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The whole truth and nothing but the truth…

Article posted 1st Feb 2017Engagement News

Employee engagement isn’t as simple as it sounds. Yes, this usually involves a survey. Yes of course it’s confidential and you can tell us anything you want, because we really want to know what you think, so we can make a positive difference by addressing the big issues. And yes, the truth of how colleagues are feeling can be uncomfortable. So much so in fact, that whilst it can be clear what story the data is telling, the painful truth can force through a focus into over-analysing / reviewing the data to find a more comfortable or more palatable truth. 

Being ‘right’ at the wrong time-simply translated can mean ‘great insights, but no one wants to hear that now’. The internal political climate might be such that the big ‘rocks’ of insights (which I believe are the real gems), the ones that will make a significant positive difference to your workplace, can be swept under the carpet, for the insight that wasn’t at first obvious, and applies to a limited number of colleagues, but is a much better news story! Phew, we can all breathe a sigh of relief - another bomb diffused! Good work people! Now, I say this tongue in cheek of course, and I’m sure this is not how it really works, but I have experienced situations like this and it occurs more often than you might think. 

It can take the form of a leader, over analysing their results, to justify the outcome…’see, the number of responses doesn’t add up to the people in my team – gotcha!’. Whether you call this a defensive reaction, or whether it is driven from a curiosity about ‘why would they say that, it doesn’t make sense’, the results can end up being the same. It can also take the form of middle managers, not wanting to share the difficult truth of the survey data with superiors, and therefore ‘filtering’ the insights from the data. Whatever form it takes, it can severely undermine the impact of any focus on improving productivity – incidentally, still ranked as the top fourth priority in the CIPD HR Outlook 2016-17 by HR professionals.

Then think from the colleagues’ perspective, we’ve asked them how they feel, they’ve told us, but when we’ve played back the results of the survey, they find them hard to relate to, because that’s not exactly what they said! If you have asked someone for an opinion, they want to know you’ve listened. This is one of the reasons we focus on response rates – are they still engaged enough to tell us how they feel? 

This ability to listen can drive trust. 

We’ve seen this in the political climate in the UK and U.S. – politicians seen as not listening to the general public – driving mistrust. We’ve all watched how politicians in interviews, answer the question they want to be asked rather than the question they were asked. Some have made an art out of this.  All this leads to is a growing resentment, and ultimately there can be a breakdown at work in the ‘psychological contract’ (‘mutual expectations, beliefs and obligations as perceived by the employer and the employee’) so where you have not fulfilled the expectations that your colleagues have of you as senior leaders/managers, this can lead to lower employee engagement rather than better employee engagement, which after all, was supposed to be the main reason for the survey in the first place, wasn’t it? 

And then we go into that beautiful phase of action planning. I know many engagement colleagues in many organisations who are working very hard to ensure the data tells a compelling story of what it’s actually like working in their organisation. 

If leaders don’t hear the truth, you cannot vilify them for not doing anything about it or acting upon partial truths. Many leaders are serious about improving engagement. The fear of ‘how will they react’, can hold us back from telling the whole truth. 

If you have experienced extreme reactions from sharing the results, then at some point, serious conversations need to be had about the money being invested into measuring how colleagues are feeling – especially if we’re not prepared to accept what’s being shared. Fear itself can hold us back, sometimes because we don’t know how some people will react. Our obligation is to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Then we allow leaders to make informed decisions about the next steps to truly improve how it feels to work around here and therefore productivity. 

If this resonates with you, we can help. With our experience of engaging leaders at boardroom level, we can help you understand the key issues identified in your survey data, and more importantly, help to address these issues, to truly transform engagement across your organisation. Why not give us a call to help you get to the truth! 

Posted by Amrit Sandhar

Amrit Sandhar is the founder of The Engagement Coach. He has an Advanced Certificate in Leadership and Executive Coaching with the Bristol Business School and an ILM Level 7 in Executive Coaching & Leadership Mentoring. He is a Walmart Accredited AIM Change trainer, a Birkman Assessment accredited consultant, NLP Master Practitioner and has a CIPD Advanced Level Diploma in HRM/HRD.