Don: [00:00:00] I’m Don Rheem, CEO of E3 Solutions and author of the book Thrive by Design. I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement at work. I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level to create engaging workplace environments where employees feel safe, recognized, and validated. Employees who feel safe at work are happier, healthier, and more productive. Each week my team and I take on topics impacting managers and offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges. This is the Thrive by Design podcast.
Laurie: [00:00:40] Welcome to Thrive by Design, the podcast. I’m Laurie Nappi, E3 Solutions V.P. of Operations & Engagement Initiatives. I’m here with Don Rheem, CEO of E3 Solutions. We created the show to give managers, CEOs, and leaders the tips, strategies, and tools you need to create an engaged culture at work.
[00:01:06] For the past several episodes we’ve discussed the current state of the job market and the importance of creating a retention strategy focused on engagement. But do you know the level of engagement at your workplace? Today’s show is about why you should measure engagement and the best practices when it comes to measuring. Welcome, Don.
Don: [00:01:29] Thank you, Laurie.
Laurie: [00:01:31] When we say we’re measuring engagement what are we actually measuring?
Don: [00:01:36] That’s a really important question. Let me start at a higher altitude, looking at the at the market – what’s out there. There are there are quite a few tools that label themselves “employee engagement surveys” but we see a clear difference between two types that are out there.
[00:01:55] Most of the surveys are actually measuring employee satisfaction. You can tell by looking at the questions. If the questions are asking employees “how happy are you with this, or satisfied are you with that?” That’s a satisfaction survey. Essentially what those surveys are doing is they’re asking employees to self report on how they feel in the moment. We don’t do that. In our survey, we’re actually measuring drivers of human behavior. We’re looking at things like trust, and does my opinion count? Do I get good cooperation from other teams? Am I consulted on decisions impacting my team? Am I proud to work for this organization? These are drivers of behavior. We’re not measuring satisfaction.
[00:02:39] Here’s the key thing: satisfaction is an attitude. Employee engagement is a behavior. Digging a little bit deeper, an attitude is the outcome of an emotional experience. We experience something that emotional level and that triggers an attitude in response. An attitude is the outcome of an emotional experience. Employee engagement is the emotional experience. We’re going at really the heart of what’s driving behavior, not what it looks like after it’s been triggered.
Laurie: [00:03:14] Right. Is there any reason why a company shouldn’t measure employee engagement?
Don: [00:03:24] First I would say, you really should measure it because you can’t manage what you don’t measure. But there is one condition where we would tell a company don’t do it. And that is if they’re not willing to do three things they probably shouldn’t measure. This is what we would consider to be best practices around actually deploying a survey tool.
[00:03:49] Number one and foremost is, leadership has to be willing to release the results. If you don’t release the results, there is an assumption by employees that the results were so embarrassing, so terrible, that leadership was was too embarrassed to release the results. The perception is that the outcome was negative, and highly negative.
[00:04:14] Number two: you you need to identify three things that leadership heard in the data. Don’t just put out a bunch of data points and the responses to the questions. Leadership needs to say, “In this pool of data, we saw three really important things.” And the first one, by the way, should be a positive. Always start with a strength when you’re talking about trying to shift human behavior, talking about human behavior. Start with something came off the top of the list. The second thing we suggest that leaders identify is what they heard, they should link with core values or the mission and vision of the organization. You don’t want measuring employee engagement to look like it is separate and distinct from the mission or core values of the organization. Whatever you talk about, that second thing you heard, just directly link it either to mission and vision and purpose, or to a core value. The third thing you need to hear, to keep it real, is you need to pull something off the list that’s at the bottom end. We would encourage them to do is frame it properly. The right way to frame essentially the negative, one of the more negative outcomes, I would suggest saying something like this, “And the third thing we heard is that we have an enormous opportunity to improve the way we [fill in the blank].” For most organizations that fill in the blank, is directly related to the way they value and recognize employees in the organization.
