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Team Engagement Surveys: the good, the bad and the ugly

Updated: Jun 8, 2020

I remember the moment that I sent out my first engagement survey. It was about 6 months in to a new role in People & Culture where I oversaw a group of 42 business units and a team of over 1200. The company had been doing standard engagement surveys for the last couple of years and we had some good data to go off. The results themselves were not great but with any new position, I came with a vigour that was ready for the challenge.

I eagerly awaited those 4 weeks we left the survey open for and when it finally closed I poured myself into every comment, every answer on the scale to understand their perspective, deriving ideas that I passionately knew would help the somewhat dismal feedback.

I built an individual plan for each business unit that was specific to their feedback, congratulating them where things were going so well and identifying resources where they had opportunities to improve.

I walked into a leadership meeting ready.

What I was not ready for was the barriers the leaders would instantly put up. I was not ready for how many of them would instantly become defensive and remain defensive for the remainder of time I was working there.

None of the feedback was impossible to change, in fact most of it, with some creativity and openness would be fairly simple to change. I offered those business leaders an invitation into cultivating a workplace culture that mattered to their employees… they gave me resistance.

And it was in that moment, I knew the power of what an engagement survey could be.

Engagement surveys were created with the intention for business owners to be able to open the forum of how they are doing as leaders in a confidential arena, where the team can share their perspective and truths of what it feels like to work within that team.

The way we see it, it provides a path - golden nuggets of beautiful information that your team offers to you, another invitation and opportunity to create a collaborative and open team culture, where they feel they are a part of the process.

(hint: this is the good) It can truthfully be one of your most important tools. It can be the springboard for building a deep trust with your people, where you can say ‘I am ready to listen’. It can be a gift to someone who isn’t quite sure yet what it feels like to fully trust their boss.

(hint: this is the bad) But if you aren’t prepared to listen, if you aren’t prepared to hear what your people say and build a plan around it, it has the opposite effect, which is exactly what happened to those 42 business units. The teams became jaded, they didn’t trust the process and therefore began to lose faith in their leader. If you are going to open the door to feedback you need to be prepared to listen.

(hint: this is the ugly) If, as the leader of your organization or team, are going to let the results fester into defensiveness or resentment towards your people, I highly advise you do not even start this process. I would recommend you working with us on how to become a more open and vulnerable leader first. And when you feel ready to really hear your people without an edge of defense, get that survey out.

If you are ready to implement a team engagement survey but don’t know where to start, we would love to work through this process with you.


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