Rethinking the Employee Engagement Survey: Asking the Right Questions


What if the questions your organization is asking on employee engagement surveys actually are further disengaging your employees rather than engaging them? Studies conducted by business consultant and coach Marshall Goldsmith show that employee engagement surveys actually may cause the employee to focus more on the faults of the manager or the company rather than their own responsibility to keep themselves present and engaged at work. In most surveys, the company essentially is inviting employees to respond to the question, “What are we doing wrong?” but never to consider their own contributions to their workplace satisfaction.

So it is with employee engagement. Questions about engagement should begin with the employee’s own engagement of themselves. This is not to suggest that engagement surveys that inquire about organizational expectations or leadership effectiveness are useless or always inappropriate. They are not. They represent important measurements for any company to know as they seek to make their organizations better places to work. But these alone are not enough to shift performance or to inspire engagement. Active questions call the employee to take responsibility and act accountably for their own experience. Marshall Goldsmith reports in his book Triggers that employee engagement scores soar when companies ask active questions, and not just passive questions, of their employees.

Goldsmith recommends that companies have employees ask themselves these questions daily or with some frequency in reviews and in surveys, his so-called “Engaging Questions”:

  1. Did I do my best to set clear goals today?
  2. Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals today?
  3. Did I do my best to find meaning today?
  4. Did I do my best to be happy today?
  5. Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?
  6. Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?

The employee rates themselves on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being the lowest level of engagement and 10 being the highest level of engagement on each question. I personally answer these questions, and more, each evening on an Excel page I created. Companies may wish to use virtual or mobile tools to encourage employee responses. Further, the survey can be customized to individual developmental and behavioral goals. As an example, a manager might, in addition to these normative 6 questions, ask themselves, “Did I do my best to end all meetings on time?” or “Did I do my best to give authentic recognition to my employees today?”

Employee engagement surveys have their place in talent performance strategy. But where personal accountability and responsibility is lacking, performance goals will not be met, and behavior change will be in short order. As we continue to seek ways to improve employee engagement in our organizations, what if we first began with an admonishment to our people: “Ask not what your company can do for you, but what you can do for your company”? You might be surprised at the results.


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