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Turning employee survey results inside out

Making sense of employee survey results.

This week I reviewed the 2018 employee survey results with my department. I’ll be honest; deciphering survey results is a challenge for a variety of reasons. Questions are interpreted differently. Similar questions with slight nuances yield measurably different answers. Survey results are influenced highly by what is happening at that moment in time (mergers, hiring freezes, large customer wins, new managers, etc.)

I first reviewed the results with the managers in the department. We discussed questions with the highest and lowest favorable scores. When we did this within a small group, we found different interpretations of the survey question. The process was useful because we had a healthy dialogue about the findings. But there was enough diversity of opinion that I wondered how employees would feel about our resulting actions.


The guidance from human resources and my history with employee surveys fit a set model. Employees take a survey. Management reviews the results. Then management responds with actions to address the areas with the lowest favorable scores. In this model, all the responsibility for action is on the management team.

Then I dug deeper and realized,

getting the most value out of employee survey results requires a more holistic approach than a set of management action items.

I reviewed all the question categories and realized they touch on interpersonal actions between all employee classifications in the company. So why would we respond by assigning action items only to the management group?

Changing the survey results approach.

I used the core findings in the results to create action items for the entire department. We can’t transform culture within a group only by having managers changing rules, policies, and workflows. To improve in areas like collaboration, trust, empowerment, and agility requires all employees work together as a cohesive unit.

I challenged the team with this thought, the first step on a journey for job satisfaction is looking in the mirror. 

It’s age-old advice to focus first on your own behaviors and attitudes. I followed with a paradox for success,

our personal success and how we view our job depends on how successful we make our colleagues, manager, and customers.

The employee survey questions had little to do with technology, tools, or things. The questions focused on communications and interactions between people. Our definition of success, or our inclination to mark a favorable answer, is directly influenced by how successful we make our coworkers and customers. If we think more about how we can give, rather than how we receive, then we’ll go farther and find more job satisfaction. This is a better recipe to maximize employee engagement.

Onward and upward!

Photo Credit: USFWS Mountain-Prairie via Creative Commons

Scribble Scrabble

Scribble Scrabble?

Two thoughts collided during my self-reflection this week. It started with an article from David Pierce at the Wall Street Journal about handwriting. Pierce explores the effects of the digital world on our penmanship scribble scrabble. He provides a well-framed set of options for getting the written word into electronic format. But Pierce also mentions the positive effects of handwriting on our ability to learn and remember information. When we type on a computer, we are prone to record each word while with writing we will summarize thoughts.

Then I remembered an article I wrote a few years ago about taking pen and paper to meetings rather than laptops. This is my preference because it helps me focus on the meeting rather than distractions of multitasking on my computer. Business meetings would be far more productive if no one was distracted by their laptops!

What insights can we learn from the value of handwritten notes and focused interactions?

Word Play.

I already use a paper notebook to record thoughts and action items throughout the day. While a pad of paper helps  me stay focused at the meeting table, I’m also a keyboard-junkie. I want everything important in electronic format so I can index for searching. I can type faster than I can write and electronic information provides efficiency.

In his article, Pierce discusses taking pictures of hand-written notes and allowing modern technology to recognize the characters for indexing and searching. I love the simplicity of this solution because it removes logistical challenges with writing electronically. It also works for meeting content on whiteboards.

When I write,  I prefer print over cursive. I don’t recall when I made that change, but I remember writing in cursive during high-school to capture notes faster. Print is better for optical character recognition software and gives clarity and precision to my documents. Maybe i’m slower writing print. But it’s legible and precise.

Find time to wrestle with the concepts of note taking, productivity, handwriting if you haven’t already. You might discover some hidden insights about yourself.

Onward and upward!

Battling Urgent

Picking my battles

Every day I am tempted to work more on what’s urgent than what’s important. Somedays I do better at working on important tasks, but it’s a constant wrestling match. Important tasks help to achieve my overall goals. Urgent tasks usually involve fixing something that is broken for someone else. Urgent tasks may not always be beneficial to everyone and tend to be subject to interpretation of the one asking for something to be completed. In other words, if I ask someone how urgent something really is, I will usually receive varying answers.

For me, it all starts with a service desk ticket, a system-outage, equipment failure, unexpected email, etc. Something happens that seems to always turn my time management routine upside down. Even if I’m working on important tasks related to larger goals, there are interruptions for urgent things by way of phone, in-person office visit, text, email, etc.

7am quiet time

At one time, the 7am hour was my stress-free plan-the-day time. It was quiet and I could plan the day or work on important tasks. Nice.

But I’ve noticed lately, the battle-of-urgent is starting more often during the 7am hour. More colleagues and customers are working flex-hours and home office hours these days. That means more workers are online at 7am trying to use computing equipment or starting to go through their daily tasks and reaching out for help.

Different Perspectives

I realize my purpose at work is to help others and to connect them to solutions. So while I may have lost my 7am hour as a planning time, I need to adjust and think smarter about how to approach the battle of urgent versus important.

I also realized the reverse is true; my important tasks could be someone else’s urgent tasks. If our goals are not aligned then it’s easy to create this type of mismatch.

