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Survey best practice: Getting survey action planning right: What (really) goes on inside our managers' heads (part 2)

Talent|Employee Insights

September 1, 2020

Based on our extensive survey action planning experience, we've identified six factors impacting your manager and shaping their response to their survey results.

Our previous article investigated why some managers take to post-survey action planning like a duck takes to water, whereas others find it more like swimming through mud. Using Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behaviour, we learned how to challenge managers’ attitudes about the importance of acting on survey results, create normative pressure to encourage them to take action, and build their confidence in their ability to make a real difference to the (working) lives of their employees.

At the core of most Behavioural Theory is the principle that behaviour is a function of the "creature" and its environment. In one of the best-known expressions of this, a paper by Guagnano, Stern & Dietz in 1995 describes behaviour (B) as "an interactive product of … attitudinal variables (A) and contextual factors (C)." This is known as the 'ABC model', making it nice and easy to remember.

If the previous article focused more on (A) – the role of manager attitudes in driving behaviour, we now turn to (C) – the contextual factors. From our experience of survey action planning across hundreds of clients, perhaps tens of thousands of managers, we have identified six factors surrounding your manager and shaping their response to their survey results. When operating together, they make it easier for our manager to do the right thing and take action.

Does our manager have the necessary resources to enable them (e.g., action planning software, simple templates, a searchable library of actions), and can they set aside the time they need to work on their plan?

Does our manager see a role model in their boss by receiving cues to prioritise action planning? The best companies we work with have a senior executive team that creates, communicates and implements its own action plan, as this sets a great example to the rest of the business.

Making something salient means making it harder to ignore. Salience is created through regular reminders, nudges, progress updates, and concrete examples. It means making action planning a prominent feature of internal communications far beyond the initial post-survey buzz. We recommend that your post-survey communications plan is six months long, rather than six weeks: a consistent reminder of our manager’s responsibility to bring their action plan to life.

Setting concrete targets or offering incentives for action planning can motivate the most intransigent manager, but they can also backfire. They can give a clear signal that your company takes action planning seriously and is willing to recognise and reward managers who do it well. Where they backfire, it is typically because the target becomes a goal in itself. It becomes all about getting a 'better engagement score', rather than being a means to encourage our manager to change behaviour. Researchers have also found that incentivising a behaviour can also undermine the (powerful) motivation to do something simply because 'it's the right thing to do.' For these reasons, we recommend setting action planning targets or incentives carefully, and only as part of a broader strategy.

Research has shown that one of the most powerful behavioural motivators is awakened when someone makes a clear commitment to act. For example, when your friend posts their commitment to a 'dry January' on their Facebook page, they have far more to gain if they follow through, and far more to lose if they don’t. Think of the action planning 'spark' that could be lit in your company if all of your managers (from the CEO down) commit personally and publicly to share their action plan with their teams and report on progress. Making a commitment gives someone a stake in the game, increases their sense of ownership, and, yes, makes them far keener not to be seen to fail.

This leads to our final factor: ego. Like the rest of us, our manager gets a buzz from being seen to succeed and senses a damage to their ego when they don't. It also feels good just to do the right thing sometimes. There's nothing wrong with encouraging our managers to take action on their survey results simply because it will make them feel better about themselves.

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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