Friday, February 08, 2008

Measuring engagement – a survey on career development

Like many big corporations, mine conducts "engagement surveys" to measure the love/hate quotient of employees. Overall engagement across the company is hard to impact. So, I looked more particularly at what our team could and could not control.

Questions about how people feel about senior leadership or corporate policies – out of scope. (I’m not in corporate, but rather a front-line business function.) However, some questions cover how direct managers operate, job satisfaction factors and career development. We can influence these things through policy changes, projects and communication.

I was asked to join the “engagement team” assembled to address the issues we could control. Based on the initial engagement survey results, our team identified two areas where the results were below average and within our control. One was career development and advancement. The engagement team brainstormed many ideas that might help in this area – mentoring programs, better integration of career development planning with our review process, and more. All great ideas, but naturally, I wanted more data. Before we start creating a bunch of programs, what’s the real need? Let’s do a survey.

Here’s what I wanted to know, for starters:

  • How big is the audience for career development? What’s the “ambition level” of our employees? Do they want to become CEO, move up a notch, or simply be recognized for the work they do now?
  • Has the company properly set expectations? How much responsibility do employees take for their own careers? (Note – this is a big communication opportunity.)
  • What’s our baseline for success? How do they feel about their progress so far?
  • What programs would get high participation? What’s the demand for a mentor program? Is that demand, high or low, based on experience? Do we need to improve career development planning as part of our established review process?

Working with the team, I developed the following questions. As usual, I tried to anticipate possible replies, to reduce or eliminate those pesky, hard-to-measure write-in comments.

Which of these statements match your career goals for the NEXT TWO YEARS? Click all that apply.

  • I want to move up at least one level of management.
  • I want to switch career paths and work in a new area.
  • I want to complete the long-term goals I've taken on in my current role.
  • I want to add some new skills to my current mix through study and/or a specific project assignment.
  • I want to continue in my current role -- I'm picking up enough on the way to make it interesting.
  • I want to begin managing others.
  • I want to manage a larger team.
  • I want to stop managing others.
  • I want to manage a smaller team.
  • I'm more interested in recognition for my contributions than career advancement.
  • I want to begin, continue or complete a course of study for an advanced degree at an accredited school.
  • Other (please specify)

Please rate your level of agreement with these statements. (Strongly agree; Agree; Not sure; Disagree; Strongly disagree)

  • In 2007, my direct manager encouraged and supported my career advancement needs.
  • The company has adequate next-level job opportunities that I could fill and which advance my career path.
  • In 2007, I let the day-to-day needs of my job distract me and/or consume all of my time and attention, which kept me from focusing on career advancement.
  • I have a pretty good idea of what I'll be doing in my career in three years.
  • I don't feel discriminated against when it comes to advancement or development opportunities, based on some factor that does not measure my ability or qualifications. (Race, gender, country of origin, location, etc.)
  • In 2007 I followed a formal career planning process that was been defined and tracked in performance management review sessions.
  • The company offers training and experience opportunities that fit my career goals.
  • I'm satisfied with the career progress I made in 2007.
  • The company is too quick to go outside for talent instead of filling roles from within.

When it comes to career planning, development and advancement, how much responsibility belongs to the individual, and how much to the organization?

  • 0 percent individual; 100 percent organization
  • 10 percent individual; 90 percent organization
  • 20 percent individual; 80 percent organization
  • 30 percent individual; 70 percent organization
  • 40 percent individual; 60 percent organization
  • 50 percent individual; 50 percent organization
  • 60 percent individual; 40 percent organization
  • 70 percent individual; 30 percent organization
  • 80 percent individual; 20 percent organization
  • 90 percent individual; 10 percent organization
  • 100 percent individual; 0 percent organization

Please share your previous experience with mentoring. Check all that apply.

