Building engagement – navigating the data
I have to admit to something of a schizophrenic relationship with staff engagement surveys – well data full stop really. Like most leaders I’m fully aware of the influential power of data and how that can influence thinking, strategy and decisions. What I’m also aware of however, is that the culture within which the data lands or is being considered influences the ‘reading’ of that data and the insights it offers.
So let’s consider staff engagement surveys. Imagine one or two key leadership questions are yielding a reasonably healthy number but a huge chunk of qualitative indicators (informal and formal feedback from across the organisation) preceding the survey over many months have conveyed significant gaps in the communication and leadership practices. So which is right? Well both and neither in absolute terms. It requires interpretation and of course this is inevitably filtered through the culture, strategy and leadership practices of the organisation.
And this is where we have to look more closely. If the leadership focus is particularly task driven and transactional there could be a temptation to focus more on the positive number and discount the ‘noise’ that the less positive qualitative data represents. Why? Because in this example, the current leadership world view and culture doesn’t support having to make the scale of behavioural and attitudinal change needed to really address the underlying issues. It’s not a priority. So the qualitative issues risk being reasoned away to fit the leadership world view.
Now, I’m not generally given to cynicism and I like to believe that when the evidence (whether quantitative or qualitative) is clear, that leaders will act to address the gaps and issues. My concern is that unless they are very well sighted on the lenses through which they are seeing that data and there is sufficient challenge to ensure a rounded debate, the prevailing leadership culture may operate from a place of blindness.