How to Leverage Employee Survey Data to Shape Culture

by Tom Devane

For years, shaping organizational culture was thought to be a mysterious art, one that could only be practiced by a handful of wise, long-in-the-tooth practitioners. Changes in daily behavior and mindsets were rumored to be effective … sometimes. And increasing profits by modifying culture? Well, that was pure luck.   

All of these perceptions were built before the availability of big data. But now it’s 2020, and access to well-researched culture variables provides insights we once could only hope for – intelligence that shows the true impact culture has on performance.

From nuggets of “interesting data” to “big data”

Data has always played a role in business decisions. Back in the day, people would say, “Hey, that’s interesting data; let’s act on it!” And those actions could yield some positive impacts on the bottom line.

Next came the era of big data – data that was more publicly available and combined with sophisticated mathematics. This began to yield results far beyond those of the interesting data nuggets of the past.

Retailers such as Kroger and Walmart now use sophisticated software to determine product placement and pricing. Where a product sits on the shelf may not seem that important, but these seemingly small, nuanced changes can move sales several percentage points. It’s a good example of how data has made a huge impact on business results.

Forward-thinking companies use comparative analytics to gain a competitive edge

Nowadays, forward-thinking companies rely on comparative analytics to mine for profit opportunities. For example, in the highly turbulent and cutthroat competitive healthcare market, comparative analytics brings together real-time “big data” from payers, providers, the supply chain, and patients. This gives leaders visibility into use rates, payer performance, patient outcome measurements, and more. They’ve made the move from wholly internal focused data to relevant, critical comparisons of what’s happening in the industry. It’s these analyses that help leaders turn big data into big action.

Culture insights set a higher standard for engagement and performance

With this change, companies across industries are starting to reap the benefits of comparing their own culture data to huge amounts of industry peer data – and then translating that to a better bottom line. For example, some of the data Energage collects and analyzes include:

  • The 15 culture drivers most important to engagement within a particular industry.
  • Relative differences in the scores of executives, managers, and frontline workers.
  • Typical culture characteristics of new hires and what organizations need to do to make them productive as quickly as possible.
  • Early-warning signs of ineffective manager interactions with their direct reports.
  • Patterns of culture variables that combine to give industry leaders their top-of-the-mountain status.

There’s also the added benefit of comparing your data to Energage’s robust database of aspiring and award-winning Top Workplaces organizations in the United States. Why is this of value? Because using employee survey data allows you to strive for something greater than the industry average. It also challenges you to see the correlation between high levels of employee engagement and better levels of financial performance.

Using employee survey data to impact culture

Want to move the needle on culture so you can improve your organization’s performance and profits? Drawing on 14 years of culture research and more than 20 million employees surveyed at over 60,000 organizations, Energage recommends these eight actions:

  1. Identify the biggest culture-shaping opportunities. Collect the data you need with a credible employee engagement survey.
  2. Determine the scope of input. Collect employee survey data from all levels and functions within the organization.
  3. Determine the analytical comparison frame. Compare survey employee survey data to award-winning and aspiring Top Workplaces organizations within your industry. Where available, compare current year data with previous years’ data.
  4. Communicate the employee survey results. Share the insights discovered through the employee engagement survey with the entire company.
  5. Identify opportunities and group them into categories. Primary categories include systemic, departmental, and other specific demographics.
  6. Define action ownership. Group actions into logical work units, such as the senior leadership team, a task force, or departments and teams.
  7. Specify the desired intervention scope. Organize high-leverage areas into the appropriate categories, including one-on-one, groups, or the entire organization.
  8. Identify highest impact actions within each high-leverage category. For example, one-on-one coaching for leaders, departmental actions aimed at improving focus areas, or a rollout of practices to the entire organization.

Three ways to initiate a positive impact on culture

If you have the luxury of being the CEO, you can start working on your culture today. But for those who are not the top seed in the company, here are three tried and true approaches that will help you make a positive impact on culture:

Option one: Top-level conversation

Have a conversation with the CEO or another member of the senior leadership team about the financial benefits of culture shaping and how it also improves the employee experience. When dealing with members of the senior leadership team – whose primary responsibility is the financial health of the organization – it’s often best to lead with financial performance.

If the senior leadership team member agrees, excellent! You can request they start to socialize the idea at the top level of the organization. If the senior leadership team member is not wholeheartedly on board, you might want to try one of the other approaches below.

Option two: Middle influencer conversation

Have informal conversations with one or more influential managers in the organization about the benefits of an employee engagement survey. The insights gained can help shape the employee experience, as well as financial performance. Emphasize how it can make managing direct reports easier and improve the productivity of the group. Once you have a manager on board, they can exert their influence to try to sway the top tier of the organization to conduct a survey.

Option three: Skunkworks

Seize the initiative and start a small-scale pilot. Determine what you think are the defining culture characteristics of your company and of your department. Run an informal survey that provides for responses on a seven-point Likert scale. While you won’t have the benefit of comparing your company’s data to an external source to find out what the best players in your industry are doing, you at least have a starting point. Have a conversation within your group about what changes might make the employee experience better as well as how you can improve profitability.

When this pilot succeeds you can go back and try options one and two to get a grander scale. (Why am I so confident the initial attempt will go well? Well, you have two things going for you here: you will get some great grassroots-level advice on what needs to change for a better work experience, and you will get increased energy from those in the department because they have helped shape their local work environment.)

In conclusion

Data science and the ability to leverage employee survey data has advanced exponentially in the past five years. Taking action to impact culture and boost bottom-line performance is no longer a game of chance, nor is it an exclusive practice only carried out by those in high command. Thanks to comparative analytics, organizations have an opportunity to rise above the mainstream and place themselves far ahead of their competition.