In our previous blog post, “Where should we focus our innovation efforts?”, we suggested that by empowering employees to initiate the conversation around interventions that will make the organisation stronger, the organisation’s leaders set out a clear statement that they are serious about listening to employees concerns and their highlighted areas of opportunity.  

Where the ultimate goal is to promote and instil a company-wide improvement and innovation mindset, with more ownership of issues and opportunities at a local, team and individual level,  this approach is likely to help build and maintain excitement in the innovation programme and create the foundations for sustainable employee involvement. We introduced  Pulse surveys, delivered to employee’s desktop or hand-held devices or strategically placed kiosks, as a means of creating an ‘always-on’ channel for collective early warnings and interventions to be raised and brought to the attention of the leadership team. In this post, we will look at the next stage in the Engagement to Empowerment life-cycle – “Why?”

The Power of Follow-through

Pulse surveys are a great tool to understand real-time, generalised sentiment among groups of employees on a diverse range of topics – from the more traditional Human Resource stronghold categories such as ‘Inclusion & Diversity’, ‘Health & Well-being’ and ‘Quality of Leadership & Management’, to topics that lean more towards ‘Efficiency’, ‘Productivity’ and  ‘Innovation’.  Empowerment itself is a topic in its own right that, tackled correctly, can open the door to increased Efficiency, Productivity and Innovation, and thus should feature in the armoury of any organisation looking to improve through a more empowered workforce.

But this is the key – the responses are generalised early warnings that are, in themselves, incapable of driving change.  That generalised sentiment needs follow-up.  The organisation has been given a steer on “where” some improvement is needed, now it needs to find out “Why” the workforce thinks that.

Depending on the size of the group that provided feedback, responses to Pulse surveys that produce worrying, exciting, unusual or unexpected results are often best followed by a traditional survey to that same group who provided the early warning.  Not a long survey, sent at the end of the year which few people will take the time to respond to, but a short 3 or 4 question survey issued hot-on-the-heels of the early warning signal indicating that follow-up is indeed required.  

(Note to reader – for smaller group sizes, where trust across the group is already established, nothing beats just asking people face to face why they might feel a particular way!) 

So what does that follow-up look like?  There are a number of factors to take into account:  First, follow-up questions will clearly need to be tailored to the initial Pulse question posed.   “How happy were you at work this week?”, “How safe did you feel at work today?” and “How confident are you that you understand our latest customer communication policies?” are all going to require very different follow-on probing questions.       

Second, was the early warning positive or negative?  A negative response should be a trigger to pose further questions that dig into root causes in order to understand whether preventative, remedial, corrective or improvement actions is needed, whereas a surprising positive response might be used to pose questions that will help celebrate the positive outcomes, and perhaps work out where else in the organisation they might be deployed.  

Third, the trend of sentiment can also be important – a benefit of Pulse surveys is that they can be very long running, with responses from the same group of people being recorded on a daily or semi-regular basis over an extended period of time.  A change in trend should act as an indicator that the obvious follow-up – “What has changed?” – is needed.   

Or, where the early warning has been notified to senior management via an alert (for example, where the number of negative responses within a specified timescale has breached a pre-specified threshold, rather than Management Reports and Data Exploration tool outputs), an immediate follow-up is often advised, which is especially important when dealing with safety issues. 

A simple example always helps!

So, let’s dig into this a little more.  Take the example of our question “How confident are you that you understand our new customer communication policies?”.  Imagine we are posing the question to the Customer Services team, under the guise of “Productivity”, and that the responses have been largely negative – we are therefore going to follow-up with a few questions that delve into this further. The following four questions are probably enough to learn what is happening:

  1. “Have you been given access to the polices?”,
  2. “Do you find the policies easy to navigate?” 
  3. “Are the polices easy to understand?”
  4. “Do you need more training in use of the policies?”

For surveys of this nature, we always recommend the use of both quantitative and qualitative evaluation.  For quantitative, a question scoring approach using 1-10 options (10 most positive, 1 most negative) provides a good balance between simple response analysis and sufficient differentiation of results to make fast decisions.  For qualitative, optional supporting text should always be offered, and if the aggregated response text can be further analysed with tools such as Keyword and AI sentiment analysis, all the better!  

We normally also recommend that the survey respondent should be given the option either to respond anonymously or to have their name associated with their answers – this is a great way of maximising the number of responses.

And one more thing – remember to record and share your survey findings, and the plans that you are going to follow on the back of them. This is the least that an empowered workforce will expect of you!

With a short, sharp, timeous survey of this nature that follows the early warning findings from Pulse feedback, the organisation further empowers the workforce to play a key role in the direction of organisational improvement initiatives, and further demonstrates its commitment to take empowerment seriously. 

Having learned where our employees feel we should focus our improvement efforts and why they feel we should focus our efforts there; we can now start to look at empowering employees further through deeper involvement in the ensuing change itself, by asking for their input on what we are going to do about it.  What is that we need to do to make change happen? The what of the Engagement to Empowerment Lifecycle is the focus for the next blog in this series.