Hierarchy of Needs (sort of)

6 Steps To A Successful Employee Engagement Survey

I’ve spent some time recently going back to basics and re-reading around Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (applied to motivation theory).  It was a fun journey.  So much so that I decided to crib a bit and crow-bar the model around an ideal approach to an employee engagement survey.

I cheated.

Maslow has 5 levels (Physiological, Safety, Social, Esteem and Self-Actualisation).

I’ve got 6 in my hierarchy.  Let’s call it an unadvertised bonus.  People seem to like those.

Here are my 6 core steps in delivering an employee engagement survey which makes a positive difference.  From bottom to top of the pyramid;




  1. Welcome Change

You need to be open to the survey and embrace the chance to learn about what your employees think and feel.Welcome the opportunity to change for the better.

Ask yourself why your organisation is thinking about an engagement survey.Ask “why” 5 times in a row.If you can get the answer to each of these questions in turn, you’ll be in a good place and have a goal to aim at.

For example;

Why are we considering a survey?

Because we want to know what everyone thinks about working here?


Why do we want to know that?

Because it’ll be interesting to see the differences between the various parts of the business.


Why are differences important?

Because if we know that Team A are happy about something and Team B are unhappy about the same thing, then we should do something about it?


Why should we do something?

Because if we make some changes, then Team B would be happier in their jobs?


Why would that matter?

Because if Team B are happier, then they might do better work and we might sell more widgets and the performance of the business would be improved.


Aha! Doing this kind of work ONLY EVER MATTERS when you commit to and take action.


  1. Open Involvement

Historically, these types of surveys are managed internally by HR, with some top team involvement along the way.  Then the questionnaire magically appears in front of people’s eyes…and everyone holds their breath.

If you create a beautifully crafted survey, with razor sharp questions BUT it’s not covering the stuff that your employees actually care about, then the whole thing is a waste of time.

You simply have to have some way of ensuring that the content of your questionnaire meets 2 key goals.

  1. Do our staff think the topics and questions in this survey are important in their jobs here (irrespective of whether they are happy or unhappy about the issues in hand)?
  2. Are we as an organisation able and/or prepared to take action against any one of the issues that are covered by the survey (if they are identified as strategically important)?

    That’s all you have to do to make your questionnaire have a fighting chance.   Believe me, these steps are very much in the “easier-said-than-done” category.


  1. Leverage Participation

You need people to take part in the survey.

But you need people to take part for the right reasons.

Not because they might win a prize draw competition.

Not because the company is making a charity donation for each completed survey.

But because people believe that taking part will help to make a difference to what it’s like to work in the organisation.

They have to trust that you will do something with the survey results.  There is an element of “proof of the pudding” in this leap of faith. But it’s also about leadership profile and the senior management promise.

Once you’ve got that message across, there are still some relatively minor participation barriers to overcome (concerns about anonymity and confidentiality for example).


  1. Strategic Analysis

At the top-level, frequency count analysis of the proportions of people who agree/disagree with questionnaire statements are an excellent starting point.  But they should be just that. A starting point.

If your survey is only generating hundreds of (albeit nice looking) charts which show percentage scores comparing different parts of the business then you are missing a big trick.

You need to dig a little deeper and examine the links between the survey items and topics.

If you’ve defined what “engagement” means in your organisation (through linking it back to your overall business strategy and HR strategy), then you should conduct a key driver analysis to understand which factors in the survey have the biggest positive influence on your measure of engagement.

This is very powerful (but not necessarily as difficult as some would have you believe). The challenge is finding the right way to explain the ‘story’ to the Board without resorting to using statistics jargon and talking about r2 values and the like.


  1. Authentic Feedback

Always share the results of the survey with your employees as soon as you possibly can.

A bit of pre-planning helps here.  If you can tell people BEFORE the survey is even live that they will get to hear the results in week commencing [insert date here], then they will love you for it.  They will know you are taking the survey very seriously and are committed to the project.

So, when you do get in front of them, share the feedback openly, honestly and fully.

Share good news and bad news.  Share everything warts-and-all.  Hide nothing.

Remember, they’ve told you this information in the first place.

For example, if your survey analysis reveals that just 13% of your organisation are happy with (say) the amount of training they receive, then it’s likely that a similar proportion of the people in the room where this presentation is happening feel this way.   If you don’t mention training in your presentation, they are going to wonder why and start to question the validity of the analysis and the value of the results feedback.

You run the risk of losing the audience and more importantly losing the goodwill of the staff about the survey process.


  1. Meaningful Action

The value of any employee engagement survey is not in questionnaire design, high response rates, insightful analysis or clear and concise feedback.

The added value of any survey is from the action which happens as a result of the research.

You don’t necessarily have to make sweeping revolutionary changes.

You could stop doing some things.

You could start doing other things.

You could gently change direction with some issues.


The important thing is to do something.And make some noise about it.

I am an advocate of the “we are doing this because you told us that...” approach.

Your strategic action plan should pick up on the key driver analysis and use that to set a prioritised action list – making sure that the issues which get the most attention are the ones which are going to deliver the biggest increase in employee engagement, a clearer ROI on your survey project and help you move close to achieving you HR and organisation goals.


If you can master those 6 steps, your employee engagement survey should be a massive success.

Meaningful Action
Authentic Feedback
Strategic Analysis
Leverage Participation
Open Involvement
Welcome Change


Oh look, it spells MASLOW.

I did say “crow-bar the model around an ideal approach to an employee engagement survey”.

As always I’d welcome your thoughts about these suggestions to;