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How to Build an Effective Employee Engagement Action Plan

October 29, 2019 by Joanna Swanson

How to Build an Effective Employee Engagement Action Plan

An employee engagement strategy depends on different components to find success. In addition to choosing and implementing the right survey solution, an organization must also use precisely worded questions, segment the data for maximum insight, and convert those insights into targeted action plans.

That last stage before starting the iterative process over again, action planning, is what makes an effective employee engagement strategy come to life. Without it, issues remain unresolved and engagement levels, at best, don't improve.

More often than not, however, ineffective action planning can lead to disengagement, lower productivity, and an eroding culture that negatively impacts the entire organization. In fact, after enough inaction, employees will realize that their feedback does not matter and will simply stop caring. Therefore, understanding how to build an employee engagement action plan is instrumental in transforming employee thoughts and opinions into positive change.

What Is an Employee Engagement Action Plan?

While engagement software and survey questions are critical components of an employee engagement strategy, too few organizations give action planning the level of attention it deserves. Your action plans ultimately determine the success or failure of your employee engagement efforts. In fact, an organization is wasting its time, energy, and resources by distributing surveys and analyzing data if it's not acting on that data and implementing change.

Action plans ultimately determine the success or failure of your employee engagement efforts.

Action plan is a general term that can encompass different things in different organizations. They can be anything from a major initiative affecting the entire enterprise – perhaps moving from annual to quarterly reviews – or something small and specific to a single manager like starting weekly one-on-one meetings with team members.

Whether it's a quick change or something larger, an action plan entails something you've identified based on employee feedback that you must either improve to remedy a problem or, at the very least, identify a set of actions to address an issue.

Download Employee Engagement Framework & Survey Templates

For instance, if you've received feedback revealing that employees would like to see better workplace health initiatives, an action plan might be something as simple as a discovery process to identify what types of initiatives a workforce wants most. In other words, an action plan can either be a solution in and of itself or an exploration of potential solutions.

Building an Action Plan

No matter what an organization is trying to accomplish with its action plans, a well-organized approach will always yield the best results. Let's take a look at the process and best practices an organization can adopt to create the most effective employee engagement action plans possible.

Start With Your Survey Data

Just like any journey, the first step in an action plan is determining your destination or, put differently, what you want to accomplish with your plan. This first step involves sitting down with your survey data and identifying areas to address, including both company-wide initiatives as well as smaller, quick wins that will give your engagement strategy some momentum.

While reviewing the data, drilling down deeply into every survey category will help reveal insights that a more cursory approach might overlook. This holds true even for categories with high survey scores since a more granular look might uncover subtleties that could very well evolve into larger issues. Using a survey solution with feedback heat maps is especially useful for this purpose, helping you quickly identify pain points that don't necessarily stand out immediately in data reports.

The review process should include managers, directors, or anyone else who might be able to identify and effect change across the company. HR can provide supervision over the process and advice along the way but should not be the only group responsible for identifying areas of action. Managers will always have a better sense of issues within their teams and how to best address those issues.

Managers will always have a better sense of issues within their teams and how to best address those issues.

As a best practice, HR can ask everyone reviewing the survey data to come up with one or two action plans for themselves. While an organization might not put all of those plans in place, it helps avoid groupthink while empowering multiple people with different perspectives to all focus on ways to improve their teams and the organization as a whole.

Create the Action Plan

Once you've identified areas for improvement, the next step is creating the employee engagement action plans themselves.

Since action plans are specific to particular issues and organizations, there's no right or wrong approach in developing them as long as they help achieve the determined goal. However, a few best practices are common to the most effective action plans.

  • Using an employee engagement solution that's able to provide some guidance and suggestions on action planning can be a tremendous benefit, especially if an organization is new to engagement initiatives. The more capable solutions will help you determine the best course of action to address a specific issue based on research, subject matter expertise, and data on what other organizations have done to resolve a similar issue.

  • When deciding on an action, make sure it's a good fit for the person you choose to lead it. For instance, don't ask a sales manager to revamp the employee review process since that task is outside of his or her skillset. Assign action plans to the right people, be realistic with expectations, and you'll dramatically increase your chances for success.

