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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Jimenez

How to do employee engagement for small companies with a slim budget

One of the more fun and sometimes challenging parts of working with small businesses is finding ways to have strategic level HR programs when there is no budget or extra resources for technology or an outside vendor.

Our team has scoured the universe for software that is free or has a low monthly/annual subscription fee that can do much of what modern HR technology can do. While it does take some work to get it setup and it may not work as well as a platform dedicated to that service would, it’s often enough to get by until the business can afford a better option.

In early stages, businesses don’t need all the bells and whistles anyway so the free version of most software is enough.

One of the areas we have found work arounds for is in employee engagement surveys. Let me be clear, with this and all initiatives, if the business has the budget to use a dedicated vendor who specializes in this area then we always suggest doing so. In particular, engagement survey vendors are very reasonably priced. However, in some cases, our clients can not use a vendor but want to do work around employee engagement that typically starts with a survey.

Employee engagement

Employee Engagement Initiatives

Employee engagement initiatives have three main components.

  • Survey – to get feedback from employees

  • Communication plan – how you communicate the survey purpose and results after the fact

  • Action plan – how you create action plans around the feedback you receive.

This week, I am working on the survey portion. There are tons of great platforms out there that offer engagement surveys: Gallup, Culture Amp and Lattice to name a few. But for this client, we are building a survey ourselves using free software. I am still determining the best platform for them but am considering SurveyMonkey and AirTable.

We use a database of questions we have curated over the years from our own research and work with survey vendors. Once the platform is decided upon, I will select the questions that best fit this client and the type of feedback they are trying to gain from employees.

Size/Type of Business

This client is a 40ish employee business located in Southern California. The business has been around for many years and, like most companies in 2020, had to pivot the business a bit. There have been many changes made and leadership has decided it’s time to get some direct employee feedback.

The type of feedback we receive from this first survey will determine the engagement strategy going forward so for this one we are going to do an in-house survey built by my team and then decide after that if we need a formal platform.

Why This Work Matters

It is likely easy to understand why this matters. Business leaders need to understand whether what they think is happening in the business is really happening. They need to know if the type of environment they believe they are creating for employees really exists.

Of course, leaders could just ask employees and I certainly encourage open communication, but we all know that employees may not always feel comfortable being totally open and honest.

An engagement survey they can take anonymously can make employees feel more comfortable about sharing their true thoughts.

The feedback, while sometimes hard to swallow, will be beneficial in creating programs that help rebuild trust, communication and engage employees in a way that is needed to push the business forward.

Beyond the Survey

It isn’t enough just to run an employee survey. First, leaders have to be willing to hear the feedback and more, importantly, make changes where it makes sense. The hardest part of these projects is often sharing the feedback and determining the areas that need to be addressed.

Communication and action planning are key parts of the entire process. Employees want to know their feedback was heard and considered. They want to hear what leaders think about it and what changes, if any can be made.

I think it’s also important to point out that we don’t just want to focus on the negative. There is often a lot of positive feedback that comes from engagement surveys and we should celebrate that. I always encourage a “here’s what we are doing well and will keep doing and here’s what we need to work on” kind of communication/action plan.

The success of future surveys relies on what you do with the information you received in previous surveys. If employees hear nothing after taking a survey they will be less inclined to take or offer valuable feedback in future surveys.

So this week, I’ll be building out a first time survey for our client, communicating to employees about the survey and encouraging participation. The first step in creating an engagement strategy.

What are You Working On #WIWOW

Part of what I want to do with this series is hear from other small businesses about the things they are working on inside their org. It doesn’t have to be strictly HR related. If you are an employee in a small business, I would love to hear what you are working on this week.

You can share it in the comments below or on LinkedIn or Twitter using the hashtag #WIWOW. I want to highlight all the cool stuff happening in small businesses and this is one cool way to do that.

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