Thoughts about hr and management in the real world – extra information I couldn't fit in my books!.

The French Revolution and Engagement Surveys

I first posted this article back in 2013 but now I’m living in France, and at Elephant we’re running lots of engagement surveys for companies at the moment – I thought it was worth reposting!

Back in the 1780’s the King of France had a problem with Paris. It was filthy! Sewerage ran down the streets, the river Seine was brown, fumes and chemicals from tanneries clogged the air and there were too many dead bodies to bury. No-one knew what to do, so King Louis 16th decided to ask the citizens of Paris for their suggestions.

And what ideas they gave him! Hundreds and hundreds of submissions were received by the Court showing that Parisians were engaged and motivated to make their city better.

King Louis and his Court then asked each person to present their submission and listened to these over several days before considering the outcomes. Excitement was high! The citizens were keen to hear which ideas would be used to restore their city to a clean and healthy place to live.

But the King could see that any solution was going to cost far too much of his money so he decided to DO NOTHING AT ALL.

He figured that the citizens had been living with the filth for so long, they could just continue.

He was badly wrong.

Shortly afterwards the French Revolution broke out resulting in not only the end of the monarchy but in heads being lost too.

What does this have to do with engagement surveys?

If you run an engagement survey then do nothing with the results – it’s worse than running the survey in the first place.

I’ve seen this in action myself and the results were not pretty (although not quite as messy as a guillotine).

But engagement surveys take too much time and money!

They don’t have to. In fact in companies I’ve worked in where we’ve done the large, expensive surveys – the results are often overwhelming and take months to come through. What works much better is the following:

  • Do short surveys with a few targeted questions
  • Ask people for their top 3 short term suggestions – and then pick which of those you can do, communicate them to everyone and get them done
  • Ask for the top 3 long term suggestions – also communicate these but put time frames on them. They’re often things that then get built into your HR plan.

What do you then do with the results?

Here are some steps you can take to make sure action is taken.

Get the results out. Present the results to your leadership team, and then get them to do a presentation to their managers, who can then present it to their teams. Or do a company wide briefing and share the results – both the good and the bad. Make the focus on celebrating the things you do well, and communicating that you’ll now be developing an action plan to work on the things that haven’t rated so well.

Do some focus groups to discuss the results. Sometimes it’s not clear what people meant, and getting a group of employees together to discuss this can lend some insights to what’s come out. I was working in a contact centre and we did a focus group to discuss results. The benefits we offered hadn’t rated well and our existing employees said they weren’t that good. But in our focus group were 3 new employees and they said the benefits were FANTASTIC. They got none of those things at their last job. And our existing employees realised that perhaps they didn’t have things too bad. They said could they change their ratings!!

Pick 1- 3 short term actions and 1 – 3 long term actions your company can take and communicate these to everyone. Put together a team to work on these and communicate who the team is to everyone. Then communicate progress being made, and when something has been achieved. This could be a section in your company newsletter, or a special engagement survey that goes out. Also if there are actions that can’t be dealt with, let people know!

Group the areas for improvement from your survey and create working groups for each area (ask for volunteers so people can pick what they’re interested in). Then get the working groups to do the above for their area. This makes it far more employee owned, however often will require HR to coordinate comms from everyone.

Do a 3 month and 6 month communication about what’s happened and what’s still being worked on. And make sure things are worked on!

So don’t be like King Louis. Don’t start a revolution. Instead make your employees even more engaged than before. Heads then definitely won’t roll!

Angela Atkins is the co-founder of Elephant Group who now operate in NZ, Australia, the UK, Canada and the US. She is the author of the Bites series of books and the Management Bites training programme. She now lives in the south west of France, renovating a 200+ year old house and learning about french history.


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This entry was posted on May 11, 2021 by in culture, human resources, Leadership and tagged .
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