[00:05:49] So the first thing you need to do is a best practice. You need to be willing to release the results. The second thing you have to do is identify three things you heard of the data in that order that I suggested.
[00:05:58] Now there’s one more thing you need to be willing to do. That is to identify three things you’re going to do about what you heard. What are three action steps that the company is going to take based on what they heard? We highly recommend that those steps be completed at least three months before they survey again. We recommended measuring at least once a year, so within the first nine months they need to have completed whatever it was they said they were going to do. This would do the ramp up for the second year or the subsequent year. Employees have the clear sense of “hey they did something about it.”.
Laurie: [00:06:35] Right. So a successful survey process includes not only asking for their feedback, but also sharing the results so that they feel that they’ve been heard.
Don: [00:06:45] Yes and I treat this from a systemic perspective, a systems theory perspective. I see four really key essential steps in the ecosystem of measuring.
[00:06:59] Number one: they (the leaders) asked. That’s the deploying the survey and giving employees the ability to answer the questions.
[00:07:05] Number two, we (the employees) spoke. We said something.
[00:07:16] Number three, they (the leaders) heard.
[00:07:17] And number four, they (the leaders) acted. So they asked. We spoke. They heard. They acted.
Laurie: [00:07:26] You mentioned it’s a goal to measure every year. That creates a trajectory for the company right and their culture. What do we see when a company typically measures for the first time, their baseline?
Don: [00:07:41] The baseline year typically is a rugged experience for leadership because the scores are 80 percent of the time lower than what they hoped they were. They thought things were better. They didn’t think things were that bad. The first year can be rugged for leadership. “Oh my gosh, I didn’t realize that this was the case. This is really serious.” One of the reasons it can be rugged, we have found, is in the first year you ask employees these questions, when they think about the answer, there that the timeline they’ll go down for how they respond – it could go back a decade. I mean we’ve had employees talk about things that happened years and years before but it has stuck with them. There it shows up. That first year can carry a lot of baggage of things that have happened to people over time. One of the challenges for managers is employees may be responding to these questions as a result of a previous manager’s actions.
[00:08:41] It’s not always a contemporaneous view of that manager at that time. The nice thing about the second year is the timeline tends to be that employees are just thinking about since the last survey. The data does seem to be more contemporary, more current, more representative of what’s actually happening.
Laurie: [00:09:02] Taking a survey could make employees feel exposed. What does E3 do to help employees trust in our survey process.
Don: [00:09:15] We do want employees to trust the survey. You go out that a number of ways. This is one of the advantages of having a third party do it. Some organizations do their own survey. It’s not hard to find engagement questions online and you could easily put something together. Just loaded up on Survey Gizmo or Survey Monkey do your own survey. But employees are much less likely to see the data as protected and see their own protection assured in that process. One thing, just use a third party to do it, so the data stays with them.
[00:09:50] Secondly, just work really hard to make sure employees remain anonymous. We have no idea who the employee is that takes the survey. We don’t know their name. We don’t want to know their name. All we want to know is the data. When we measure engagement at the team level, at the work group level, we won’t share the data if there’s fewer than five people in that work group. That’s our minimum. Any manager that has at least five people reporting to them can get their own data. But if the dataset gets too small, if only two or three people have taken it in the group, we won’t share that data with the client. We’ll tell them about it. We’ll say “Hey these two or three people that took it in that work group, that team, are above or below the average for the company.” But we’re going to work very hard to protect employees anonymity.
Laurie: [00:10:47] When we get our survey results, what can companies expect to receive when getting their results?
