Employee surveys have now become standard in most organizations. Yet too often, the wrong questions are asked and the wrong things are measured. To make employees feel completely involved in the organization, "satisfaction" with the workplace alone is not enough. An employee who is satisfied with his salary or the amount of annual leave is not necessarily, of his own free will, going to lend full support to his employer and his employer's goals. Satisfaction can be connected to passivity -- employees can be satisfied and yet still be indifferent.
The stronger the engagement, the more likely the employee will act in the interests of the employer.
There is more value in optimizing the work environment, thereby increasing emotional attachment -- or engagement -- to the organization by rigorously fulfilling employees' core needs and expectations. The stronger the engagement, the more likely it is that the employee will act in the interests of the employer -- and the more engaged employees there are, the more productive the organization will be. It is possible to measure the degree to which these core needs and expectations of the workplace are met.
What to ask and where to start
Building on years of research, Gallup has developed 12 items -- the Q12 -- and employee responses to these items give information about the state of employee engagement, which in turn correlates with organizational performance. It is crucial that the results are discussed at the workgroup level as well as with the leadership and that action plans are put into place and followed through. The results act as a focus point for intense discussion within the team. (See graphic "The Employee Engagement Hierarchy.")
To ensure that the process is sustainable, the survey should be carried out regularly. Also, changes in the survey results over time need to be discussed within the team, and both action planning and follow-through must be monitored. Only when this happens will the employees feel really included and get actively involved in action planning. The results of the employee surveys can also be correlated with key performance indicators (KPIs). By combining these two types of organizational data -- the "soft" employee engagement data with the "hard" KPI data -- we can demonstrate the direct economic benefit of the actions on costs and growth.
Stryker Navigation is an example of how this can be put into practice. As a company, Stryker is a global leader in the manufacturing of navigation systems for computer-assisted surgery. Stryker's machines help doctors and surgeons perform operations more quickly, more safely, and more accurately. Development and production for global markets is done at Stryker's site in Freiburg, Germany.
Decreasing motivation rang alarm bells
When the Freiburg management team registered that the engagement of its employees was decreasing, it set alarm bells ringing, as the company was facing some difficult technical issues that needed to be resolved. It was not going to be possible to produce some important products as quickly and economically as previously thought. This lack of engagement became particularly apparent in the cooperation between teams -- for example, between the Development and Production teams. While the individual departments were performing well in their own range of tasks, they were not prepared to view the manufacture of new products as a complete process that required their collaboration.
Stryker turned to Gallup to measure the employees' engagement and to help the company develop actions for improving the situation. In addition to the Q12 items, questions were asked about the collaboration between teams. The results were analyzed at the project team level and at the department level. The advantage of this approach is that it allows many different opinions on a project to be heard and discourages siloed thinking. The employees involved in a project can then work together to produce a list of actions, which serves to strengthen connections beyond departmental borders.
The most striking results were gathered in a presentation. Using Gallup's database comparisons and benchmarks, Stryker was able to see the areas in which the company was performing at excellence and those in which it was below average. Each team received its own scorecard, and internal benchmarks were used to show the teams how they ranked within their department as well as within the company as a whole.
How employee engagement doubled
The results of the first Stryker Navigation employee engagement survey demonstrated the potential for improvement. With 32% engaged employees, Stryker Navigation Freiburg was considerably better than the total working population of Germany at that time but was below average when compared with other organizations Gallup works with in Germany. (See "A Threat to German Growth" in the "See Also" area on this page.)
The company tries to position employees where they can best use their talents.
Most notably, the employees had rated two fundamental questions particularly low: "I know what is expected of me at work" and "I have the materials and equipment I need to do my work right."
So these items became the starting points for action planning and implementation. For example, Stryker concentrated on describing more clearly what was expected of employees on individual teams and projects. The frequency of feedback discussions was also increased. And to promote the idea of project-based working, changes were made to each team's composition, structure, and where team members were seated.
These actions quickly brought about improvements. The percentage of engaged employees doubled to 64% within a year. But the management wanted to embed these changes for the long term. With this in mind, they designed the follow-through process to be highly transparent because it is important that employees see what actions should be achieved and how far they've progressed in that process.
Recipe for success: a transparent follow-through process
Since then, Stryker Navigation has conducted regular monitoring of action plans, which are discussed with the team at monthly meetings. Responsibility for achieving individual points lies not solely with the management but is deliberately shared with the employees. When compiling and implementing action plans, collaboration between technical supervisors and the human resources department is very important. Therefore the company closely links employee engagement tools to additional personal development programs. Stryker, for example, considers selecting and promoting talent to be highly important, so employees should be positioned where they can best use their talents, which is a significant factor for employee engagement.
In Stryker's opinion, the transparency, continuity, and coordination of the individual tools is key to the success of the action plans. The atmosphere in the company has changed for the better. Employees and managers feel that together they can get things moving and make improvements. Since 2004, the percentage of engaged employees has stabilized at an elevated level of 70% and had reached 73% after the survey in 2011. Stryker Navigation Freiburg is thus overall in the top 10% of companies in Gallup's database of German organizations.
Positive effect on KPIs
There has also been a change of mentality as far as collaboration within projects is concerned -- individual teams now see their colleagues from other departments as customers. They want to deliver results to them that they can work with optimally. This speeds up the development of new products for the market.
There are other indicators that confirm that Stryker Navigation has set out on the right path. In the past 10 years, the turnover of products from the Freiburg site has increased tenfold. And the quality of new products has also increased tenfold when measured against the number of repairs or customer complaints. (See graphic "Employee Engagement and Key Performance Indicators.")
Stryker now faces new challenges. It is already clear that the company is set to grow rapidly in the next few years. This also means that teams are redefining themselves and that work routines and responsibilities are changing. In collaboration with Gallup, Stryker Navigation will prepare its employees for this organizational change, with the goal of continuing to gain the workforce's commitment to Stryker and keeping turnover at a low level.
This article originally appeared in Personalwirtschaft in September 2011. Reprinted with permission.