  • I've had experience being mentored at a different company or organization.
  • I've had experience as a mentor at a different company or organization.
  • I had a mentor earlier in my career here at (the company).
  • I was a mentor earlier in my career here at (the company).
  • I'm currently a mentor at (the company).
  • I'm currently being mentored at (the company).

What's your opinion of mentor programs? (No experience/no opinion; Strongly agree; Agree; Disagree; Strongly disagree)

  • Mentor programs are valuable career development tools for the person being mentored.
  • Mentor programs are valuable career development tools for the mentor.
  • Please provide additional comments if you wish

Are you interested in a mentoring program at (the company)?

  • I'd like to be mentored.
  • I would like to be a mentor.
  • I'd like to do both.
  • I'm not interested in the mentoring program.


  • To preserve anonymity – which we promised repeatedly – we limited demographic questions. We asked two. Are you based in North America, yes or no? And, how many levels are you from the team leader? Work for leader, work for someone who works for leaders, etc.

I'm not going to share the specific results here, but a few general observations.

  • Participation. We really worked to get 100 percent participation. The team consists of around 80 members, and we got very close. More than 90 percent of the team responded, giving us a margin of error of 3.2 % with a 95 percent confidence level – quite good. In addition to two e-mails from the leader encouraging everyone to take the survey, we reached out directly to all managers with direct reports and asked them to talk to their teams.
  • How big is the audience for career development? Almost everyone has some kind of ambition. Only a handful were not thinking of moving on, advancing or getting an advanced degree – and some in that handful may have already done those things.
  • Has the company properly set expectations? The distribution of answers in the "who's responsible" question was interesting. For the most part, it peaked around 70/30 - 80/20, with the individual taking the bulk of the responsibility. However, we had a big spike at 50/50. That tells me that we need to do more communication about the role of the company in development.
  • What’s our baseline for success? The question, "I'm satisfied with the career progress I made in 2007," returned a bi-model distribution curve. It looks like a two-humped camel, with big peaks at "agree" and "disagree." I'll have to dive into the survey to see what we can learn about the differences between these two groups.
  • What programs would get high participation? Lots of support for and interest in mentor programs. Good reviews and many volunteers – we should do it. Development as part of the review process was another one of those bi-model curves. More study needed, but looks like an opportunity, too.

A few final notes on this project. As usual, a little data goes a long way. This survey had only eight questions. Take away the two demographic questions and three about mentors, and you have just three, but it's all pretty overwhelming. I see two real advantages from the survey. First, it helps us spend precious resources on the right efforts. Second, it lets us communicate our efforts far more effectively. Every time we can say, "You told us this, so we're doing that," we gain an edge.

(Readability statistics for this post: Eighth grade reading level; reading ease 58.2; 7 percent passive sentences.)


David P. Hochman said...

... our team identified two areas where the results were below average and within our control. One was career development and advancement.

What was the other area?

I was volunteered for an "Action Learning Team" -- which sounds like the same thing as an "engagement team" -- addressing internal communications, career opportunities, and integrating acquired companies. Your articles have been quite helpful.

Mariana Sarceda said...

Yes Matt! I totally agree with you. I work in Corporate Communications too and one of my main tasks is dealing with internal communications. I usually do surveys on the staff regarding different subjects, or I have meetings with them and talk about any issue that they may be rumbling about.
Every time I analyze their replies and come up to the top line executives with a plan or idea that may tackle and bring an accurate reply on the employees demands, we end up all really satisfied: me, because I feel that I can do a significant input to my coworkers and help to create a better working atmosphere; the employees because they feel that they are being listened to and receive the attention they need to their problems; the top executives, because they obtain a greater commitment from all of us.

Matt said...

David, the other issue is quality. It's interesting, because this one really has a lot of facets. Are they concerned about the overall quality of the company's products, or of the quality of what our group does? For this issue, we're doing some focus groups to understand better what the issues are and if they're in our control.

Thanks for the kind comments.

Mariana, it sounds like you're really using measurement effectively! Would love to hear tips from you.