Feedback. A Missing Link in Leadership Action Planning


Everybody’s talking engagement. Not the Kate and William royal wedding kind of engagement but employee engagement.  What should be part of any employee engagement conversation is what has happened to the survivors of the economic title wave that has washed over Corporate America.

More than 13.5 million people lost their jobs, which is double the number of what it was before the Great Recession began in December, 2007. Even though economists predict that 2.5 million new jobs will be created in 2011, it still means that it will take years just fill those positions that were lost (from

According to Newsweek, through the first quarter of 2011, even those most immune to an economic downturn, white males, have been one of the hardest hit segments with “over 600,000 college-educated white males ages 35-64 ending up on the unemployment line,” which is double that demographic group’s pre-Great Recession rate.

Those that were lucky enough not to lose their jobs, are the survivors – bitter, shellshocked, frustrated and disengaged; but survivors.

Knowing this is the lay of the land, as an employer, you want to get your head around what employees are really thinking. So, like many of your competitors, you conduct a survey to find out the real answers.  Once you’ve put employees through the paces of a survey, you’ve actually only made matters worse because, based on past experience, they don’t believe anything is going to be done with the results. Now you’ve got disgruntled employees that have been waiting for the chance to jump ship and by conducting a well-intentioned survey, you actually helped push them out the door faster.

According to the 2011 BlessingWhite Employee Engagement Report “engagement surveys without visible follow-up actions may actually decrease engagement levels, suggesting that organizations should think twice before flipping the switch on measurement without 100% commitment for action planning based on the results.”  So, what to do?

Action Planning is Good, But Not Enough
Collecting data, doing surveys and completing assessments are good. The data gathered is worthwhile. Decisions can and should be made based on the information obtained. Yet, often data collection is the only thing that an organization does.  Nice reports are generated, the results are discussed and distributed and that’s where it ends. A ball has now been officially dropped.

Do you remember those shellshocked, burned out and roving-eyed employees? They are expecting more from that survey but are usually left disappointed. Why?

There is no feedback. They don’t have a contribution to make because management has already decided it for them.  Without an opportunity to contribute to their own action plan, they have no reason to care.

What they are searching for is the chance to contribute to how they work. A way to take the results gleaned from the survey, overlay that with the objectives of the team and be part of a work group that develops the solutions that will help them be successful.  This plan doesn’t necessarily need to be a change to policies and procedures, (although sometimes this can be helpful), but it does need to be an actionable plan on how to become better at their job and make an impact.

Feedback with Facilitated Work Groups
In an environment that is potentially volatile, management may not have the proper training to handle conflict situations or facilitate a work group, and employees may be resistant to this approach because of past experience and the need to change, so proper handling of this process is very important.

Feedback, especially the kind that is a result of less than stellar survey results, can be a touchy issue for both sides.  How an organization disseminates the survey data reports can impact how that information is received and acted upon.

Proper Facilitation
There are two ways that management, once properly trained, can facilitate this process: push or pull.   Both methods have their place, but the one used is often dependent on the situation.  A “push approach” is based on logic and shows a commitment by management to the importance of the survey feedback process.  This is the more organizationally-based option. The “pull approach” is based on the grassroots aspects of how the survey results can affect people and how they can benefit from them. This is the more individually-based option. Either method can be used depending upon the situation.

To prepare managers to take on the role of work group facilitators, a training process should take place that gives these facilitators the skills needed to be successful: listening, encouraging input, fielding questions, communicating assertively, overcoming resistance, alleviating fear, keeping emotions in check and managing conflict. Eight specific skills that when combined, will make work group meetings function effectively. This training can be done by internal staff or an organization can seek outside help to begin this process.

This higher level of engagement by both managers and employees will result in higher levels of trust. Everyone’s needs are different, but what they want is management to help clarify the reactions, assist in discovering the solutions and prioritize the actions. They also want an action plan that they can believe in.  A plan based on data gathered from the survey which is now integrated into a plan that they had a hand in creating.  This is something they can get behind and if management will follow through on its promises, in return, the employee will put forth extra effort to help the organization become successful.

Trust Begets Engagement
A Towers Perrin study in 2008 found that organizations that concentrate on employee engagement find they “showed a 19% increase in operating income over a 12-month period compared to a 33% decrease in companies with disengaged employees.”  Even more significant is the findings of a Center for Creative Leadership World Leadership Survey in 2009, “…80% of employees with a high degree of trust in management are committed to the organization compared with 25% of employees with a low degree of trust.”  Basically, if you want engaged employees they have to trust you and integrating a feedback process will go a long way to doing this.
During every new election cycle voters demand from politicians a plan on what they are going to do about the leading topics of the day, from the economy to oil prices to war in the Middle East. Employees, like voters, have learned to be cynical. They’ve had numerous promises made to them by management that are often never realized (it is like when you were a child and every year you wanted Santa to bring you a bicycle….and year after year it never came ).
Okay, you can’t do anything about the past, but you can do something about the future. In an age of lowered expectations and dropping employee engagement, offers up a new approach that includes a feedback process is something they can get behind.  An employee survey, with the proper feedback process in place, will be a positive step in building trust and delivering greater results which will contribute your success.

The article also appeared on the Troy Media (Canada) site. Visit link HERE.

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