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We sure love our surveys. Our rankings, our multiple choice, our sliding scales, our free text responses. It’s all so delicious.

But also. And I hate to be the bearer of this news. We’ve been doing them wrong in the workplace. Particularly on the Employee Engagement front.

Most Employee Engagement surveys – the ones I’ve seen anyway – are designed to answer two fundamental questions:

  1. How are we doing?
  2. What can we do to improve?

That’s it.

And surveys are a wonderful way to answer the first. They offer quantitative measures, statistical validity, a point-in-time snapshot that we can compare to years future and past.

What surveys are terrible at, however, is answering the second.

And yet so many organizations continue to use their employee engagement survey to answer both.

And here are the main reasons it’s problematic:

  1. Too slow. Employees respond to an engagement survey and often wait months for the results. The analyst team is working to crunch both the quantitative “how did we do” and the qualitative “what can we do to improve.” The former should be quick. The latter deep and thoughtful. But by the time all is crunched, your employees have lost interest. Your least engaged may have left.
  2. Too static. Employees may offer written suggestions. But the written word leaves you no room to probe. To clarify. To sequence and prioritize and imagine the impact. It’s an incredibly lost opportunity.

But yes. There is a better way.

So, what do I recommend instead?


Use a survey to get your quantitative results. Crunch the data and report quickly on how it’s going. What’s hot, what’s not, and where you’ll need their help – their insights and recommendations.

Then. Focusing on the trouble zones that arose in your survey, use live dialog to inform what you should do next. Me? I sure do love a Focus Group. I believe they deliver a unique value in that they are…

—> Connective. They invite employees to come together and build ideas collaboratively

—> Dynamic. They allow the facilitator to probe, clarify, and understand deeply

—> Human. They invite every participant to truly felt heard

—> Qualitative. If 17 people want to try streamlining decision-making, you don’t need statistical validity telling you this is an issue. It’s an issue. Go forth with a solution.

Focus Groups – run well and often – become the fuel for your success;  the vehicle that serves to engage your employees – that deputizes them as your engagement committee. And the results of your next annual Employee Engagement survey are sure to demonstrate this.

We do these all day long. We’d love to be your partner. If you’ve got survey results you need some help in actioning? We’re here for you. Any time.