Survey Says? Lead From Your Heart

I have never been a survey kind of guy.

At least not when it comes to leadership.

Surveys lead to data. Data leads to statistics. Statistics act like clutter, just something else you add to a mental closet already bestrewn with useless information, including words like “bestrewn”. Even though 14,000 people responded . . .

No, the purist in me believes leadership comes from the heart, and the heart is a long way from the mind. The realist in me, however, recognizes that influential leadership requires a balance, both heart and mind contributing to an overall culture of leadership excellence.

That spirit of realism is why the one survey initiative I support is an Employee Survey, measuring what your team deems most appropriate, i.e., Engagement, Satisfaction, Opinion, etc. The quality of awareness and strategic input generated by this process will benefit any organization, large or small.   

My caution around surveys and the statistics they generate is this: Continue listening to your heart, don’t let the numbers go to your head.  

Survey results are a useful guide, one of the many tools available in your pursuit of a strategic perspective. When incorporated into a well-defined and properly executed Plan of Action, these results help cultivate an environment suitable for inspired performance and goal achievement. Handled incorrectly, or worse, not responded to at all, and they will work against other initiatives designed to improve your performance environment.

It doesn’t have to be difficult. If you are willing to invest a little mind, and a good deal of heart into a few key aspects of an Employee Survey, you too can achieve amazing results.

Destination Loyalty

“Will you please figure this out. That session just gave me a horrible headache and I don’t want to go through something like that again.”

I knew Big Tim, our DHR, was serious since he was rubbing his forehead with one hand. That was only because the other was carrying his attaché. If not, we would have witnessed a classic two-handed forehead rub, a sure sign of a challenge on the horizon.

Our Annual Employee Survey had been revised to measure Employee Engagement. Everything was changed, from the content design to the questions asked. Debriefing results had always been a critical part of the process. As the intention of the survey had changed, so too would the debriefing process.

Big Tim discovered this in his first post-survey session. Hence, the forehead rub.

Unfortunately, the new process wasn’t packed with a set of “How to” instructions. Being in transition from my property-based position to the Regional Learning team, I wasn’t privy to advanced training and discussion. However, I embraced the Big Tim Challenge and dove headfirst into this new and improved tool.

My review was summarized in a single word: Loyalty.

The refined survey was seeking responses predictive of future behavior. We had moved beyond asking “Are you satisfied?”, to exploring your relationship with the organization’s culture. What keeps you coming back to work, motivates you to perform? How do you respond when asked “Where do you work?”

That was the end all objective of the survey: to determine what was necessary to retain our talent, and ensure their commitment to the success of the organization. It was about promoting empowerment, encouraging employee investment in their future, building strong and lasting relationships. Those are all great attributes.

What required translation was the responsibility of leaders to cultivate an environment that would nurture and support these attributes. To involve employees in their own personal growth process. This wasn’t as much stated as it was implied, so there was more work to do.

 But it made perfect sense.

Don’t Blame The Tree For Not Bearing Fruit

A tree will bear fruit only when its surrounding environment is properly maintained.

It requires attention to specific needs, such as water, soil content, nutrients, trimming, weeding, cross-pollination, etc. Silent prayers help on occasion. A tree that is well cared for will also repel negative influences, such as pests, extreme weather, etc. Put forth the effort, and you will harvest the results.

People are the same way. We produce better results when we feel cared for.

This has been applied to customer service for centuries. You want to make a guest feel at home, comfortable to be themselves. Everything they need to create a memorable experience is at their fingertips. You ask them how they feel, offer additional assistance. Then you invite them to return and hope they will tell others about their amazing experience.

We good with that? Perfect . . . now apply the same genuine care to your employee experience.

Your Employee Survey measures the impact of these efforts, provides feedback to help make improvements, and offers insight related to your employee’s willingness to think and act proactively.

Producing quality, high value survey results begins with asking the right questions. These should align with your “Everyday Questions” that you ask on a routine, informal basis. Remember you’re not doing clinical research. This is a collaborative effort with your team.

Ask practical questions your employees will understand and that lend themselves to great dialogue during a debrief.

A Six Pack Of Influence

These are six key areas of influence to consider when sponsoring an Employee Survey:  

Measure the Right Now: How do you feel today?

A response to “Rate Your Overall Satisfaction” or “I Feel Completely Satisfied”, measured on a scale from high to low, will not predict future loyalty. Ask it anyway . . . it will let you know where people are in the moment and provide a starting point for growth.

A guest called me into the dining room when we owned our restaurant. “I want to tell you”, he said, leaning back in his chair, “this is the best lasagna I have ever eaten.” I really appreciated the feedback and shared it with my staff. It let us know, at least for that moment, we were doing something right.

Never saw the guest again. I can only assume that while he enjoyed his meal, there was not enough value in the experience to make him return. If I only had a predictive survey . . .

Tools in the Toolbox: Do you have everything you need to be successful?

The worst-case scenario is an emotionally engaged front line employee, who is unable to perform due to missing or faulty equipment. This will chip away at their willingness to engage faster than you might think. Base your inquiry around performing to their potential once day-to-day tasks are accounted for.

