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Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today, HR Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Employment Today Magazine

HRINZ news—High noon for the annual engagement survey

The annual engagement survey has been HR’s stock in trade for the past 30 years, but the industry’s “go to” tool is being questioned by the next generation of employee survey systems, says Chris O’Reilly. He outlines a new approach that gives a constant read on the HR health of the organisation.

THE PRE-EMINENCE OF THE HR industry’s “go to” tool is being questioned by the next generation of employee survey systems. This next generation, which includes a Kiwi startup, might finally make the HR department every CEO’s most valuable asset.

The annual employee engagement survey has been stock in trade for the HR profession for the past 30 years. Often compared to a thermometer to take the temperature of a workforce, engagement scores have been the basis of countless initiatives to improve workforce productivity and staff retention.

But a new generation of leading HR thinkers around the world are questioning the relevance of annually sourced engagement scores in our highly networked world.

Influential US practitioner Josh Bersin has been a leading figure in what he calls the “data-fication of HR”, removing decision making based on intuition, and replacing it with decisions based on fact and real time data.

Bersin says traditional annual engagement surveys might tell you how a workforce felt at a point in the past, but they are unable to provide an organisation’s leaders with “modern actionable solutions”.

“They don’t tell executives how to build cultures of involvement. They don’t tell anyone how to make work meaningful,” he says.

What is emerging to take the place of the engagement survey is a new breed of employee survey systems more akin to an MRI scan that gives a constant read on the HR health of the organisation.

The US has provided a plethora of next generation systems that provide a better read on the changing pulse of an organisation’s culture. Among the leaders in this new generation are companies like CultureAmp, TinyHR, Glint, BlackbookHR, and Culture IQ. All of these are easy-to-use systems that rapidly survey employees with short, straightforward surveys.

Essentially, these tools do the same job as a traditional engagement survey, but offer the ability to get the results immediately, and to survey the pulse of small groups or the whole organisation as often as required.


The one Kiwi entrant into this market is attempting to take the employee survey into far broader territory. AskYourTeam is a survey system that has extended the survey beyond issues of organisational culture and into operational areas.

The AskYourTeam system crowdsources management insights across all areas of an organisation’s operation. It aims to build cultures of involvement among all an organisation’s employees, and to offer leaders clear direction on how to improve performance.

Our light-bulb moment was realising that whenever we went into a new company, the best ideas about how to improve performance always came from the people within the organisation. We realised that seeing their ideas implemented was what had the greatest impact on employee engagement and sense of purpose.

AskYourTeam has been received enthusiastically by the New Zealand market. Recent signups include a large media group that plans to use the system across its Australasian operations, a New Zealand Exporter of the Year located in five countries, and a North American petrochemical company which selected AskYourTeam to run across operations in five countries, after evaluating systems from around the world.

All of these have made the change from previously using engagement surveys.


The emergence of these new systems in place of the traditional annual engagement survey is a change born of the Facebook age—a world that’s profoundly networked and driven by what Josh Bersin calls a “ratings economy”.

Bersin sees the extension of the ratings economy into the workplace is a natural development that is fast becoming a basic expectation of employees.

“Today, with all our opportunities to ‘like’ and ‘rate’ things everywhere we go—look at how many consumer sites now have five-star ratings—we expect an opportunity to rate things or give people a Net Promoter Score. Why can’t we do this at work?” he says.

For HR professionals, next generation employee surveys are a huge opportunity to increase their influence within their organisations. Key to their adoption will be accepting the folly of what MIT leadership guru Deborah Ancona calls “the myth of the complete leader”—the incredibly hopeful idea that there is a flawless person at the top of every successful organisation who’s got it all figured out.

“In today’s world, the executive’s job is no longer command and control, but to cultivate and coordinate the actions of others at all levels of the organisation. Only when leaders come to see themselves as incomplete—as having both strengths and weaknesses—will they be able to make up for their missing skills by relying on others,” she says.

Leaders who buy into Ancona’s vision will seek out the insights driven by next generation employee surveys from the HR department.

Perhaps it’s finally time for HR people to take their rightful seat at the head of the table and drive the leadership direction of their organisations.

CHRIS O’REILLY is chief executive of AskYourTeam and a driving force behind the team that developed its survey system.

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