Battling Urgent

A great approach to time management is defining leader standard work (LSW).  When I documented my leader standard work, I defined the important activities I perform daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annually, etc. If I plan my day around leader standard work activities I should see the following benefits:

  • Working on what’s important – LSW defines activities that are important to the execution and management of my team and work.
  • Addressing what’s urgent through assignment and delegation. Whenever possible, I should delegate urgent work.  My LSW is structured in such a way as to review work queues for the entire team and make assignment shifts or inquiries as necessary.
  • Leading by teaching – LSW should be setup to make me more visible to my team and customers not less visible because I’m hidden behind a computer screen. LSW creates opportunities for engagement with other team members and customers.
  • Reflecting and 5S – I fail most often on this task because I work until I reach that stopping point at the end of the day.  If I can take 10 minutes at the end of the day to reflect and jot down any important tasks for tomorrow then it should help towards a great start against battling urgent.

Battling urgent never ends and some days I do better than others. But I try to prepare for the battle everyday by defining what’s important first and then executing that plan.

Onward and upward.

Photo Credit: https://flic.kr/p/21aTYi5 – Marco Verch via Creative Commons.

Root cause analysis for team building

Early in my career we used a process that loosely resembled a root cause analysis after a severity 1 production outage. The intent of the process was to determine why the severity outage occurred and then fix the problem so it didn’t happen again. No one liked process and the documents we produced were rarely used to influence process improvement. It was a checkbox and an exercise to fill-in-the-blanks to say we completed it. I always thought the name post-mortem was bit odd as well and we were certainly dead to the process. Looking back, I see post-mortem efforts can be valuable if championed and executed correctly. But there is a better way.

Twenty years later, we are learning to implement root cause analysis (RCA) into our recurring operational procedures. Like a post-mortem exercise, a RCA is typically done after an event has occurred with the intended benefit to prevent problems from recurring. If done correctly, this can reduce waste and downtime.

But a RCA is distinct with its own set of advantages. Our team is using lean A3 problem solving techniques as the backbone for RCAs.  It is apparent to me the RCA process, if supported and executed routinely, can shape a culture of continuous improvement. Here are a few practical ways:

  • The outputs can be used as a proactive measure to predict and prevent future failures. Problem solving focuses on examining why events occur coupled with action items and sustainment activities. This is a great way to identify potential future problems.

In one recent 5-why exercise about a database failure we identified a few weaknesses in a process in addition to the root-cause of a failure. Our corrective action plan addressed multiple weaknesses and has undoubtedly prevented some of the weaknesses from becoming service outages.

  • A systematic approach to RCA involves setting a recurring cadence for problem solving. RCAs require a wide range of knowledge to identify problems, compile documentation, and create sustainment activities. Individuals will struggle, but teams can thrive solving problems like this.

We post our RCAs on our department flow-and-performance board to make them visible, promote discussion, and to keep the process top of mind. Our standard is to perform one RCA per month. This reinforces that RCAs are part of the culture of the team.

  • Done correctly, RCA focuses on resolving process deficiencies instead of blaming people. It’s not always easy but we remind ourselves to focus on behaviors and results over individuals.

Onward and Upward!

Photo Credit: ResoluteSupportMedia via creative commons – https://flic.kr/p/88Kdgw

Forced change vs Needed change

A few weeks ago I read a passage from John Maxwell in his book The Maxwell Daily Reader about scurvy. The passage summarizes difficulties in implementing the cure for the prevention of the disease during the time of European exploration of the Americas. Multiple sources knew about the effect of fresh fruit and vegetables, but due to poor communication, stubbornness, and pride of the medical establishment, the change needed to prevent the disease was delayed.

I polled a couple of my colleagues to ask them what they thought is a modern day business scurvy. One of them replied, “This is a good question. Sometimes, forced change can hide needed change, and the two become hard to distinguish for relevancy and value with so much activity happening at once.”

His answer summarizes both the challenge faced by European sailors as well as leaders in our business environment today. I thought about this for a few minutes and then wrote a quick list to try to distinguish between ‘forced change’ and ‘needed change’. I did this quickly so as to record my “gut feel” and then observed the list as a means of reflection and learning.

Forced change

  • Reporting structure reorganization
  • Technology platform adoption
  • Technology platform migration
  • Compliance
  • Outsourcing

Needed change

  • Removing waste from processes
  • Adding value to a customer relationship
  • Cross-department collaboration improvements

When I read the list a few patterns occurred to me:

  1. The items in the ‘forced change’ list concern people, tools, and rules. The items in the ‘needed change’ list are about process, value, and communication.
  2. The items in ‘needed change’ are more impactful and longer lasting to the business.  The items in ‘forced change’ can be tactical tools to help drive needed change if executed for the right reason. For example, some technology adoption is aimed to reduce the process steps in product delivery (remove waste) to the customer. Likewise, some compliance changes will help an organization tighten their processes to be more secure in how they handle data (add value to customer relationship).
  3. The challenge with the items in the ‘forced change’ list is we often implement before there is a common understanding with all the employees about why those changes are enacted. Implementation of forced change truly feels forced. When that happens, the change will either fail outright or fail to achieve the desired results.

So what is our modern day business scurvy? I would answer; it is the failure to align the reasons for needed change in an organization with the tactical implementation of change. With that thought, I see signs of scurvy in my own management and leadership approach. Ouch. It’s time to find some citrus for my business diet.

Onward and upward!

Photo credit: Pablo Vidosola via Creative Commons – https://flic.kr/p/pGWebT