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  • Ary Rosenbuam

Tired of Annual Reviews? Dread it? Do it Differently.

Like annual reviews, annual surveys are issued with the same questions across a company, blind to the vast differences between the experience – and expectations – of a sales rep at the counter and an accountant at HQ. The information is, by necessity, requested in only the vaguest of terms and the data collected is, as a result, equally vague. Consequently, an annual employee survey provides, at best, a somewhat blurry snapshot of a point in time, almost always interpreted out of context and rarely acted upon before it has become irrelevant. And this assuming that employees are providing thoughtful and truthful responses throughout and not losing interest by question 10, which anecdotal evidence suggests they do. One can turn again to the experts at Deloitte to sum up the state of affairs: “At a time when corporate cultures are being continuously debated, shaped, and redefined on social networks, the once-a-year survey is perilously obsolete.”

So, if annual reviews don’t work…how do we measure performance? We need measurable performance goals, data, metrics and something to base merit increases on. So where do we start?

Ask the right questions

The traditional annual survey has something like 40-50 questions, divided into several categories pertaining to things like communication with management, transparency, general job satisfaction, etc. Interestingly, only a small subset of these questions actually elicit a thoughtful response on the part of those being surveyed. The rest tend to get an across the board equivalent of “fine” (7-9), yielding literally zero useful feedback. Take that survey down to only a few questions that actually feel relevant to employees, and you are much more likely to get a truthful, or at least thoughtful, response. Of course, when you only have a few questions, you really want to be sure you ask the right ones. What is becoming apparent is that today’s employees, the ones that are taking over the job market right now (the infamous generation known as “millennials” will make up more than half of the nation’s workforce in the very near future), not only expect to be happy at work, but they expect their company and their managers to create an environment conducive to professional, and in many cases personal, growth. They want to feel like they are participating in something meaningful and part of something grander than just a job.

These are the factors that are going to keep them coming to work at your company and keep them productive once they’re there. Consequently, the questions relevant to maintaining a skilled and productive workforce are the ones that gauge employee engagement, and not just the traditional “job satisfaction”. Engagement is about how connected an employee is to the culture, mission and values of your organization and the degree to which they are enabled and inspired to participate in furthering them. The questions you need to ask, then, will look like: “Do you feel you have ample opportunity to further the mission of this company?” and “Do you feel your skills and capabilities are being fully utilized in your current position?” After all, today’s employees gauge their satisfaction on the degree to which they are moved to engage.

Check in more often

The approach that many companies are taking is to start with one form or another of the pulse survey. These are surveys with no more than 10 questions, but often with just 1 or 2, that every employee is asked to answer on a monthly, or sometimes biweekly, basis. They’re quick, they’re precise, and most importantly, they allow you to get an ongoing rather than a static picture of how your employees are feeling about their employment.

Use the App!

Yeah, this means smartphones. However you slice it, today’s employees, and especially tomorrow’s employees, like to do things – as many things as possible – through apps on their phones. Fortunately, these short surveys are perfectly suited for mobile delivery. OK, “fortunately” may not be the right word here. After all, fortune has very little to do with the elegant harmony that exists between mobile platforms and employee engagement metrics. These are technologies that have evolved together. Use them together. If your company doesn’t have the resources to develop an app of its own, find a service that can gather the data on your behalf. It’s become very clear that the modern workforce is much more inclined to answer a couple of questions that pop up as a notification on their phone than to sit down and spend 15-30 minutes answering 100 questions that all sound the same.

Use the data

Now to the real crux of the matter. If you want to see any ROI on your employee engagement program, you’re going to have to use the data you collect. But again, these shorter more frequent surveys help with that as well. The more concise data they gather is much easier to wrangle and analyze. This means that instead of processing employee feedback for six months before you can even begin to consider what problems exist and what steps you might take to rectify them, you can look at it as soon as the cycle ends and take action while it is still relevant to the employees. Not only does this address weaknesses in your company’s culture, it makes it clear to employees that you are committed to creating an environment in which they want to work and are responsive to their needs.

Create a work environment that is engaging, collaborative and provides regular feedback to keep performance levels high and employees excited about the work. Focus on the every day….short term goals…and move beyond the annual check-in.