Missing equipment can be purchased or replaced. A loyal, highly engaged employee? Not so easy to replace.

Survey the Sandbox: How do members of the team get along?

Inspired leadership only goes so far. True loyalty exists when members of a team inspire each other.

The nature of your front-line employee’s relationship with each other is a critical predicator of growth. You want a firm foundation to base your strategies on. Employees that respect and support each other practice joint accountability, provide better feedback, and produce higher quality results.

Ask the question, and then be ready to act on the results.

Survey the Ladder: What kind of relationship do you share with your leaders?

Take a deep breath. Seek responses with complete transparency. Measure critical social needs such as treating others with respect, holding everyone accountable, sharing feedback and recognition, communicating goals, creating an environment of inclusion and fairness. The presence or absence of these holistic qualities has a similar impact to that of missing physical or practical equipment.

Also recognize that a positive response may not tell you the whole story.

Employees have come to me and said, “Tall Tim, I’ll do this, but just for you”. I don’t want you to do it for me. I want you to do it for yourself, for the good of the team, because it’s the right thing to do. That person, however, may respond in a survey that we have a strong relationship. The challenge is that it is not a healthy relationship.

The goal is to achieve balance within connections among fellow employees, and strong, positive relationships with leaders. Anything out of balance will require attention and resolution.

Talk About Pride: What do you say when people ask where do you work?

Pride in yourself, pride in what you do, and pride in your affiliation with a great company . . . without these, nothing else really matters.

A person’s response when asked about their work offers a glimpse into their heart.

Personally, there have been a few positions that I never wanted to talk about. When someone asked me what I was doing, I quickly turned the conversation around and asked them the same question.

Ask me today, with TShamrell and Tall Tim Talks in full swing, and you had better set aside 20 minutes. Chances are, you’ll walk away before I’m done expounding on my sense of pride.

This is the feeling you strive for among your team. It begins with a look in the mirror then filters . . . no gushes out to inspire everyone else.

Captain’s Log – The Future: How long do you plan to work for the company?

If your survey format allows comments, “Where do you see yourself, what barriers exist, and how can I help you get there?” are great questions to ask.

Otherwise, include a question related to projected length of employment to inspire thought and contemplation. Then you are primed to ask the more specific questions in the debrief.

Seek Clarity From The Heart

The Debrief follows tabulation of survey results, and where my caution to “not let the numbers go to your head” will apply.

Although our questions address key areas of influence, and should collectively reflect predictive behaviors, they do not capture or encompass the total range of emotions an employee will experience.

That is why numerical results, to me, are neither positive nor negative. They represent the point in which we will begin to improve. Dialogue among team leaders and front-line employees is critical to discovering next steps. This is where we are, and this is where we want to be. How can we get there together?

This must be approached straight from the heart, with gratitude and encouragement. Gratitude for investing time and emotional energy into completing the survey. Encourage employees to continue sharing in an open, honest environment where their thoughts and ideas will be welcome, appreciated, and protected.

These are some of my Tall Tim Do’s & Don’ts when planning for and executing a successful Debrief:

Do . . .

Embrace change

Approach the spirit of improvement from a “We” perspective

Use an open-ended technique that allows employees to contribute to the solution

Listen intently and completely to ensure understanding on all levels

Allow transparency and vulnerability (remember – from the heart)

Do Not . . .

Share your final interpretation of results prior to soliciting input

Fall into the trap of quick fixes and immediate resolution

State “This is what you said. What did you mean?”

Become defensive

Lose focus or be distracted by external commitments (i.e. your next meeting)

I love the Debrief Process, the art of discovering unseen elements of how people chose to respond to survey questions. One such opportunity had members of the Bakery team respond “Disagree” to a question regarding tools and resources necessary to do their jobs.

What was the ultimate issue? Food supplies. A baker shared that her production list called for 48 cheesecakes. When she went into the cooler, there was no cream cheese . . . sort of a critical ingredient for cheesecake.

The culprit turned out to be in MIS. Production demands were not being communicated in a timely manner for procurement. Bakers were frustrated, constantly operating behind, and not ahead of optimal production. Tools and resources happened to be the survey question that came closest to communicating this urgent need.

We wouldn’t have determined that without being open to meaningful, genuine dialogue.

Call To Action

So, you won’t catch me paying a lot of attention to survey data anytime soon. How can you tell if someone is 117% more inspired? Clutter.

I will, however, support a purposeful Employee Engagement Survey. While not a substitute for daily efforts to inspire loyalty among your team, it is a great opportunity to step back, and evaluate where you are in that moment.

Create your survey around questions you would ask yourself:  Do I feel happy? Am I respected by my leaders and co-workers? Is recognition offered, for both achievement and opportunities to improve? Do I have the tools necessary to perform to my potential? Where do I see myself going? Am I proud of who I am, what I do, and for my affiliation with a great company?

Approach your Debrief Session with gratitude and encouragement. You want people to share, without being subject to scrutiny or judgement. Ideas are free, and you never know what may generate from this healthy dialogue.

The final step in the process is a robust Plan of Action, which we will explore in a follow-up Post.

Which brings me to the topic of what I do . . . have a moment?

Thank you for spending your Tuesday with Tall Tim Talks!        

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