How to Maximize Feedback and Engagement

We are preparing to do a total revamp of our website (sorry web designers, we’ve selected a firm and hope that we can come to terms with them soon – but that’s a topic for another blog). As part of this process, we surveyed about 20% of our team from across all positions and locations to learn how they see and use our existing website. The results and feedback were enlightening and fascinating. My purpose here is not to get into the details of the survey results, but to explore the overall purpose of surveys and their potential.

A fundamental axiom of management is that employee engagement is directly related to organizational success – with a corollary that the more management listens to employees and respects and embraces their input, the better employee engagement is. Certainly, there are many examples of an organization with good engagement that failed. The organization must be competent at more things than ensuring an engaged workforce.

But in the all other things being equal fantasy business land, a more engaged workforce is a more productive workforce. When management listens to employees’ ideas and discusses the actions recommended, it’s a win-win. Everyone learns, everyone grows. There is less chance for misalignment of purpose and direction. 

Study after study documents the importance of employee engagement. The more competitive the marketplace is for talent, the more important employee engagement is. Global insurance/HR firm AON Hewitt defines engagement as a measure of “Say, Stay and Strive.” How likely are employees to Say great things about the company? How likely are employees to Stay and be part of the company? And how well does the company inspire them to Strive to do better?

But, the tendency is to focus on the technical aspects of what we do and less on the personal or interpersonal aspects. We do this at our own disadvantage. And yet there are many tools, training aids and assessments to assist us in this regard.

Steven Covey’s commandment to “seek first to understand then to be understood” has a major role to play in all of this. It is about listening and taking the time to understand and process the information. Not just hear, but really listen. Seeking to understand. 

Question: How often do we take the time to step back and have a good dialog about how things are going in general and then ask some probing questions that require more than just a “fine” or “good” response? I’ve written before about our use of the Client Feedback Tool (CFT) to solicit feedback on how we are meeting expectations. The strategy utilized in the CFT is to ask the right questions to probe and inquire, looking for specific ways we can improve.

In a similar way, we need to ask those probing questions of each other to learn how to be a better employer, a better employee, and a better service provider to our customers.

Think about it. The whole concept of improving engagement applies to all aspect of our lives. The study of better engagement has been ongoing for more than a century, slowly gaining momentum in its acceptance and is a critical factor in organizational success, whether that organization is a family, a church, a school or a company. The more communication technologies advance, the more precise we can target our constituents, the more we need to improve how we target them and meet their expectations. Those expectations are continually evolving, depending on the generation, past experiences and, to a lesser extent, the sandbox you’re playing in.

Nearly seventeen years ago, Seth Godin wrote about Permission Marketing – how to effectively utilize email to target a prospective customer, long before smart phones, iPads, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. The data analytics are so much more powerful now to not just sell what we make, but to learn what customers want to buy. 

Think about how much Amazon knows about your preferences and interests and how they cater to them. They ask what you want by presenting you with very well-organized options and when you show interest, they keep coming back through various channels to ask you again, “are you sure you don’t want to buy those shoes?”

So, there is a built-up expectation of being asked for feedback with specific questions: “What do you want? Is this what you mean? How can we do better?” And the stakes get higher for proper feedback. Amazon is the master of it all.

On the other hand, an example of absolute failure in feedback, in my opinion, is Delta Airlines. I get a survey after almost every Delta flight - “Thank you for Flying Delta. We’re interested in your feedback.” But when you give feedback, especially when registering a complaint, there is no acknowledgment whatsoever … “Thank you for Flying Delta. We’re interested in your feedback. Actually, we just want you to think we care.” Among those who fly Delta regularly, it’s become a bit of a joke. They’re probably better off not asking in the first place. They create an expectation that they care and then disappoint again.

I am currently reading Peter F. Drucker’s book, The Effective Executive. In his section on time management, he notes that the most effective executives spend time asking employees, “sometimes even ‘green junior employees’”, “What should we at the head of this organization know about your work? What do you want to tell me about this organization? Where do you see opportunities, we do not exploit? Where do you see dangers to which we are blind? And all together, what do you want to know from me about this organization?”

Seems like a good place to start to listen, learn and grow. For everyone.


“Business and human endeavors are systems… we tend to focus on snapshots of isolated parts of the system. And wonder why our deepest problems never get solved.”

– Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization

“When people go to work, they shouldn’t have to leave their hearts at home.”

– Betty Bender

“Research indicates that workers have three prime needs: Interesting work, recognition for doing a good job, and being let in on things that are going on in the company.”

– Zig Ziglar