Don: [00:10:55] It’s going to vary depending on who’s tool they use. There are some tools they’ll just they just give you the raw data and they’ll do it by work group and you kind of have to interpret it yourself. We’ve really focused on our tool and the reporting functionality. They will not only get the data of the four categories of engagement, that is the Actively Disengaged, the Somewhat Disengaged, the Engaged, and the Actively Engaged for every manager in the company. It could also be aggregated up. One high level manager might have four work groups under them. We would have the data for all four work groups, but then we would roll it up in one number just for that manager, that leader. Reports can be done by location. It can be done by department, by function area. We can arrange and slice the data in any way someone wants.
[00:11:47] I had a really interesting experience in a debrief with a company just last week, one of our clients. One of the questions they asked, and I think it was the first time this question was asked, is a very simple question. “Do you have anybody that reports to you?” And you either say yes or no. But what that allowed us to do was to separate all the rank and file employees who are just regular employees and then those employees that had people reporting to them, essentially people in leadership positions. What was alarming for this organization – it was a large company more than 2500 employees – they had around 250 Actively Disengaged. It was a big group. But it turns out that 44 of the Actively Disengaged were in the management ranks. That’s a challenge and that’s really valuable to know.
[00:12:40] We’ve also separated it by blue collar workers, white collar, salaried, hourly. I love being able to the data and then slice and all these different ways because when you slice it differently, sometimes it sends you a different message and you get some real clarity. You want to make sure what whenever survey tool companies use, they want to make sure that the tool is very robust in that way and how it can take one dataset and slice it multiple ways.
Laurie: [00:13:07] Right. And not only the hard data that we have, we also ask open ended questions. What kind of insights could companies expect to receive from the open ended questions?
Don: [00:13:20] We have a stable of about eight that we suggest and then we suggest that they just pick three or four of them. I’m going to start with my favorite. It’s the question I’d love to end the survey in. I love it when the last open ended question is “What are the three reasons why you like coming to work at Globex Corp?” It’s really insightful. This is another way of being able to slice employees. The disengaged employee will say things like “it’s close to my home.” “The paycheck.” “Stability, job security.” The highly engaged employees, the ones that have what I would call emotional velcro with the company, say things like “It feels like family.” “I really love my co-workers.” They literally use the word love, which is fantastic. “We have a great team. I work with really smart good people.” That’s the emotional hooks and loops that will help not only hold an employee to a company, but also deliver higher levels of performance.
Laurie: [00:14:24] Another question that clients can ask is our net promoter question. In this day and age of high turnover and retention issues, what could clients expect from the Net Promoter Scores?
Don: [00:14:38] The Net Promoter Score is a is a process typically used to determine levels of customer engagement. You simply ask a customer “would you recommend our product to friends and family?” What we’ve done is we’ve taken that net promoter score question and we’ve adjusted it for the workplace. “Would you recommend Gobex Corp to one of your family members or friends as a great place to work?” The employees respond to that question on a 10 point scale. You take anybody below a six and they’re called a detractor and you subtract out away from your data. Seven and eight are considered neutral but then nine and tens are considered promoters. There’s a little bit of an algorithm and you crunch the numbers and you end up with a number between one in 10, or 0 percent and 100 percent of where they are in this Net Promoter Score. We have one particular company that was very aggressive about this. They’re now in their fifth year and you can just see that Net Promoter Score go up year over year over year.
[00:15:43] It’s an important question if an employee wouldn’t recommend one of their family members to work, there that’s telling. Although, I have a short little anecdotal story for you. I was in a company recently doing their debrief and someone in the room said “Well I said no, I wouldn’t recommend one of my family members to work here.” And it was in a leadership group. Everybody looked over this guy said “Why wouldn’t you recommend family members to work here?” He said, “Because my family’s crazy! I wouldn’t want anybody in my wacko family working here. This is too good of a place to do that.” I think that’s an anomaly, but it was just an interesting response to the question.
Laurie: [00:16:25] It’s always great to hear that your employees are an advocate for your company. This is just one way to find out their feelings about that. So let’s shift to the employees and how the survey affects employees.
