TSI Blog

Culture and Engagement – knowing when to survey what

September 25th, 2018 by Jaime Johnson

This Way That WayWhen we’re approached to survey, sometimes organisations know what specific questions they want to ask, sometimes it’s a specific topic, or to consider the impact of change; sometimes it’s clear that the surveys focus will be on the employee and other times its more organisation centric – there is no right or wrong approach it depends on the best fit with the organisation’s strategy at the time.

Surveying staff is not a new concept – business has come to realise that in order to grow and optimise they need to look inward and understand what is going on with their people – and conducting an employee survey is a practical and measurable way to do this. A survey can be conducted globally, in multiple languages and therefore reach many people; the advent of online surveys has made this a timely and cost-effective way for organisations to gather valuable information.

Two types of assessment that are popular at the moment, are employee engagement and culture surveys. However, while they are certainly related and intertwined with each other, they are not interchangeable. This is useful to understand because the way engagement and culture are created and therefore measured is distinct, and when organisations aren’t clear on the differences, they risk spending time, energy, and resources measuring the wrong thing.

So, what are they, what do they measure, and why might you use them?

The key is to understand is that engagement surveys are about ‘I’, while culture surveys are about ‘We.’

Employee Engagement Survey

Engagement measures an employee’s emotional and intellectual connection and commitment to the organisation. When employees are engaged, they see and feel a connection between their daily contributions to the organisation and its overall success. Research shows that engaged employees use greater discretionary effort, they are more productive, motivated, innovative, and creative, and take more ownership of results, thereby creating and sustaining a high performing organisation.

Engagement surveys typically measure the factors that impact employee performance, such as:

  • The organisation makes good use of the skills and experience I have to offer
  • My line manager supports me to make my own decisions as far as possible
  • Senior management clearly communicate the goals and objectives of the organisation
  • I would recommend the organisation as a great place to work

These surveys help an employer understand the work from the perspective of the employee: how they feel about their roles, relationships with managers and colleagues, communication, leadership, health and safety etc. The collective data provides a picture of how people feel supported, challenged, and managed in their roles.

Staff Engagement surveys can be helpful if you want to improve the employee experience, improve performance at work or promote change. Analysing the feedback can help the organisation identify what is impacting performance and identify organisational priorities.

Organisational Culture Survey

Often a culture survey is driven by the need to change or align the business with a new vision and direction. It is an excellent way to determine how well employees know and are committed to the values – this is why culture surveys are often used to measure employee perceptions after a merger or any significant change in management, direction or structure.

Shared beliefs and values that guide thinking and behaviour define the culture of an organisation. In order to understand these a culture survey looks to measure internal structures, system technologies and skills that influence behaviour and as such it can cover areas such as Vision/Mission, job design, performance management, teamwork, innovation, sources of power and influence, methods for conflict resolution, and supervisory and managerial styles. The feedback will tell you how the workforce perceives the current culture in terms of the norm (behaviours people believe are required for them to fit in). These behavioural norms have a significant impact on the organisation’s ability to solve problems, communicate, adapt to change, and perform effectively.

An organisational culture survey will allow for an understanding of the culture in terms of the behaviours that are currently expected of people, determine the impact of the culture on its staff, and help establish a direction for cultural change efforts. All of this goes to helping the organisation create a high performing culture. Examples of typical questions include:

  • This organisation is very supportive of change
  • Achievements are celebrated in this organisation
  • Senior management encourage us to talk about our goals and how we will achieve them
  • We are free to speak openly even when our opinions are different

A culture survey can prove beneficial when an organisation is encouraging a certain culture with agreed behaviours.  A survey of this kind will help measure whether initiatives are in alignment with the values and vision of the organisation. It can also offer awareness of the root causes and subtleties impacting employee engagement and customer satisfaction.

Which type of survey is right for me?

While cultural improvements require you to look at collective behaviours and expectations, employee engagement focuses on factors that motivate employees to give their best. Engagement and culture are linked and affect each other. Both types of employee survey are valuable assessment tools, the key is for the organisation to know exactly what their goal is in the first place and which allows them to easily identify what they want to change and measure.

If you are wondering, can my organisation do both kinds of staff surveys? The answer is ‘yes’. However, you will need to use the surveys strategically as over-surveying could create inertia.  Those who are highly strategic about developing their culture and employee engagement have found innovative ways to collect data on both. Some of the organisations we have worked with have taken to alternating the type of survey annually or using smaller pulse surveys targeted on priority areas after conducting extensive culture and engagement surveys. We have found that when the desired outcomes are clear, the type of survey and the process to use tends to fall into place rather quickly.

Interested to discuss more about whether a culture or engagement survey is best for you? Then call us on +44 (0) 1255 870735 or contact us here.

Written by Jaime Johnson
Jaime Johnson is the founder of The Survey Initiative. With an MSc in Applied Social Research coupled with nearly ten years employee research expertise. She originally worked within the Ministry of Defence, then moved to a dedicated psychology based consultancy, before founding The Survey Initiative. Jaime has worked with countless national and international clients meeting and exceeding their employee research needs. Clients have included Kent Police, Boehringer Ingelheim, GAME, THUS and Red Funnel Ferries. Jaime loves a good coffee! Visit http://www.surveyinitiative.co.uk for more information.

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