Your Employee Engagement Questions Answered

engagement questions

W/ Dom Boon, Vice President, People for C&W Communications

Recently, Workify CEO, Stephen Huerta, sat down with Dom Boon, Vice President, People for Cable & Wireless Communications and discussed a wide range of employee engagement topics

With more than twenty years of experience working in HR, Dom has seen it all. Here’s what was discussed during their conversation:

  • How the engagement space and the conversation around engagement has evolved
  • The importance of getting executive-level sponsorship on your engagement initiatives
  • The benefits of running topic-specific surveys
  •  Employing a “you said, we did” communication model with employees
  • Benefits of an always-listening approach to engagement

Below we’ve handpicked our favorite moments from the conversation. For those of you that would like to listen to the full conversation, here’s a link to the recording.

Q: With over twenty years of experience in HR, what would you say are the biggest differences today in the employee engagement space from when you started your career?

The term employee engagement was a relatively new concept when I began my career. It was very much the flavor of the month and the emerging trend in the profession. There were very few engagement providers in the market and most companies were probably starting out in this brand new field not quite understanding it. If they were doing an engagement survey, they were doing it once a year. It was a long-winded, cumbersome process.

Fast-forward twenty years, there are a ton of providers. And as technology evolves, there’s a demand from organizations to get more frequent touchpoints with employees and more frequent and detailed insight into how employees are feeling. 

Q: How has the conversation around engagement evolved with CEOs and executive leaders you’ve worked with? Has it become more important?

If I think back to the early days of my career, we had to really fight to get this topic on the agenda of the leadership team meeting. Nowadays, it’s my CEO asking when she’s going to see the latest engagement results and asking me what the heartbeat and mood is across the organization. It has definitely become an established part of business life as more progressive companies give this real focus and attention.

Q: How have you seen the employee engagement toolset evolve and what benefits have you received as a result?

I can recall paper-based surveys and now everything is automated. There are a lot of progressive technologies out there. Everything is driven by mobile and the handset. Whether it’s about the communication of the survey, being able to see the results and understand them or respondents being able to use mobile devices to respond, I’d say we’ve seen a major revolution.

At one point, HR professionals referred to the concept of engagement as being a single concept. As different providers have entered the market, new methodologies for measuring engagement have also been introduced. So as the HR profession has become more data literate, we’re realizing we’re having to focus on evidence-based outcomes.

Q: What are some of the challenges that you’ve had to work through that may not be obvious to companies in the early stages of building out an engagement program? 

How do you get people to fill out their survey? You have to have a good communication campaign, you have to have the program endorsed by senior leadership, and you’ve got to understand that some people may not be sitting in front of a computer every day and make special arrangements to get their feedback.

It’s best to get an endorsement from the CEO / most senior person and guarantee that the survey is going to be anonymous and that you’re going to take the results seriously and act on them. 

My second piece of feedback is for when organizations change their employee engagement provider. If a particular way of calculating engagement has been established and embedded in an organization and you are switching methodologies, it’s almost like changing how you measure the temperature from Centigrade to Fahrenheit. You need to educate on how engagement is now being measured and reset expectations around what a good score looks like.

Lastly, leadership teams have a tendency to want to dissect the details of the survey results in 100 different ways. Yes, it may be interesting to see all of the different cuts, but the problem is that if you’re sitting on results for too long, your people will notice. Your employees will feel like you’ve either forgotten about the survey or that you’re unwilling to share what’s been found in the survey. For me, you have to be as quick and transparent as you can in getting the results back to your organization. 

Q: Zeroing in on the first item that you shared, do you have any advice on how to get sponsorship from executives so that they’re an advocate throughout the process?

There’s enough statistical evidence out there showing that engaged employees deliver best results. I think CEOs and execs need to know how people in all different areas of the business are feeling. Sharing the problems or negative feedback that you’ve heard around the office or seen on Glassdoor will get leaders sufficiently concerned and wanting to learn more. 

Q: When it comes to measuring engagement, can you share some best practices that you’ve seen over the years?

Before working at Cable & Wireless, I was lucky enough to work for the Virgin Group of companies for eight years. I was the UK People Director at Virgin Active then later the People Director at Virgin Media. 

When I was at Virgin Active, we experimented with what we called the Oomphometer. This was a tool that we had on our intranet. It was like a thermometer. People would log in to the intranet portal and it would ask them, “on a scale of 1-10, how are you feeling today?”. If someone scored lower than a three, an extra box would pop up and ask why they were feeling so low that day. The feedback varied. Sometimes it would be trivial things like, “it’s raining” or “I split up with my boyfriend today”. But other times, it was “I haven’t had proper training on how to do my job” or “we have a really unpleasant line manager at my health club and we think you need to do something about it”. When people filled out the extra box, the feedback was sent directly to our COO and me – I was the HR Director of the UK at the time. 

This gave us real-time feedback and a huge amount of insight into how our people were feeling on a day-to-day basis. Although upon reflection, it probably gave us too much insight, it certainly gave us incredibly useful insight that we did act on and that we used to drive engagement. When we started to see a pattern of 10, 15, 20 comments all related to the same topic, we knew that we needed to act. 

Q: I know that you’ve experimented with topic-specific surveys segmented by different employee populations. Could you tell me more about that?

In the region that I support, if somebody doesn’t take their vacation in a particular time frame, it remains on their personnel file and becomes an accrual on the balance sheet. In addition to being bad for productivity and the wellbeing of our people, it was an opex issue. 

We wanted to understand this issue in more detail, so we ran a topic-specific survey on vacations with a segment of our people. As a result, we found that either employees felt like their work was too important to take time off or they didn’t want to miss out on overtime if they went on vacation. 

Getting that information was vital to us. When you have a business issue that impacts both the employee experience and the bottom line, it’s really powerful if you can dig into that specific issue to find a solution. 

As far as segmenting by different employee populations, an important point to think about, is that you don’t have to survey everyone every time that you send a survey out. Taking random samples is a great way of getting insight without having to roll out the annual machine, which takes far more project management, preparation, and workload on your people team. In our vacation survey, we got a good sample of people from different markets, countries, and functions. We looked at where the accrual problem was the worst and got a good sample from those areas.

Q: Can you tell our audience how you’ve positioned change to your workforce and the “you said, we did” communication model that you have employed?

“You said, we did” is really about giving people the confidence that we’re acting on their feedback. We’ve used various communication channels from our CEO and other senior leaders in the past to get these messages out. It could be, “You said that you didn’t have the tools for the job, so we made a significant investment into extra technology to help you be successful and deliver better customer service.” Or, “You said that our benefits program wasn’t effective enough, so we’ve done some research and implemented an improved healthcare coverage for everyone going forward.” 

This is the kind of communication that we’ve used. We don’t do it just once. We want our people to have a steady flow of actions that the leadership team has taken in response to feedback.

Q: Are there other facets of employee feedback that are coming through to your HR organization?

For me, I don’t like the single engagement survey and nothing else. I’m a huge advocate of the always listening model – trying to get feedback from a number of different touchpoints throughout the year. Whether it’s social media, pulse surveys, face-to-face conversations with employees or focus groups, you have to think about how you can get feedback throughout the year from different sources.