When the topic of engagement comes up, it isn’t too long before the idea of taking a survey rears its head. The thought of administrating and gathering all the data may seem like a nightmare to some and quite titillating to others. Surveys can be time-consuming and expensive, yet they can also provide valuable insight when created properly. The duality of these truths leave most leaders scratching their heads regarding whether or not an engagement survey is the right thing to do. Often times, the decision is made to take a survey and the logic behind it is “At least we did something.” Not exactly the most strategic approach, but what is the alternative?

decisionThere are two key things to understand when deliberating an engagement survey. First of all, remind yourself that it is not just a survey that occupies a short place in time. It is not a free look into your organization to see if you want to run some cost/benefit analysis. Once you ask people to give their time and feedback, you create a psychological contract with them to act on their behalf. It is a commitment. Secondly, it is important to know the alternatives to full-blown surveys that may give you similar insight into the engagement of your organization.


A survey is a serious, long-term commitment. In my experience working with various types of organizations in 7 different countries, one survey just didn’t cut it. It gives you a snapshot, but it hardly gives you a trend. Most companies survey cycle is every 12 months, so they have time to aggregate and take action on the results. The minimum I have seen companies truly measure and take meaningful action was around the 3rd cycle. That is a 3 year commitment just to hit a rhythm, then the real work begins.

If you’re not ready to step into that kind of commitment, an engagement survey may be a wrong move for your organization. It doesn’t mean engagement isn’t important to you if you’re not willing/able to make that kind of commitment. It is actually very wise and shows mature leadership to admit and recognize your limitations.

If the long-term commitment of beginning surveys isn’t a good option for your organization, then considering alternatives would be a wise choice.


At the end of the day, it is about understanding the engagement of those in your organization. Engagement is predicated on relationships and ongoing efforts. Here are a few alternatives to the traditional enterprise-wide surveys:

  • Exit Interviews – While not the most pro-active thing you can do, it does give you insight into why people are leaving. Most companies are already doing this, but make sure there is a process behind it that ties it to engagement efforts and not just some box to be ticked.
  • Semi-structured Conversations – These can take the form of small team meetings, departmental town halls, luncheons or whatever suits your organizational culture best. The key is making it natural and comfortable. The less formal it feels, the more honest people will be.
  • Online Tools – Many companies have an intranet of some sort. Utilize the chat boards or any forums/social media aspect that is available. People are used to this environment and can easily “pop in” when the time suits their schedule. No meeting to schedule and no added appointment on their calendar.
  • One-on-ones – This one requires a bit more effort and coordination, but the results can be fantastic. The feedback can be aggregated at the team level and then themes can be communicated as a part of team leader reporting. Again, the easier this is made for the employee, the better.
  • Pulse surveys – These are great to spot-check things. Perhaps you already have a bit of a baseline and want to stay ahead of things. Do a rolling pulse survey for 10%-20% of your organization each month. It is less of a time and financial commitment, takes less time for the employee and can give you semi-annual feedback without the cumbersome nature of an all out survey.


The best way to utilize these alternatives is in a way that not only measures engagement, but actually facilitates it. People disengage when there is excessive bureaucracy and a lack of action after feedback is requested. Take small steps towards responding quickly to feedback.

An engagement survey may be needed in your organization, but think long and hard before starting it. It becomes a moving target and that requires ongoing resources to manage and support. Survey data is usually lagging and many of the alternatives¬† are much more insightful as to what can be done straight away. But, if you’re ready and feel it is needed then begin the survey process. It is your decision, just make sure it is an informed and honest one.