Are you not engaged?
Tool or no tool - that's the question.
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Let’s talk Employee Engagement Tools.
(Kudos if you took the reference in the headline. Russel Crow #ftw)
No area within HR Tech has been more hyped in recent years than the Employee Engagement sector. It's impossible to keep up to date with the exact amount of employee engagement tools available. Still, a quick count (read, a quick search on Google, and then pulling together the results in Google Sheets) parks the number of tools well north of 50.
And it's easy to understand why. It's quite easy to create an employee engagement tool. (I will now have the inventors of the tools in my inbox telling me how hard their tool was to build.)
I simplify things here, but the basics of a survey tool such as an employee engagement tool are easy. Once the basics are done, you can make it however complex you want. But it is easy to get an MVP out the door.
Combine that with the overarching trend where the people function becomes more important within our companies. The urge for data is vital in all parts of an organization, and you have the perfect storm for the rise of employee engagement tools.
Not seldom are they built around the concept of weekly pulse checks. Employees receive an email or a DM on Slack once per week, nudging them to answer questions relating to their team, manager, or general work.
Sounds pretty neat.
So what's the fuss about?
Which employee engagement tool should we use is still one of the most commonly asked questions. More often than not there’s a push from management to “get more data” around the people area and the people team then defaults to getting one of these systems. The driving force behind the implementation is not the employees but the manager. And that’s always…itchy.
My colleague Henrik, a mastermind in people analytics, lays out “Four reasons why a pulse survey won't solve your problem.” It's well worth a read.
But there are two parts in his text that, in my view, are extra crucial and deeply consider if you think about implementing an employee engagement tool.
By asking questions, you commit to taking action on the responses.
This can not be overstated, and still, this part is overlooked almost everywhere I've seen a tool implemented. People ask the questions but ignore the answers. The tool becomes a tool for HR and management to view the organization, not a tool for improvements in the teams.
There could be instances where that's a valid use case but for the love of God, then state that so the employees don't count on you to take action on what they give as input. If you choose this input you’ll most likely have to work quite hard to get responses as well. What would be the point for the employee to pour their heart out to an organization if they don’t take action on the feedback?
Secondly, Henrik points out that:
The main challenge is not about how we measure; it's about how we follow up.
The two are obviously related. One pitfall companies discover while doing this is that this part requires effort. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but to many organizations it does. As if purchasing an engagement tool would magically increase engagement.
Surprise, surprise, there are no magic tools that solve the problems in your organization; you still need to invest time and effort into making the change.
And if you invest in a tool that does weekly check-ins with your people, that means that you as a manager have to follow up on the results weekly. It doesn’t matter if the results are anonymous or not, it still requires the manager to read the results and see what could be done to influence the score.
Speaking of scores, that’s also a problem. Not the scores themselves but having the managers understand what drives engagement up or down, aka how they score. Most tools I’ve worked with offer insights into how to interpret the scores but leave it up to the manager trying to influence the score.
Is it all bad?
So am I utterly bearish on employee engagement tools?
Surprisingly (perhaps, at least) no.
If done right, an employee engagement tool can be a fantastic tool in a manager's toolkit.
It provides insights, captures nuances that otherwise would be missed, and creates a conversational starting point. But more often than not, I've seen organizations default to buying an employee engagement tool, thinking it "will improve employee engagement." It will not.
We should always have the employee in focus when buying whatever HR Tech tool we'd like to use. How will this benefit the employee? What steps are required to actually improve employee engagement?
A great vendor will help you sort these questions out but make no mistake; in the end, it's up to the managers to utilize the data that is compiled.
These tools are getting more and more advanced and they do offer suggestions on actions and feedback loops on how to improve whatever you are trying to improve.
As with all tools, if you know how to implement them and the effort required to make it a success when going into buying the tool - then all is good and dandy and not so…itchy.