CEOs and HR teams use employee engagement data most effectively when they establish a baseline (the results from the first survey I wrote about earlier this month), set goals for improvement, and give managers better, science-based skills to achieve those goals. But it doesn’t stop there. They then measure again (in nine to 12 months) to track, course-correct, and celebrate the progress. This process should happen again year after year. Connecting the dots after the third year’s survey, senior leaders now have a trend line for employee engagement, one of the few truly forward-looking indices of business health.

The Importance of Year-Over-Year Data

In addition to informing better decisions, data should give leaders greater confidence in the actions they take. This is also true for individual managers, who, according to the research, are usually not well equipped to elicit high levels of engagement from their teams. But, we have seen something quite remarkable in our client companies as they celebrate their progress every year.

Managers approach us and say, “I was skeptical when we started working with you because we have cycled through so many leadership fads over the years. But this really works. My scores went up, and I can track why they went up. My team just feels different.”

This is a remarkable confidence builder for leaders and managers who are struggling to juggle their career-based skill sets (as an engineer, doctor, accountant) with their role as manager, responsible for workplace performance, behavior, and attitudes. In my experience, great managers like having science-based metrics to help guide them toward being a better leader.

Sharing the Data with Managers

Once you measure engagement, aggregate the data and share it with each manager. It is important to establish a positive frame (identifying “opportunities,” not “weakness”).

Having their leadership performance assessed can feel new (this isn’t my job description), somewhat awkward (I didn’t come to work to build relationships), or even tangential (we don’t need to celebrate – this is a job). These emotions can be daunting. It can also feel like a new paradigm for leadership, one they never signed up for. And, as in all systems based on a meritocracy, many managers will feel uncomfortable when they can see how their performance compares with the rest of the organization.

You are searching for ways to encourage a high-performance culture, rather than looking for employees – or managers – to punish. You want every team member, especially the leaders, to embrace the process instead of viewing it as a threat.

My results improved! Now what?

Managers who score well, especially those who see their scores improve in year two and beyond, typically feed validated and proud of their performance. It’s not an easy task to be an intentional, high-performing leader, so make sure you give specific praise around their biggest strengths identified in the survey. Pay attention, too, to their areas of opportunity – those lowest scoring items in their survey results. Pick one or two lower scoring questions and work with them to identify what can be done in the near and short-term to help improve their team’s experience.

As you review results together, keep the balance tipped toward focusing on the positive. Celebrating the progress these managers have made and recognizing their efforts will sustain this upward trajectory in their leadership journey.

My results declined! Now what?

Managers who have a lot of room for improvement or who have declined from their previous year often struggle to process their results. They may have feelings that range from inadequacy (I knew I shouldn’t have taken a managerial position) to lack of fairness (those other leaders have it easier than I do), to irrelevance (I hit my production targets, what else do they want?). In extreme cases, we have seen leaders and managers scorn the process itself, attacking the tool and those delivering it.

Your role in helping them process their results is critical to ensuring growth and success as an effective leader. Start by picking out their top three scores – what does their team think they are doing well? Honor those strengths and let them serve as encouragement that they are demonstrating effective leadership in some ways. When you move to their lowest scores, don’t bite off more than they can chew. Of their bottom 4-5 questions, ask them which three they would like to focus on in the coming months. This gives them the freedom of choice in how they would like to improve – and gives you both clarity on how to improve the culture of their team. Then, check in with them throughout the next few months to see how things are going and where you can continue to help.

Results will shift year over year, but allowing your managers and employees to feel heard, validated, and supported regardless of the actual numbers will carry immeasurable value.

Key Takeaways

  • Year-over-year data provide senior leadership with the most accurate picture of engagement, allowing companies to truly assess their strengths and challenge areas.
  • Whether managers score highly or poorly, there are steps you can take to come alongside them and offer support.
  • Take a look at our popular survey tool, the E3A, and learn how to sign up.