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Hand writing Time to Plan concept with blue marker on transparent wipe board.

Want to improve employee engagement? Don’t do another survey!

Hand writing Time to Plan concept with blue marker on transparent wipe board.

The conversation often goes something like this.

“Only 51% of our employees are engaged” (with a tone that infers there is something wrong with the other 49%). When I ask ‘what have you done since your last survey to help improve engagement?’ I’ll often hear:


“Well, we analyzed the results, and shared them with our employees….”.  Anything else?  ‘Well no…we haven’t really had time’.

Well if this would be your response too, don’t do another survey!

Measuring employee engagement is a good thing. There is reams of data showing a direct correlation between high employee engagement and higher profitability. It’s good to share the results as people want to know their opinions matter.  But if you’re not going to take action, don’t do another survey, you’ll just frustrate people or at best, they’ll become complacent.  

If you really want your employee’s to be fully engaged, there are well researched ways to respond, but here are 3, simple ‘Shifts’ you can make that will start to make a positive difference to engagement.

Shift #1 – from there is something wrong with employees who are not engaged’;

To: ‘What do we need to do so that people can feel and do their best?

A low engagement score does not mean that people are not trying.  Most people strive to do their best and make a difference every day.  Low engagement scores usually tell us that there is something getting in the way of your employees doing their best. It’s not them.  Though we do want employees to take responsibility for their own engagement, as a leader – you’ve got to own it – you go first.  Ask yourself, what’s 1 thing I can do that would help people feel more engaged?  Then do it, consistently.

As Kouzes and Posner suggest the best leaders in the world ‘enable others to act’[1].

Shift #2 – from ‘Our corporate-wide employee engagement response plan will fix it’.

To: ‘It’s one person at a time’.

In their book “It Starts with One”, Greggersen and Black[2] describe how true organizational change really takes place, one person at a time. We often think that a message from the CEO, corporate communications, or HR will fix it, but the real difference is made one person at a time.  That means you having one on one conversations with your employees and colleagues.  It means asking for feedback, and then taking action on what you hear.

Look at any engagement survey and you’ll see questions like “My manager or someone at work seems to care about me…”, or “I have the opportunity to do what I do best…”.  Take time to connect with each employee or colleague and ask questions like:

  • What’s one thing that is most important to you?
  • What is one thing that gets in your way?
  • For you to feel excited about your work, what would need to change?

Here’s a hint, if you ask these questions and you hear a pattern, go do something about itFor example, an employee might say ‘it seems like we never celebrate our accomplishments anymore – we just move on to the next thing’.  You don’t have to wait for the corporate wide recognition program – next team meeting, recognize an employee for something they’ve done, highlight a team accomplishment, or talk about what’s going well.

Shift #3 – from ‘We need more data’

TO: ‘Trust your intuition’

It kills me (not literally) when we say we need ‘data’ or proof, so we do the survey, then when we get the data – we either question the data or insist that we now need to validate it.   That’s garbage! It’s a stalling technique.

Use your intuition. You probably feel it yourself at times. What seems to undermine your engagement?  What seems to stoke it?  What are you hearing from people? Don’t dismiss this – trust it.  What do you see in the data that you can relate to or seems to reaffirm what you’re hearing from staff?

I love the information I get back from instruments like Human Synergistics OCI or Aon Hewitt’s Employee Engagement Survey as examples.  It does provide data to help us better discern what is working and what is not.  I’m just saying don’t become paralyzed with all the math and fancy predictive modelling math embedded in these tools.  Trust your intuition, trust the feedback you’re hearing, then make the shift. 

One final thought.  Improving engagement takes time.  It’s not an event but a journey, so be patient, be consistent, and stay the course.

Want to learn more about what the best leaders do to drive engagement? Contact us here.  



 [1] The Leadership Challenge, 4th Addition, 2007, Kouzes and Posner.  

[2] It Starts With One, 2008, Hal B Greggersen and Stewart Black.



  • So great! I think we often be bogged down in data and in our heart we know what’s right. Just because you work in an org. with 500 people doesn’t mean you treat them like a number.

    • Thanks Hugh. I know most leaders don’t intend to treat people like a number but it can feel that way if it takes too long to respond to the needs.

  • Hi Matt – an excellent post. My experience is consistent with your strong message to organizations. Thanks!

    • Thanks Andrew. I know with your experience in guiding executive teams through transformation and change – you help them balance between understanding data and moving to action on the things they know will make a difference.

  • Really good article, Matt, thank you! I see organizations often over-analyze survey data and spend way too much time trying to guess who said what. Thank you for your insight.

    • Thanks Wendy. I know the intentions are good, trying to understand the root cause and make sure they’re striving to improve in the right areas. Just needs to be a balance. thanks

  • Another really great article Matt – thanks for putting this together and sharing!

  • Great article Matt and very well written. Thank you for capturing your thoughts.

    • Thanks Wilma.

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