The Story Behind the Stats – Digging deeper into engagement survey results

My daughter just turned 2, so this week has been marked by both celebration for how far we’ve come and reflection on where we’ll never be again. I found myself looking through two years’ worth of photos – from the moment she was born to the ones I took the day of her second birthday. She’ll never again be the tiny little infant she was during the winter of 2012/2013 and I’ll never be that brand new mom, and while that saddens me a little, look what she can do now!

She’s walking, talking, exploring, questioning, playing, singing, dancing, pretending – she’s learning to be a kid, the kid she will become. So we’ve hit a major milestone – no longer a baby, technically a toddler, but not quite a kid. So what does it mean to be 2? When we go to the doctor next week, we’ll get the stats – we’ll know what it means in terms of pounds and ounces, feet and inches. Those stats are great indicators of how she is progressing when measured against the general population of other 24-monthers, but they won’t tell the full story. To get to know her and learn all of the things she is capable of, you’d need to dig deeper.

I was recently working with a client who wanted to do just that. She is an executive at a rapidly growing technology company. It has existed for a little less than 10 years and has doubled in size in the last two years. They have about 500 employees with continued growth plans – they are no longer the little startup they used to be just a short while ago.

The organization recently participated in an annual engagement survey, and they were surprised by some of their results. The culture there is feedback heavy – they take it very seriously. The survey results were great. Their stats ranked them right up there with the top companies in the city. Their status as a top company had even improved over last year’s results but after reviewing the stats, my client recognized that she had some questions. She needed to dig deeper.

We were hired to design and facilitate a series of focus groups, report back on what we heard, and provide some initial recommendations on what the organization could do to better engage its employees. We heard a lot of really good feedback, but we talked with some really frustrated employees too. Our key finding was that people’s experience within the organization is widely variant depending on where they sit, what department they are in and who they report to. While this finding isn’t particularly surprising and is probably true of many growing organizations, we recognized that there were some things that were working in some locations, in some departments and with some managers that could be pulled through to other groups that weren’t quite so solid in order to create a baseline of consistency. While it wouldn’t make sense for every employee’s experience to be exactly the same, introducing some common practices that build on the successes already in place will enable the organization to take steps toward engaging all and not just some employees, and ensure that the organization remains a top workplace as they grow.

Rapid growth and continued success have quickly changed the landscape of the organization. In many ways, the things that made them successful early on may get in the way going forward – we called these factors overdone strengths. We also noticed a number of tensions between the old guard (employees who have been there for more than three years) and new guard (employees who have been there for less than three years). We used these overdone strengths and tensions as a filter, with which to interpret our findings and develop our conclusions and recommendations. They also allowed my client to realize that while employees both new and old are excited about the trajectory of the organization, the old guard is also nostalgic for the startup phase, which was marked by the time when they knew everyone’s name. They have hit a major milestone. The fact that they’ll never be that scrappy startup saddens those first employees some, but in the same breath they recognize all of the things they can do now that they would have never been able to do in their infancy. Simply acknowledging where they are and asking what it means to be who they are, where they are, and preparing for who they will become helps to establish that baseline.

The survey results, or the stats as I have been referring to them, were instrumental in this case. They alerted my client to some potential issues, but the stats themselves were not as valuable without the story that we were able to uncover by digging deeper. Our client recognized the need, but also recognized that she needed a third party to do the digging in order to get the full story. As a result, she not only got the story, but also initial recommendations regarding how she might strengthen the employees’ experience to uphold their top workplace reputation as they grow. She would have never gotten all of that by simply looking at the stats.