  • Large initiatives require a significant amount of organization. Using the previous example, your CHRO would be a good choice to revamp your employee review process but, depending on its complexities and the size of your organization, even that action plan might require additional help. If that's the case, break the larger action plan into a series of interlocking smaller ones, assigning those sub plans to different people. Naturally, this approach, although the most effective for tackling larger initiatives, has numerous moving parts. Therefore, be meticulous in your planning to ensure you account for everything, leveraging your survey solution's action planning features to keep track of it all.

  • Be clear with your objectives in every action plan to increase the odds of success. Going back to the workplace health initiative example, an action plan aimed at improving employee perceptions of a current initiative is too vague and unclear. Instead, an action plan focused on identifying health initiative features that employees will appreciate and value most is a much more concise and definitive goal.

  • Establish checkpoints and milestones within each action plan to help keep it focused and on schedule. In this sense, an action plan is like any other project within operations. Timelines also hold people accountable for completing the action plan and ensuring that the survey data is serving a purpose. As we said when discussing what to do with employee survey results, taking no action on survey data can ultimately impair employee engagement rather than enhance it.

After the Action Plan

Change and improvement are constants in a dynamic organization. Effective action planning builds upon itself, taking incremental steps to address more complex issues that involve multiple components. In other words, just because your initial set of action plans have run their course doesn't mean that your work is done. An additional set of best practices will help make sure that your action planning leads to permanent, positive change within the organization.

Read Next: What To Do With Employee Survey Results: A 7 Step Process for HR

Measure Your Results

Now that you've completed the survey, collected the results, formed employee engagement action plans, and put them into motion, it's time to gauge your success. Rather than waiting for your next engagement survey, you can send out a short pulse survey a few months after you’ve implemented the changes. This lets you measure your accomplishments and create a subsequent set of action plans to continue your progress. If you don’t quite see the results you expect at first, continue the process and try other techniques in future action plans as a certain degree of trial and error is common when initially dealing with employee opinions, thoughts, and emotions.

Trial and error is common when initially dealing with employee opinions, thoughts, and emotions.

Don't Be Afraid to Change Course

Building on that previous point, don't be afraid to change your plan if necessary. For example, if you're conducting a year-long initiative and your quarterly polls show that you're progressing well towards your goal, there's no need to change your direction. However, if something is off or even failing, it doesn't make sense to stay on a plan that isn't working. Remain flexible as you go and use your survey and poll data to inform your course.

Use Polls for a Quick Follow-Up

If there's a specific area that you want to measure on a more frequent basis, polls rather than full engagement surveys are a more convenient and targeted solution. Polls allow you to send out a single question or two, measuring your success while gathering additional feedback to hone your approach further. For smaller initiatives, a poll every two months or so allows you to maintain an accurate and timely gauge on your success without overwhelming a team or manager.

Track Larger Initiatives With Smaller Surveys

When dealing with a large initiative, perhaps one that impacts the entire organization, follow-up polls might not be able to provide sufficient information. However, that doesn't mean that full surveys are necessary to gather updated insights. A shorter survey, perhaps five or six questions, distributed two months after your initial survey is still very manageable yet creates enough data points to reveal your progress and inform your decisions.

Communicate Your Plan

Employees are more likely to be engaged with their work and an organization when they feel attuned to the decision-making process. Just like any other facet of your employee engagement strategy, keep your workforce apprised of your plans, discussing any areas for improvement revealed by a survey, your course of action, and the ultimate success of your action plans.

Download Employee Engagement Framework & Survey Templates

Improving employee engagement is an iterative process. There will always be new issues that arise and need your attention. Therefore, it's important to look at action planning and your overall engagement efforts as an ongoing, evolving strategy. A proactive and consistent approach to engagement surveys and action planning will keep managers in front of any rising problems, helping them prevent issues from becoming more widespread and caustic. Keep your action plan goals realistic and manageable, build on both your successes and missteps, and you'll soon realize the many benefits that a more engaged workforce provides.