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Written by: Alex Andrews, CPHR

There has been a massive spotlight placed on “employee engagement” in recent years, however, this is not a new topic. Business experts have been discussing the impact engaged employees have on business performance since the early 1990s and while almost any leader can logically explain the benefits of having an engaged workforce, little is being done about it.

Why is little being done? The unfortunate reality is that organizational leaders relinquish the responsibility of improving engagement to the HR team. Typically HR administers a survey, analyzes and interprets the data, and reports to management what their staff have said. Management then pushes HR to create generic, one-size fits all change initiatives or programs to reach a critical mass of employees, in the hopes of moving the engagement needle up a few points by the next survey. This approach is archaic and yields few results. Although HR enthusiasts are advocating for a more strategic level of involvement by the HR staff, this will not win over too many hearts. HR should not be responsible for affecting the attitudes, and in turn the engagement, of employees and if senior management is abdicating this role to HR, they will not own it and, therefore, not be invested in the program. Consequently, the impact of these initiatives will dwindle and simply be another useless data point we gather and do nothing with.

This cycle can have adverse effects resulting in an increasingly disengaged workforce, rather than a more engaged and satisfied one. Employees will not see the value in providing feedback through the survey and eventually stop responding if at all.

Most organizations don’t fall far from the above noted results of a poorly managed engagement strategy. However, getting out of this downward spiral is not an insurmountable task if your have a simple, but effective engagement survey strategy.

Frontline Managers are Leaders of Engagement

The process of taking the lead and ultimate accountability for engagement of your team is rather quite simple. It starts with the data. There are three basics steps we can take to better utilize the data gathered from surveys. Once the results are received and tallied, at a minimum, a manager should lead their team in the following tasks:

  1. Share the results with your team
  2. Facilitate a good, open, honest team discussion to uncover the issues
  3. Create at least one team action item that is uniquely yours (not imposed by HR)

1. Share the results with your team

The first step of an effective survey strategy is transparency. Opening up to your team and showing them you are vulnerable and willing to discuss concerns that you may be a catalyst for will open their minds to share more candid feedback. This also is an opportunity to highlight the common themes shared among the team.

2. Facilitate a good, open, honest team discussion to uncover the issues

Next, facilitate an open and honest discussion that is encouraging and safe. Creating an environment that is inviting and promotes sincerity will drive a stronger morale following the meeting.

To progress, managers and HR have to discard the vague notions of simple and categorical changes and get more granular and individual to unearth what drives each team member. Simply put, we are all individuals and differ in what motivates us.

In this conversation, we need to ask for observations, surprises and disconnects. Does the data we are reviewing address the individual concerns of the group? The role of the manager is to only facilitate the conversation and let the team guide the discussion. A manager can spark the conversation through simple questions like “what were you thinking about when you responded to this statement?”, “what would a top score look like?”, or “what is your opinion?”

As a manager, use silence to your advantage, do not fill it – this is their time to share.  

3. Create at least one team action item that is uniquely yours (not imposed by HR)

Once the team has discussed and uncovered the issues to their results, craft an action plan that will address these concerns and build a process to follow up.

Basic guidelines to follow:

  • As a team, decide on at least one concern or issue. Look for correlations – can one action impact numerous concerns or issues (i.e. improved communication, recognition, and feedback)?  
  • Be specific on the desired behaviour or action to take place
  • Make it something that is within the team’s control and achievable in the next 6-12 months (ideally before the next survey so you can measure the results)
  • This is not a “manager to do list” but a plan for the whole team
  • Assign action(s) to an “Action Item Leader” who will ensure the action is on track and completed
  • Keep open dialogue between HR and the Action Item Leader 

The goal in turning survey data into a tool that will drive engagement and not just measure it is for frontline management to take a lead and put their team’s engagement on the top of their priority list. This does not mean we manage this as another benchmark or rating on a dashboard, but rather we present the data through genuine conversation to gather feedback so we better understand and address the root cause of the issue.

As HR professionals and leaders, we cannot be confined to generalized notions of engagement. To really get to the heart of what motivates and drives employees we need to shift from a survey-centric and HR-led program to one that encourages dialogue between manager and team. This does not mean HR disconnects itself from the business and loses all control, but rather that we create a more valuable and strategic relationship. One that is spent dealing less with employee concerns and more with coaching and building a stronger workforce and management team.

Alex Andrews, CHRP is a member of the HR leadership team for one of Canada’s largest agricultural and construction equipment dealership groups where he oversees the organizational development and training programs. He can be reached at