Don: [00:16:45] Almost anything you measure with rigor and regularity improves. There is something about simply deploying a survey, that is, initiating a survey in the organization. This simple act of asking employees – and we ask 28 questions in our survey – but in one of the open ended questions for example you mentioned before, one of them is “What can we do to improve employee engagement in the company?” A frequent responses is “do this survey more regularly.” So they actually see the survey as a sign, a very tangible sign, that the company cares about these 28 questions. It’s like, “Whoa, my company cares about this? They’re going to measure it? I didn’t know they cared.” The very act of using a survey kick starts the process of shifting engagement inside the culture. Then of course the companies have to follow through with it, but it’s a great starting block to change the culture and move it in a more positive direction.
Laurie: [00:17:52] It’s a great way to get the conversation going. What does the E3A tell us about a company’s culture?
Don: [00:18:00] The E3A is just our name for our survey. What can it tell us about the culture? Our work is deeply rooted in science and in neuroscience and in two key scientific principles that boil down to essentially “do the human beings that come to work every day feel safe when they get there?” I don’t mean safe from a typical worker safety standpoint, but are they coming to work in an environment where their brain isn’t constantly worried about potential threats or blindsides, for example. One of things we can tell when we measure this culture is, is this a culture that people look forward to coming to work in? This is just essential.
[00:18:44] For the last 250 years, companies didn’t have to worry about whether employees would come to work, because there were so few jobs relative to the number of people that could be employed. If you’re one of the people that had a job, you went to work no matter how awful it was because you needed the paycheck. We’re in a new environment. In the literature now they talk about the Future of Work. One of the key aspects of the Future of Work is fewer people available to do it. This environment literally for the first time in our economic history, managers are going to have to create the conditions where employees look forward to coming to work. In as few as two years three at the most, they’re gonna have to create the conditions for people love coming to work. Most managers and cultures don’t have that capacity now. It’s not that they couldn’t, it’s just that they have never had to. They don’t have the muscle memory to do it. Especially in the base year, we want to know “okay where are we starting from? How challenging is it going to be to shift this culture to a place where people actually want to come to work every day?”
Laurie: [00:19:50] Well as you’ve said before, you can’t manage what you don’t measure. So the E3A tool is a great tool to help us get those answers.
Don: [00:19:59] You know, Laurie, one of the things I share with leaders is I say “Look, you want to know what your culture is. There’s lots of different parsed definitions of corporate culture out there. I suggest just answering this question is really, really important. If you want to know what your culture is just answer this question. What does it feel like to work here? And the answer to that question is your culture.”
[00:20:25] If you peel away the core values, the mission and vision, everything else, the felt experience that people have when they come to work. Do I want to get there? When I’m there do I want to volunteer my discretionary effort? Am I operating anywhere close to my highest capacity, what I’m capable of as a human being? In one sense this this engagement survey is measuring the health of the culture. How healthy are our behaviors? Now that’s not the case in a survey that’s simply asking satisfaction questions, because there all you’re doing is asking people to self report on how they feel.
[00:21:02] I really encourage leaders to be wary of those questions and here’s one of the reasons why. You could get a really high score on an employee satisfaction survey because you overpay your people and you don’t hold them accountable. They’re ecstatic to work for you. That doesn’t mean you have a high performance culture. The thing about an attitude and satisfaction is that it doesn’t predict what the employee will do next. Employee engagement is predictive. Employee satisfaction is not.
Laurie: [00:21:33] Don, thanks so much for your time today to talk about the survey. We’re running out of time. It was great talking to you. Thanks so much.
Don: [00:21:39] Well Laurie, I want to thank you and listeners should know that you are the person that runs the survey tool inside E3 Solutions. I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to come here and have this conversation about the survey. One of the reasons we’ve been so successful in doing this, is the expertise that you bring to this process and the way you work with clients to solve these challenges that come up occasionally. I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for us and our clients.
Laurie: [00:22:06] Thank you, Don. It’s my pleasure.
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