Is Your Employee Engagement Survey Telling You the Truth?

Employee engagement one of those terms we all use and aspire to master. We use surveys to establish some understanding. But is your engagement survey telling you the truth?

Are you spending $100K or more just because that's the "right thing to do"? You do it because it's the standard. And then what? How much is it really helping? You make some action plans. Next year's survey might show a marginal difference.

If we look at engagement data, no matter how many surveys we take, it's not getting better.

Maybe the problem isn't us. Maybe the Surveys need to be rebuilt. Rather than "think outside the box" let's be a little more specific. Entertainment and Shopping are the 2 main areas where we measure and depend on engagement, so why not start there?

Have you ever noticed the laugh track in your favorite show? Hearing others laugh makes you more likely to laugh. This is engagement enhanced by social proof. And it works even though it is fake, because we are watching a recording. 

The same scene in a live show can play out differently each time. Actors and audience are in a dance and the audience reaction is proof of actual engagement.

Work is more like theatre. There are scripts, but it's live, with real people on both sides of the stage. Anything can happen. You get actual engagement, not just proof of engagement. 

Or what about a favorite product? It becomes part of your life. Part of who you are. Part of your online world. Your social media engagement helps marketers "eavesdrop" which is very valuable.

Can you survey your employees this way? Not by eavesdropping, obviously, but what can we learn from this? Can you get a more honest response from them if you don't ask direct questions? If we create the opportunity for conversation?

Pixar and other companies have deliberately designed their work spaces to facilitate conversation. How can you capture that conversation in an ethical way?

Here is an example of the most poorly designed engagement experience I have ever had. But it is a good example of contrived engagement, which is something that won't help us do better.

At a Samsung store in a mall I recently took part in a promotion, which was almost entirely driven by data gathering and proof of engagement  (accompanied by an opportunity to win a phone.) Participation in the full cycle took about 20 minutes.  Here is what they asked:

  1. Watch 3 product demonstrations
  2. While you are waiting for that, check out the VR demo.
  3. In order to do that, sign a waiver.
  4. Get back to the 3 demos.
  5. At the end of the demos, sign up on the demo phone and take a photo with the camera.
  6. Go to the prize table.
  7. Sign up again.
  8. Scratch off to see what you win.
  9. Samsung rep takes your photo with your prize.

There was a pretty big gap between the 4 or more ways that the Samsung promotion was fishing for proof of engagement, versus facilitating actual engagement. This whole process was annoying and I did not want to honestly answer their questions because I didn't care.


Designing for actual engagement may require looking in some unexpected places. Evaluating engagement is much more than creating opportunities to see data. Data is undeniably useful, but not if it is bad data.

Prepare your people to be a part a conversation. Involve aspects of life and work that inspire desire. Don't be cheap. Don't be fake. Deliver on your promises. 

Organizational communications can have a hard time with this in spendthrift and risk averse environments. This is where creativity and learning how to build an undeniable value proposition to your leaders becomes invaluable.  

Implement surveys (and solutions) with that in mind, you'll be much more likely to hear the truth. 


Ambra Sultzbaugh