463724157Are employee engagement surveys worth the time it takes to complete them? Can they actually affect positive change in our organizations and do they achieve a high return on investment? You may have your doubts, but evidence suggests that yes, there’s a strong link between employee engagement, elevated productivity and customer satisfaction and the data collected from surveys.

Employee Engagement is Driven by Effective Managers

The effectiveness of surveys has been debated and evaluated for some time. In his definitive 1994 publication, Harvard professor and researcher, James Heskett proposed his “Service-Profit Chain” theory. His research outlines that satisfied employees perform better and therefore create more satisfaction in customers. Heskett determined that this overall higher satisfaction leads to an increased lifetime value with each customer, driving revenue and profit for the organization as a whole.

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Twenty years later, Heskett’s Service-Profit chain has been confirmed, supported and accepted across the globe; researchers such as Frederick F. Reichheld and W. Earl Sasser calculated that even a relatively small increase in customer satisfaction can drive a large increase in profits for an organization. Improving loyalty by only 5% can boost profits by 25% to 85%. In addition, research from the consulting behemoth Gallup indicates that satisfaction increases customer loyalty, employee productivity, safety and retention, as well as the company’s profitability.

But this doesn’t tell the whole story!

The lesser-known finding from Heskett’s research is that employee satisfaction is largely driven by the leadership practices of the organization. Workers’ satisfaction and engagement is directly affected by their relationship with their managers and more broadly the leadership approaches of the organization.

Thinking About Employee Satisfaction

Employee engagement surveys focus on identifying barriers to that satisfaction – or, in today’s more refined understanding, engagement – of employees. How can managers help their employees feel engaged? It does begin with a survey, which is an assessment of the current state of the organization. Businesses gather important information about employee engagement.

There is a risk, however, that initiatives undertaken as a result of employee engagement surveys will not have the desired result. For example, in every employee engagement survey I have ever seen, communication ranks low. So, being responsive, the CEO will launch a newsletter, there will be more town hall meetings, managers will be encouraged to walk around and have an open-door policy. And certainly there is a bit of an uptick on survey results and employees recognize that efforts are being undertaken, but over time communication still ranks low. Why is this?

It is because poor communication is a symptom. In the same way taking an aspirin may reduce pain and fever but not cure the disease, organizations tend to tackle the symptoms and not the root cause.

Let’s think about what employees may have been thinking when they say that the organization communicates poorly. Perhaps an employee was left out of the loop by their manager on a moved deadline. Someone else may have found out about a decision affecting her work taken by senior management weeks before, but only recently found out about it. Perhaps an employee found out by accident that someone in another department was working on the same project, and unbeknownst to each other were duplicating work.

The Effective Managers Survey is a great tool for CEOs and HR to diagnose managers’ effectiveness. This research-based survey can get to the root cause of issues in the way that an employee engagement survey does not.

The discussion at the water cooler will focus on this lack of receiving the appropriate information at the right time, and will be described as poor communication. But in fact, all of these cases represent a failing by managers to delegate and set context appropriately. Management had this information. But it simply was not “right-sized” and “right-timed” for the work that needed to be done. This happens in organizations where there is a lack of a clear accountability and authority framework for the delegation of work down the organization. After all, it’s the manager’s job to provide all the necessary information to their employees in order to set them up for success. Likewise, it’s the manager’s job to hold departments accountable for their interactions and to make it clear how to work together outside of typical verticals.

The key takeaway is that the survey responses indicated a lack of communication, which was only a symptom, not the root cause of the problem. This is why the Effective ManagersTM Survey can be so powerful for CEOs and the Head of HR. It assesses a manager’s effectiveness and his or her commitment to clarity and accountability. More importantly, in this case, it can help identify the initiatives that the CEO can take to improve accountability and authority so that employees do get the right communication at the right time.

In this article we have looked at communications as a symptomatic issue in organizations and talked about the importance of getting to the root cause. There are many others, which the Effective ManagersTM survey is designed to identify.