by Matt Stephens | January 02, 2018
Imagine a company using a business system from the 1950s -- an IT system, payroll, or performance management system. Hard to imagine, isn't it?

Yet when it comes to employee surveys, most companies happily stick with wildly outdated systems. Case in point, I'll bet your last employee survey went a little something like this: The exact same 50-60 questions from 2016 were asked in 2017. Results were analyzed three months after they were submitted and management used the main three to four takeaways to compare themselves to an organization of a different size and scope. And, for good measure, the company happily shelled out hundreds of thousands of dollars for this privilege. 

Madness? Most definitely. And yet many large companies continue to rinse and repeat every year without fail. 

It just doesn't work for the modern workplace. More and more, companies are looking for transparent, real-time answers. Since engagement is based on emotion, not only do companies need to understand the emotion, they also need to understand the why behind the emotion. This will help them to better understand what's inhibiting engagement, and better yet, what's enabling engagement. 

But that doesn't mean that companies should be racing to replace outdated annual surveys with daily pulse surveys. At Heartbeat, we don't believe that daily pulse surveys work in the modern workplace, as their repetitive nature can quickly lead to disengagement. Who really wants to be pulsed every day? And what manager has time to respond to a dump of data every day?

The answers lie somewhere between the annual survey and the daily pulse. Here are three ways to better measure and understand employee engagement in the modern workplace: 

Collect employee feedback when it matters most.
We call them "Heartbeat moments" -- when knowing how people are feeling and why really matters. Think post-town halls, during a company restructuring, or just after the final annual numbers have been announced. Feedback must be collected via a fast, flexible, and user-orientated survey, and it must happen when it most needs to -- not all the time, or just once a year.

Use technology to create a more natural, interactive feedback experience.
The capturing of data must engage people and reflect how many of us already interact through social media. This means no more intensive statistics-based approaches, weighed down with tick-box paper copies to reach those remote, out of the way places. The technological platform should be simple and easy to use so that anyone can set up and use the platform, not just the experts. And don't ask dozens of questions that will surely tire anyone involved. Keep questions to a maximum of 12, but be sure to ask at least six -- you'll want to ask enough questions to fully engage the employee. And since engagement is multi-faceted, consider including multiple survey-style options as well.

Enable real-time results that are visually appealing and easy to digest.
When given simple, yet powerful real-time results, recipients can better respond and take action quickly. More often than not, Heartbeat clients find that their best solutions involve a simple conversation between the leaders and employees rather than huge actions that involve the creation of new projects. They can act quickly because they don't feel bogged down by never-ending paperwork and convoluted analytics. Long surveys that take months to return results fail to engage employees, and rarely do anything to actually drive change. As an Aon Hewitt report states, "Only 18 percent of employees strongly believe that their survey results will be acted on."

Adopting this approach will mean moving away from a reliance on the lengthy and infrequent statistical measurement of engagement, to one that views the engagement as a dynamic, social, and emotional relationship between employer and employee. To know that your "engagement index" or "score" has risen two points may be interesting to the leaders whose bonus is decided by it, but is almost utterly useless to the employee experience, as you can't take action to improve it because of a score. Knowing how and why your employees feel the way they do can and will make all the difference.

Matt Stephens is a leading authority on the increasingly important organizational topics of employee engagement and experience. As founder of the fast-growing management consultancy Quest, he is helping some of the world's largest businesses navigate change by better harnessing the skills and energy of their people. In 2014, he launched a groundbreaking product called Heartbeat -- an app that enables organizations to measure employee emotion in real-time and is challenging traditional approaches to engagement by championing the importance of leaders making emotional connections with employees. Matt is also the author of the timely book, Revolution in a Heartbeat: Using Emotional Insights to Drive Better Business Performance (LID Publishing, 2017).