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Tuesday 3rd June 2014

Survey monkeys

Replace Old Skool surveys with a more collaborative, real-time tool, says Gareth Jones

Summer is nearly here. And what better time to bring out that staple of HR good practice – the Annual Employee Engagement survey.

‘Employee Engagement’ – never has a subject attracted so much interest. We’ve even got the Government involved, supporting the employee engagement taskforce, Engage for Success.

Unfortunately, despite all the interest from our leaders and the energy and resources going into engagement, it appears that we are still not getting it. A recent report from HRZone shows how backward we are in terms of understanding what engagement really means.

Nevertheless, engagement has clearly become a process, something that we believe exists in its own right.

And what a process. If you’re working for an international business with employees in the tens of thousands and you run an annual engagement survey, then you’ll probably be looking at an annual bill at the thick end of six figures. Maybe even seven.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to stop.

Welcome the new order

Engagement surveys are no longer relevant. They are a manifestation of top down, hierarchical approaches to both management and communication.

The new order is collaborative. The mega trends are bottom up, peer-to-peer and real time. The new judge is the employee. Therefore we need a new mechanism, one that allows an organisation to tap into the things that matter – honesty, openness, authenticity, humility, transparency.

These things build trust. Trust builds engagement. Bland statements and questionnaires do not.

So, if the trends are collaboration, peer-to-peer and real time, then our internal communication strategy needs to have these principles at its core. We don’t need questionnaires, we need conversation.

Another quick look at the HRZone report gives a clue as to why this is key. In a chart that considers the relationship between survey frequency and levels of satisfaction, there’s a clear sign that the more frequent the communication process, the more satisfied everyone is.

How lucky then that we happen to live in the conversational economy!

If you are looking down the barrel of a seven, six or even five figure investment for your annual engagement initiative, then I would urge you to think long and hard before investing again.

My advice would be to ditch the survey altogether and instead invest the money in an enterprise social networking and collaboration platform such as Jive, Yammer, Chatter, or Telligent.

There are many more and this post would be about three weeks long if I tried to cover them all. To get you started or to refresh your thinking, this excellent post from contains a number of excellent short videos from various sources.

Another great post from Harvard Business Review explains the value of enterprise social networks.

As with everything though, it’s not just what you do but the way you do it that matters. So here are a few pointers to consider when implementing social and collaborative platforms.

1. Curate, don’t control

By all means assign resources to help build activity, but don’t over control.

It’s peer-to-peer, remember, so let the participants shape the network and find their own ways of connecting.

Social networks are fluid, so don’t try to overlay them with your organisational hierarchy.

2. Keep it free

Many attempts at creating internal social networks fail because the platform or network is limited to a ‘project’ or ‘team’ or strictly ‘work-related’ conversation.

This is a guaranteed killer. By all means use the platforms for these things, but let the boundaries blur. Demarcation is old skool.

3. Everyone needs to participate

Yep, that includes you crusty HR folks! And the leadership team too. If anyone on the leadership or management group (HR or otherwise) feels that it’s not really ‘for them’ or not appropriate for them to take part, then they should be issued with their P45.

Time to get with the programme, laggards.

4. Anything goes

Time to bite your tongue. You want feedback? Then be prepared to have all of it, the good and the bad.

You can’t apply filters. If someone in the organisation wants to vent, let them, and with no penalty. Don’t fear it. Let the community self regulate.

If the beef is genuine, others will line up and agree. If it’s an isolated opinion, then the ‘crowd’ will tell them so.

About the author

Gareth Jones

Gareth is Partner and Chief Solutions Architect at The Chemistry Group. A corporate freedom fighter with low conformity issues, his passions are people, technology and the future of work. You can find more opinions from Gareth on corporate life in general at