Action Planning for an Engaged Workforce
April 19, 2018 in Employee Engagement & Resiliency
By Jessica Dzieweczynski, Will Haller
This month we’re focusing on resiliency and engagement, two characteristics that are critical to organizational and individual well-being and performance and which share interesting connections. Over the last four posts we explored the concept of resiliency, provided tips for communicating your engagement survey, discussed steps to identify key themes in your survey data, and provided considerations for using pulse surveys or focus group to gain deeper insights from your workforce. In this post, we provide tips for combining all of these insights into an action plan to enhance engagement. Next week, we’ll come back to resiliency, and how growing a more resilient workforce can impact your organization’s engagement.
If you’ve been following this month’s posts on engagement, we hope you’ve noticed a theme: what you do with your survey results is the most important part of the process! As survey geeks, we get pretty excited about a well-constructed survey item (and pretty annoyed by poorly constructed ones) . . . but we also realize that valid measurement means nothing if you don’t do something with the data. Once you’ve taken the time to understand your survey data, and perhaps even dive into it further via pulse surveys and employee focus groups, it is time to turn all of that information into an action plan that provides a roadmap for change. Below are some tips and considerations to keep in mind as you embark on the action planning process.
- Consider the frequency of your action planning process. Many organizations conduct an annual employee survey, and therefore jump right into action planning on an annual basis as well. While annual action planning may make sense for some organizations, make sure there is time to make real progress in implementing those actions before engaging in the next round of action planning. This may mean reducing action planning to every-other year, even if the survey is conducted annually. You want your action planning to be meaningful and lead to real change — don’t get caught in a vicious cycle of all “planning” with no time for the actual “action!”
- Plan for action at multiple levels. Creating an engaging culture requires attention at both the organization-wide and individual team level. For example, at the organizational level, policies, programs, and structures that support career development can have a significant impact on employee engagement. At the individual manager level, practices that focus on employee involvement/voice, role clarity, and connecting work responsibilities to the larger mission, help to facilitate employee engagement. Since engaging practices span multiple organizational levels, your action planning should, too. Start with action planning in each office. Empower office leadership to develop their own action plans that they will be accountable for, and be sure to provide them lots of resources (e.g., action planning templates, toolkits, facilitation support) to enable the process. Then, use the office-level action plans to inform organization-wide goals. This bottom-up process ensures that creating and maintaining an engaging culture is a priority across every level of your organization.
- Keep it focused. One of the most common challenges we see is organizations trying to do too much with their action plans. It’s great to see folks get energized with lots of ideas, but taking on too many initiatives at once may divide your attention (and resources) and ultimately make it less likely that anything is achieved. If you find your action plan has too many ideas, prioritize each potential initiative based on the level of effort and opportunity for impact. From there, focus in on only one or two initiatives. A good practice is to select one “quick win” action that can be implemented relatively quickly (so employees see some immediate results from their feedback), and one larger initiative that may take more steps and time to realize (but is likely to have a larger impact on your organization).
- Focus on drivers of engagement. As you’re determining which actions to include in your plan, prioritize action areas that drive employee engagement. Research consistently demonstrates that factors such as leadership, relationships with immediate manager (e.g., employee involvement, role clarity, recognition), and career development are strong predictors of employee engagement. Focus your action plan on these areas to have the biggest impact on engagement levels across your workforce.
- Get specific. Your action plan shouldn’t just be a pie-in-the-sky vision of things you hope to achieve; it should provide details about what, where, when, and how changes will be made. For example, our action plans typically include fields to provide a detailed description of activities/steps, owners for each step, stakeholders to involve, timeframes, and metrics for assessing progress and effectiveness of the change.
- Involve employees. Remember when we said that employee involvement is a driver of employee engagement? Here’s a chance to do that! By the time you get to action planning, hopefully you’ve already involved employees by gathering their input on what kind of changes would be most meaningful to them. But employee involvement doesn’t end there. Once management has determined one or two priority action areas, consider using employee-led teams to work through the details of the action plan, and even own the implementation of those actions. Utilizing employee-led groups not only helps to distribute the workload, it also empowers employees and provides built-in employee champions to help socialize changes across your organization.
- Track progress and impact. By this point you’ve probably invested a lot in your employee engagement effort, and it is important to track the success of your initiatives using the metrics or key performance indicators you identified in your action plan. One obvious metric will be your employee survey scores – you should expect to see score increases in areas that were targeted by your action plan. But, it is important to incorporate additional metrics that can capture interim successes and setbacks, and help demonstrate the connection between your engagement effort and broader organizational performance. One way to do this it to utilize pulse surveys to gauge employee perceptions of the changes you are making and ensure you are on the right track. In terms of assessing broader impact, look for opportunities to leverage metrics your organization is already tracking (e.g., employee retention, customer satisfaction) to understand how your initiatives may be impacting important organizational outcomes.
- Communicate! Finally, be sure to keep employees updated on the progress that is being made on your action plan, and draw the connection between their feedback and organizational change. At the organizational level, consider creating an employee-facing dashboard or tracker that shows each of the action items and tracks completion of sub-steps and overall progress towards completion. Making your engagement action items public and tracking progress in a transparent manner helps to hold the organization accountable for following-through, while also keeping employees informed and reinforcing the connection between employee feedback and organizational change. This interim tracking and communication is particularly important for larger initiatives that take longer to implement.
If you have been following our resiliency and engagement series this month, thanks for sticking with us! Stay tuned for our final blog next week, where we’ll circle back to resiliency, and how growing a more resilient workforce can impact your organization’s engagement.
About the Author: At work, Jess enjoys geeking out over topics like survey design and analysis, employee engagement, and program evaluation. Outside of work she loves traveling, trying new food and restaurants, hiking, biking, and going on road trips with her husband and three pups – especially to the beach!
About the Author: With a background in I/O psychology, Will enjoys projects involving competency modeling, employee engagement, and survey analytics. While his favorite season is Fall, his second favorite is FEVS-season! The Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey is an employee engagement survey administered to over 800,000 federal employees every year between May and June that measures topic areas including personal work experiences and work/life opportunities. When he’s not visiting clients or playing on FMP’s softball team, you can find Will on a hike with his new puppy in his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland.