Last week I wrote about listening and asking the right questions is the key to solving many of the issues in the workplace (and more broadly, life!).   I made the point that the counter point to employee engagement surveys not working (as suggested in the article from People Management) is to ask the right questions and then listen to the answers (rather than get too caught up in process, surveys etc).

Hot on the heels of that post, I read an interesting white paper (Chandler and Macleod), which talks more about why ‘engagement surveys are so disengaging’.  The paper asks: 

  • Content – what are you really measuring? (and I would add – ‘and why?’)
  • Is your engagement survey process engaging?
  • Actions speak louder than words (ie – are you actually doing something with the results!)

The paper makes the point that many engagement surveys : “neglect the fact that engagement is personal. – Each individual is different and will be engaged by different factors.  Organisational interventions often attempt to enhance engagement levels from an organization – wide perspective – unless this explicitly addresses the needs of the individuals, it may miss the mark..”

It’s a crucial point.  How do organizations develop programmes that meet the needs of the individual and are still workable?  More worryingly – do organizations even know what motivates and engages each employee?  

 The broader organization probably won’t – HR probably won’t – but the line manager, if they know their team, if they’ve listened, if they’ve observed – they’ll know. They’ll know what will work and what won’t and for whom.

A quick example to illustrate this: I was working with a client a few weeks ago, where given external market considerations, it was inappropriate for this client to recognize a particular employee’s contribution with a monetary amount.  We talked about the employee, what was important to her, where she was in her career, what would be most impactful for her and came up with the idea of offering her access to a fabulous external mentor. 


The employee was delighted.  The impact: ongoing and powerful.  The cost: negligible.


For organizations who want standardization and ease of administration, and who want consistency of process and reward this individual type approach won’t get past the door – but for those that are prepared to put the time in to getting to know their employees and think laterally – the potential for interventions that grease the path of engagement is huge.

As an aside: the above will almost always be less expensive than a blanket approach that misses the mark with a large percentage of employees (and is therefore money down the drain).

What do you think – are engagement surveys worth the time and effort?  Do line managers really possess the answers?  Is it workable to develop individual approaches to individual employees?


Views: 999

Comment by Karen Schmidt on August 12, 2011 at 10:04
Any organisation that gets a surprise from the results of an engagement survey is, well, disengaged! Of course line managers know what is going on and if they don't they should be in the role. It's the accounting and law types that want reems of data to support what we all know anecdotally. Even then they don't always take action because they think it is unnecessary, too hard or have run out of money because they spent it all employing overpriced consultants to do the surveys.
Comment by Tammy Tansley on August 12, 2011 at 11:24

Touche Karen!

It is a shame that either the wrong line managers are in the roles (ie - they don't know what is going on) or they do but are not (or feel they are not) empowered to take action that would make a difference!  

And as for the money - some of the most powerful of tools usually don't cost much at all  - good communication, a trustworthy relationship, proper recognition, career development opportunities and regular and honest feedback.


Comment by Caz on August 12, 2011 at 12:43

The best rewards are often not attached to $'s. Being recognized and appreciated hold a lot more value than HR sometimes estimate.  Know your client - know your staff!!!

Comment by Tammy Tansley on August 12, 2011 at 14:48

Caz.. So much research into the fact that THE most powerful form of both recognition and appreciation - is a well meant, well timed "thank you".  So easy!! (and free!).


Thanks for continuing the discussion.


Comment by Courtney Smyth on August 12, 2011 at 16:00
Hi Tammy - are you able to post the link to the Chandler and Macleod whitepaper?
Comment by Tammy Tansley on August 12, 2011 at 17:02

Hi Courtney - the Chandler and MacLeod website will load it on their white pages page - but it wasn't there last I checked- so I have also loaded on my website under

Let me know what you think of it - I thought it raised some interesting questions.  Tammy

Comment by Nicole Underwood on August 15, 2011 at 22:16
Fantastic discussion Tammy. I am a big advocate for tailoring reward and recognition to the individual.  Money is rarely the number 1 motivator for most staff.  The access to an external mentor is becoming an increasingly popular option for a lot of corporate organisations.
Comment by Tammy Tansley on August 16, 2011 at 12:40

Nicole - it's funny how 'easy' it is to recognise, reward and motivate if you know the individual.

I will always remember a talk that someone gave on recognition - her boss had known of her love of reading and her favourite novel - and in recognition of a huge piece of work well done had organised for a first edition copy of the novel. Not everyone has the time or energy (or money) to go to that extreme -but what stayed with me was 1)the impact (many decades on) it continued to have on the person and 2)how something relatively trivial can mean so much - if it the 'right' thing.  

And to Karen's point above - none of this is about consultants (or even HR) - it's about the managers' having the right relationships with their teams and the accountability and authority to make it happen ..

As we know - people join organisations but leave managers. 



Comment by Benjamin Whitfield on August 18, 2011 at 17:36

Hi Tammy,


Employee engagement and motivation is a very interesting topic for discussion.


You are very correct in identifying that if employee engagement surveys are not deployed and utilised correctly then this will have little impact on individual employee motivation and engagement levels. You are also very correct in identifying the fact that engagement is personal and that each individual is different. To this end, I would argue that it is the model/tool that is used, the survey technique employed and the resultant action taken that are the keys to success in such projects and investigations. At the forefront of customised, survey based research, Hinds Workforce Research utilises a unique diagnostic approach which will identify and predict both the barriers and enablers to building a high performance workplace and achieving key business objectives. Hinds has also developed a highly effective survey reporting process for feedback and action-planning across entire employee populations. This system is innovative, easy to manage and will have immediate impact to raise employee motivation levels.


Such an approach, whilst allowing for entire populations to be surveyed also allows for ‘local’ actions to be developed and for line manager involvement.

Comment by Tammy Tansley on August 20, 2011 at 11:35
Hi Benjamin - to my way of thinking - the tool is an enabler and certainly needs to be appropriately designed.  More importantly though, is having got the data - what do organisations do with it and are those actions effective? I'd be interested in your action planning process and the degree to which organisations have found that to continue to build engagement. Thanks for continuing the discussion.

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