Engagement Surveys That Drain Value

money down the drain 300x240 - Engagement Surveys That Drain ValueMust your employee engagement survey drain value from your business because its cost was greater than any gain you could expect from flawed research?  I hope you never have to ponder that dilemma!

Employee and customer experience research can serve up a mountain of data that can improve a business–if the people doing the research know what they’re doing.

Each piece of the research process matters–from question selection and administration to data analysis and action planning. Well executed action plans based on sound data can help take organizations to new heights.

After defining survey objectives, the process begins with asking the right questions. Today, employee engagement is all the rage. There’s no one, spot-on battery of questions to include to determine engagement levels, but some questions do a better job of it than others. For instance, Gallup’s well-known Q12 engagement survey asks basic questions that are geared to identifying engagement levels.

“I know what is expected of me at work” is a good question.  It’s to the point. The respondent either knows or doesn’t know what’s expected. Same, too, with the Gallup question: “I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work.” Employees know they have the right materials and equipment, or they don’t.

Correlation calculations check to see whether two things on average move together, i.e. do answers to certain questions suggest that engagement exists or not?  Other analytical tools such as structural equation modeling can determine if one thing causes the other to occur.

Opinion firms who don’t serve their customers well frame survey questions that tell us absolutely nothing.

For instance, an organization I’m familiar with devised nine questions that ostensibly will “help managers look for the kind of meaningful engagement that can improve employee performance.” Or so they say. But some of their questions are seriously flawed.

Here is an example.

Question #1: “Do you understand the strategic goals of the broader organization?”

Let’s say that every employee answered that they understand the strategic goals. But, do they, really? How do you know? You don’t.

That’s what’s known as a perception question. The perception is that employees either do or don’t know. But that’s not of any value, is it? What they think they know and what they actually know may be different when it comes to improving organizational performance.

If I were a business leader, I’d want to make sure people are acting on facts, not misguided perceptions. That perception question should be replaced with a knowledge question asking employees to select from multiple choices, in which one choice represents the strategic goals. If most employees selected the real goal, we can be reasonably assured that they understand the strategic goals. If not, they don’t.

There are numerous flawed questions on this nine-question survey. Unfortunately, collected answers to these questions are likely to lead to action plans that cost money, time and energy to implement without measurable results.

KEY TAKEAWAY:  The employee engagement survey process can add or drain value. It starts with asking the right questions.  Look for firms that have proven results.Look for firms that have proven results.


  1. Look for a firm that will ask only one question, put’s their fees at risk pending the translation of survey results into bottom line financial results, improves morale as a direct result of the survey and wraps everything up in less than three months. If you ask the right question and execute in a matter of days instead of months, the fast execution serves as the fuel that drives the input. If the CEO is not involved, don’t even bother, the cost will almost certainly exceed the results.

    1. Jim, I appreciate the intent and much of what you suggest. About which a few comments:
      There may be several “one question” candidates that are the equivalent of a net promoter score but asking more than one question enables us to gather more information about the nature and potential root causes of the engagement and performance issues. I often use four questions that get at the key drivers of engagement. It doesn’t cost any more to ask four questions than it does to ask one question and four questions give us a huge amount of information that we use to focus solutions.
      I agree the CEO should be involved and they almost always are in our work.
      I agree in the need for speed. However, because of size IBM’s survey took a little longer from beginning to end than a small, one-site operation in upstate NY.
      I agree with putting some amount of the fees at the performance improvement stage at risk, but not before that for all the reasons I’m sure you know.
      Thank you for joining and adding to the conversation.

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