5 Tips for Leaders: how to use the data after your engagement survey

Author - Thomas Lange. Senior Leadership Consultant

As a leader, how do you optimally use data from your engagement survey? In this article you will learn, as a leader, that it is in creating dialogue about the data that value is created or lost. Therefore, you will get five specific tips on how to use data from your engagement survey optimally.

Data does not generate value in itself. Data is necessary to create a value-adding dialogue, but data alone is not enough to create value. It's how you and your team make sense of that data that is the key ingredient that makes the follow-up process taste of something.

You are a leader and have just gained access to your engagement survey results. You are immediately all over the results in your eagerness to know “how is the department doing” and “what the employees think about you as a manager”.

But data can be tricky. Particularly when you are trying to measure a phenomenon like “engagement,” which consists of a wide range of psychological and social processes. You can measure a person's height and weight with 99.99% accuracy, as these are physical variables. But engagement is something you and your staff create in your minds and among yourselves when you go to work. In other words, it is impossible to capture with the same precision.

Even if your company uses a validated framework of questions, as a leader, you still need to be careful not to consider your data from the engagement survey as the holy grail that will give you all the answers you seek.

In fact, the report is designed to make you curious and ask questions rather than to give you conclusions and answers. By jumping straight to conclusions and solutions, you leave your employees behind. Team engagement is not something you as a leader can create yourself. Engagement is something you and employees create together through dialogue.

Then what is the purpose of having data?
Data qualifies your dialogue. Period. It can serve as the scaffolding or training wheels for your dialogue. The boundaries you speak within and navigate by. A kind of compass that can indicate where the shoe doesn't fit on the team, but not necessarily why or how it doesn’t fit.

Therefore, you should see your data as a map of the (engagement) landscape. But it's an analogue map. Not a live feed from a satellite. If you walk in the forest with the map constantly in front of your eyes, you risk falling over a stone or slipping on deer droppings, because the terrain is more dynamic than the map. The same is true of engagement reports. Therefore, use your report to navigate, but remember to be curious about what you encounter along the way through team dialogue.

Based on my many years of experience with leaders at all organizational levels and across industries, I have seen some pitfalls repeat themselves. So I hope that you, dear leader, will reflect on the following five pieces of advice, so you don’t 'fall and get hurt' or come out of the team dialog with several or even bigger challenges. 

Five important tips for you as a leader:

1. Data is only data 

On their own, numbers have little value. It's behind the numbers that the meaning lies. Why has something gotten better/worse? What actions, decisions or initiatives could have driven this? Therefore, the dialog should be more than you just going through where something has gone up or down in the report.

2. Joint ownership

Remember, it's not just you, as a leader, who should choose the things you want to work on. It may be that you may have something you would like to explore further and improve from a managerial perspective, but it is crucial that you also gather knowledge from the team about what they see as most important thing to work on. It is not necessarily the lowest scoring topic. On the other hand, it is more interesting to examine what improvements could have the greatest positive impact on their engagement — from their point of view.

3. Spend time on the right thing

You should talk about something that those who are present in the room can actually influence. It is your responsibility as a manager to be aware of whether the talk is slipping into “the management is stupid”, “the weather is bad” or anything else that could steal your attention. You can address this from the start in your framing of the dialog, so you can refer to this ground rule along the way. For example, you can use an “idea bank” or “parking spot” for topics outside your influence.

4. Be realistic

Expanding on the above, you should choose actions where you:

  1. Have the influence needed to be able to follow through, even with a busy work schedule
  2. Believe that your actions will have the greatest possible positive effect on engagement.

Sometimes leaders and teams are overly ambitious and the action plan falls apart from the get go because it was too confusing and too dependent on whether x number of other external factors or stakeholders chose to do as agreed. All of you on the team must be able to follow through on what you choose to do together. You must be able to determine whether it will be a failure or a success and then ensure that the action plan has enough weight to leave the conference room and work in reality.

5. What should be discussed where?

Think about what elements of the results are worth examining with the whole team or in one-on-one meetings, respectively. Particularly with regard to questions involving an individual's expectations of you as a manager, 1:1 may be the best format. There can be a wide range of needs and wishes from your employees in this regard, and some of the questions are an individual matter between you and the individual and cannot be reconciled at a team meeting. On the other hand, work involving, e.g. collaboration or team culture requires a dialogue with — you guessed it — the team.

If you keep these five tips in mind, you are already well on your way to creating a meaningful dialogue with your employees that can really bring valuable improvements for them, you and the business.

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Thomas Lange. Senior Leadership Consultant

Thomas Lange. Senior Leadership Consultant

Thomas Lange is a Senior Leadership Consultant in Leadership & Team Development and a trained Business Psychologist. Thomas works with data informed leadership and organizational development, process facilitation and coaching. He is an expert in converting data into concrete behavioral changes that generate commercial value.