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A Practitioner's Perspective on Surveying Engagement

By Doug Schlegel, Director Human Resources, Anadarko Petroleum

Doug Schlegel, Director Human Resources, Anadarko Petroleum

Is a Business Case even needed anymore?

The case for Engagement is straightforward and, like D&I, should not continue to require much ‘selling’ for a progressive business that wants to succeed! How a Company treats people impacts how people themselves behave and feel about their work, which greatly influences a work group’s Engagement. Strong linkages exist between the level of Engagement and key business objectives such as retention, safety, efficiency and financial and operational outcomes. Put simply, skilled and motivated people with the opportunity to contribute achieve higher results, and engagement is a proven metric to understand and improve individual and business performance.

"As the Oil & Gas sector tends to be more traditional, a more traditional approach and tool is typically recommended, particularly to firmly establish current state of workforce engagement"

How do you know if you don’t ask?

The basis for action is that we are better off knowing than not knowing how people feel about their Company, work, leader, colleagues, conditions, pay, etc. While there will be anecdotal and other information on these areas, it is not likely to be sufficiently focused or deep enough to provide the strong foundation on which to build. The preferred approach is to use an Engagement related strategy including survey tools and action plans which follow the analysis of survey results.

What might be learned?

An engagement strategy is designed to gather participant’s views via a professionally run survey tool, to analyze the results for core messages and to use them to prioritize improvement actions. As an example of linkages and solutions, engagement is clearly tied in more traditionally structured organizations to the direct supervisor’s leadership capability/quality. Leaders who are given the tools to do their job, who personally develop their team members and are accountable for performance typically do so through quality interactions that evidence strong leadership skills and will see better business results. Understanding how people view the capability of their leaders ensures a focus on the right interventions.

What is needed to capture these benefits?

Most important is to ensure Executive level willingness to take action based on the findings and to be transparent/ visible about both those findings and planned actions. Additionally, a strategy needs to have shelf life and align with the organization’s way of operating and its objectives. To ask for input and not act on it, or to do so in a way that does not fit the Company’s Values/Culture or is a one-off action, can sour staff and miss a high leverage opportunity.

Getting started and how does Technology contribute?

Tactically, this work is not typically an in-house core capability so an early step is to secure a third party for their expertise, experience, tools and technology. Doing so provides:

• Depth of experience on the survey questions, which includes a standard set as well as a ‘library’ of alternative questions that can be tailored to unique needs

• Access to robust benchmarking data for both standard and alternative questions

• Analytics capability to extract key messages/learnings/pain points from the quantitative and qualitative input received

• Support beyond running the survey and analyzing the results, such as prioritizing the highest leverage messages and progressing improvement actions

• Multiple year involvement to help maintain traction and adjust to trends and the impact that interventions will have

Innovation continues in the area of Engagement, including tools that capture ‘real time’ insights (e.g., via software that ‘interprets’ the tone of internal/external electronic messaging), and analytics which distill truly key messages. Their usage will depend on the agreed strategy for Engagement. As the Oil & Gas sector tends to be more traditional, a more traditional approach and tool is typically recommended, particularly to firmly establish current state of workforce engagement.

Readying the environment and staying the course.

Communication of the strategy and benefit to the people you want to hear from is critical - a surprise survey will only breed uncertainty and reduce people’s willingness to be open. Even when done well, the results will still only represent a ‘point in time’ picture of the workforce’s sentiments so while a baseline is critical, commitment to a multi-year effort is needed. And based on the storyline which emerges, additional data gathering can be done to take a ‘pulse’ and/or target specific groups or topics. As an example, if analysis of the results indicates that leadership skill is key, follow up can be done with leaders with lower results to provide coaching where it appears to be needed.

The bottom line is that knowing what your people are thinking and being willing to adjust what you do can have huge positive impact on the business. We do this as part of everyday business strategy and tactics anyway, so why not do the same thing for our workforce engagement strategy – ask, listen, adjust and improve.

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