The Role of Pulse and Annual Surveys in Your Workforce Engagement Strategy

Added on Feb 21, 2019

By Joseph Cabral, Chief Human Resources Officer, and Shannon Vincent, Manager, Engagement Consulting Services

EmployeeEngagementSurveyPulse surveys are gaining traction in the HR world as an asset that can support an organization’s broader workforce engagement strategy. As shorter and more frequent surveys, they offer near-real-time views into employee engagement. They also enable managers to evaluate the progress and effectiveness of improvement efforts and measure the impact of industry trends, topical company news, and organizational changes on the workforce.

However, more surveys may not equate to more action. The two correlate only if an organization is able to meaningfully and consistently respond to these smaller and more frequent doses of feedback. This requires having the appropriate infrastructure in place for planning and executing the surveys, and reporting the findings.

In the absence of a robust engagement infrastructure, pulse surveys may contribute to “survey fatigue” across the workforce and burden leaders with more data than they can digest and act upon. And when there is not a clear connection between the frequent surveys and action, employees may be inclined to view them as flavor-of-the-month projects and not take them seriously.

Even organizations with the appropriate infrastructure must ward off yet another misconception. Because pulse surveys are so targeted—some consist of only one question—they tend to yield “quick wins.” These wins can be powerful morale boosters, but they are not long-term drivers of engagement. Engaging and sustaining a high-performing workforce—which is critical to an organization’s ability to deliver safe, high-quality, patient-centered care—often requires some degree of cultural transformation, and this transformational journey is an ongoing commitment.

Annual surveys offer a global and historical view of workforce engagement and improvement plans that can generate comprehensive action plans for achieving sustainable performance across organizations. Pulse surveys can add nuance to this view—uncovering warning signs of misalignment or other threats to engagement—but cannot duplicate it. Communicating to employees the purpose of pulse surveys in tracking progress of improvement opportunities will help put into context the purpose of these additional measures.

Organizations achieving cross-domain improvement understand that nurturing workforce engagement is not only about making employees happy, it is also about optimizing patient experiences, clinical outcomes, and financial performance. Those aiming for the top percentiles of each care domain want the wealth of data provided by an engagement strategy that incorporates both survey types. Not only will they be able to capture employee perceptions of high-impact events, such as mergers and acquisitions, to inform almost every aspect of their talent management strategy, they will also advance a strategic shift in thinking from engagement being a check-the-box exercise to being a core organizational value.

Rather than looking to implement pulse surveys for “quick fixes” for engagement outcomes, organizations should focus on strengthening their relationship with their workforces in the following ways.

1. Define, communicate, and integrate workforce engagement as a strategic business objective.
Leaders must understand and align around the interdependencies between engagement, quality, safety, and patient experience. If leaders don’t see how engagement drives improvement across the other domains of care, more frequent surveying—and the additional requisite review of results—may be perceived as a clerical burden rather than a performance accelerator.

2. Drive and sustain performance of HR metrics above the national benchmark.
If the organization’s performance deviates below the national norm, particularly for items around staffing, pay, and benefits, identifying areas of improvement within those functions should be prioritized. If a large percentage of your workforce reports that they feel understaffed or underpaid, sending out a survey asking if the break room is well-stocked will not only be ineffective, it will likely frustrate employees who feel unheard and leaders who feel unprepared to address their team’s basic concerns.

3. Provide leaders with the necessary training and support to develop actionable insights from their data.
Just as organizations must invest in analytical tools and data governance solutions, they must also invest in their leaders to create a more tech-savvy, data-literate workforce. Leaders equipped to analyze and share their data will be able to communicate effectively, build trust, and facilitate effective teamwork in order to translate data into meaningful improvement.

4. Empower leaders at all levels to administer data-driven improvement plans.
If you discover low engagement when assessing the readiness of your leaders at all levels of the organization, look to your culture. Creating and sustaining a culture in which individual and group behavior, policy, protocols, and work processes support and sustain employee engagement will have a far greater impact on performance improvement than educating individual leaders or implementing isolated interventions.

5. Create partnerships between leaders to foster cross-functional integration.
It is not enough for organizations to socialize their workforces with the integrated framework of safety, quality, experience, and engagement; they must reflect that alignment in their leadership structures. Dyads have been used effectively between administration and clinicians and between physicians and nurses. Similarly, a model that pairs leaders from different care domains—a patient experience leader and an HR leader, for example—will help break down data silos, align performance goals and incentives, integrate improvement efforts, and engage the workforce in the shared vision of delivering an optimally safe, high-quality, patient-centered care experience.

To advance the mission of delivering safe, high-quality, patient-centered care, health care leaders in an organization must partner with one another to drive workforce engagement. Surveying is essential to achieving this, but it must be done through a purposeful approach that maximizes resources and human capital instead of stretching them thin. In most cases, we don’t need more data—we need to do more with data.