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The key difference between engagement and culture surveys

[fa icon="calendar"] 14-Feb-2018 17:09:02 / by Rebecca Downie

One of the key differences between engagement and culture surveys is that:

  • engagement surveys ask individuals questions that relate to their feelings, motivations and commitment about their day to day experience; while
  • culture surveys ask individuals questions that relate to their observations of collective patterns of behaviour within the business.

The key difference between engagement and culture surveys

The precise calculation of employee engagement scores differs between instruments but is typically made up of a series of components such as commitment, motivation and advocacy.  Each score could be the aggregation of multiple questions, or relate to a single question.  The advocacy score for example, is typically based one question, “would you recommend this as a place to work”; and is also typically the lowest scoring component of the three-part engagement equation.  Because of the general nature of the advocacy question, it’s difficult to diagnose problems with accuracy.  Most surveys provide free text space for individuals to expand on their reason for the score they chose, but reasons tend to vary widely in nature and highlight the very personal lens through which individuals assess engagement and their workplace experience.  This might explain why engagement scores have been static for 10 years despite enormous investments of time and money.

Employee engagement questions typically explore the individual’s job and the degree to which they are supported and enabled to be successful.  Questions might include:

  • My job makes full use of my skills and abilities;
  • I have the tool and resources I need to be successful;
  • My manager shows genuine interest in my development and career goals.

Culture surveys are notably different to employee engagement surveys in that they do not ask for individuals’ personal feelings, but rather identify the patterns of behaviour they observe within the organisation, and the sources of those patterns.

Culture survey findings are presented in terms of key aspects of culture, like Walking the Talk’s 6 Cultural Archetypes, and typically highlight the relative health of each aspect.  Findings allow organisations to fine tune their transition on the journey from the current patterns of behaviour to those behaviours that will underpin strategic goals.

Culture surveys look for patterns, norms and the underlying beliefs and can include questions like:

  • Customer satisfaction is regularly discussed in meetings;
  • There is a healthy work-life balance here;
  • Our policies and procedures help us get our work done quickly and efficiently. 

Can engagement data tell you anything about your culture and vice versa?

Despite the fact that 82% of HR leaders are using the engagement survey as their primary source of culture data, engagement and culture surveys explore fundamentally different aspects of the employee experience.  

Engagement surveys ask individuals for their first-person experience, while culture surveys explore the collective experience within the organisation, and the prevalent patterns of behaviour. 

Each type of assessment can provide clues about the other.  Engagement data for example can provide clues on aspects of culture such as leadership, communication, and how change is executed.  However, these are not patterns of behaviour but rather an aggregate of personal experiences which are not culture.  It’s also very easy to misinterpret employee feelings during a culture transformation journey.  For example, when cultures are in transition, changes are being made in both behaviours and mindsets which can feel unsettling and could result in a dip in employee engagement.  It would not necessarily mean that the organisation has an unhealthy culture.    

In a culture change journey however, it would be valuable to gauge “how” employees are experiencing the changes and the resonance of certain approaches. 

From a culture assessment perspective, the relative health of the People First archetype can provide clues about the likely engagement of employees.  For example, patterns of behaviour within People First include, caring for others, an emphasis on employee development, empowering people to be successful, recognition for a good job, and making wellbeing and safety priorities.  What a culture survey could not provide would be a metric for people leaders as part of performance measurement, as questions are designed to target prevalent behaviour patterns, rather than experiences specific to a group of people.

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