek online tools specifically designed to facilitate post-survey follow-up. And of course, organizations should leverage existing goal-setting and performance management processes. It is critical to identify the system of record and communicate to leaders that they are expected to update it at clearly specified intervals.

At Willis Towers Watson, we believe the overwhelming majority of business leaders, at all organizational levels, genuinely want to improve the company. Further, we believe that if you provide these leaders with compelling insights into the factors that will drive improvement, and a clear way for them to take action, they will do so. These beliefs guide our work with each client. We strive to design and execute an overall post-survey process based on our validated best practices and careful consideration of each company’s unique needs. An open dialogue among all relevant stakeholders about the five factors discussed above in the early stages of the survey project will help ensure a successful post-survey process.

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