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Survey best practice: Getting survey action planning right: What (really) goes on inside our managers’ heads (Part 1)

Talent|Employee Insights
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August 17, 2020

Spend a few minutes reading this article to help you understand the manager reasoning process and drive improved outcomes.

Survey results are in. Reports are launched. On their reporting dashboard, managers see their three priority follow-up issues.

What happens next?

There will be managers in your organisation who are genuinely convinced of the value of listening to their employees and personally committed to acting on their feedback. And they are good at it too. It seems to come naturally.

But let's be honest. What proportion of your managers are truly like this? Perhaps 25% if you’re lucky. For the other 75%, creating a survey action plan is not something they jump out of bed for in the morning.

When their survey results land, our managers face a decision. Some will act on these results, while others will try to lie low and wait until the hype about the survey dissipates, allowing them to get back to 'business as usual.'

First proposed over 30 years ago, Ajzen's Theory of Planned Behaviour is extremely helpful in understanding the reasoning process that managers go through when deciding how, or whether, to act on their survey results. The theory proposes that three things—attitudes, subjective norms, and perceived control over the behaviour—will determine someone's intent to act, which in turn leads to them performing the behaviour.



Theory of Planned Behaviour (Ajzen, 1985)


Applying the Theory of Planned Behaviour to survey action planning


Manager attitudes

"Is this action worth taking?"

Does our manager believe that acting on their survey results will have a positive outcome for them, and make a real difference?

Subjective Norms

"Am I expected to act?"

Do important people around our manager (i.e. their peers and boss) expect them to act? Will our manager stand out from the crowd if they take action (or if they don't?)?

Perceived Behavioural Control

"How hard will I find this?"

How easy, or difficult, does our manager think it will be to take action? Are they confident in their own abilities to perform the action successfully?




Ajzen's theory implies that there are three common places where our managers get stuck, so what can we do to help them get unstuck?

  • Challenge their attitudes. Reinforce the importance of acting on survey feedback. Share data on the positive impact seen where managers take action. Willis Towers Watson (and likely many others) have found compelling evidence that issues uncovered through employee surveys show greater improvement when subjected to a manager’s action plan. Encourage managers to think about the positive impact on their employees if their feedback is acted on and about how much better it is to be a manager of an engaged, enabled and energised team.
  • Create an environment in which taking action on survey results is the norm. Encourage senior leaders to set an example by creating and communicating their own action plan. Ensure they ask managers reporting to them to provide an action plan progress, holding them accountable. In a subsequent article we will give you more ideas on how to create this environment in your workplace.
  • Build their confidence in their ability to make a real difference. There’s no magic button to create high levels of engagement, and some managers really don’t find engaging with their teams all that easy. However, there are simple things that any manager can start to do that are undeniably within their control, such as saying thank you more often, taking the time to listen to their team and seeking advice before making decisions. If available, you can also point them towards the suggestions in the action planning library within our reporting software. When a manager starts to act differently in the small things, it can build positive habits that make a big difference.

So, the next time you are planning a meeting with a manager to talk through an action plan, get inside their heads first. Think Ajzen!

Sign in to your Willis Towers Watson Employee Engagement Software account today to try out our action planning module or contact us for a demo.

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