Could engagement surveys have picked up the issues at Enron or other company that imploded in the same way? Could engagement surveys have predicted the decline of Sony or RIM? The answer to both questions is NO!  Engagement surveys can’t tell you if your culture is killing your company.

That is because engagement surveys today represent benign tools that don’t measure organisation health. In the main they are a “happy measure” measuring how satisfied  employees feel about their employment experience, how they feel they are treated or valued and ultimately a good check on employee retention.

What engagement surveys don’t do is measure the broader concept of organisational health.  There are several measures of organisational health one of which is employee engagement and commitment. However if you want to take an accurate pulse check and ensure that the culture is not killing your organisation, then consider these other attributes of culture (derived from Gary Hamel’s Management Lab)

  • Structure: is the organisational culture hierarchical and rigid or fluid and flexible
  • Bureaucratic: are management processes bureaucratic or a source of competitive advantage
  • Power: is power held by people who value the status quo or people who value innovation
  • Influence: is influence based on a personal formal position or his or her abilities
  • Decisions: are key business decisions closed or open for discussion
  • Innovation: are the opportunities to innovate only for senior leaders or for everyone
  • Values: are values shared and meaningful to employees or are they not
  • Goals: are organisational goals focused on bottom line growth or do they include other goals

Engagement surveys rarely ask how safe employees feel about raising bad news or if the organisation holds its employees accountable for both short-term and long-term results or if the open questioning of strategy and approach is welcomed, or if power is distributed fairly and equitably, if the structure is flexible enough to nurture talent and so on.  All of this will uncover if there is something amiss with your culture and act as an early warning sign.

Companies have been known to have great engagement survey results while going into major decline.

It is critical that organisations do not lull themselves into the mistaken belief that their cultures are healthy by pointing proudly to what their engagement survey results show.

Written by Meena Thuraisingham, Director and Principal, TalentInvest, April 2012

Written by Meena Thuraisingham
Director and Principal, Talent Invest

Meena Thuraisingham is a consultant, author, executive coach and thought leader in the area of People and Culture. An organisational psychologist by training, she founded TalentInvest, a niche consulting practice, advising global clients in the UK, Asia and Australia in Capability and Culture. Meena is also a regular speaker internationally on leadership effectiveness and culture change.

Her published books are The Secret Life of Decisions, Careers Unplugged and Derailed!. Get Your Copy Today