The past 15 years, I have had the great pleasure of talking to a lot of people about employee engagement, cross-functional change, organizational development, strategy implementation and company culture.
I have talked to people from all kinds of organizations, and with researchers from all kinds of scientific disciplines.
And now — thanks to the reactions I get when I tell people about Qvest — I have finally realized what the problem is with the way things are done in the majority of companies across the world.
We don’t distinguish between three very different approaches to leveraging employee experience.
So, now I have decided to make a clear distinction between engagement, exploration (often related to innovation) and empowerment. Not to argue that one is better than the other, or that you cannot aim for all of them.
I merely aim to show that engagement, exploration and empowerment are three very different things that call for three very different methodologies and tools.
First, the dictionary definitions (Oxford and Cambridge):
I definitely understand why so many managers and HR professionals confuse engagement, exploration and empowerment — and maybe even think they can get all three by using a tool that is designed to promote one of them. After all, they all have to do with involving someone in something.
But then again, there is a world of difference between attracting someone’s attention and supporting someone’s ability to do something.
So, let’s take a closer look at the differences between engagement, exploration and empowerment and the methodologies and tools that are designed to promote each of them.
Imagine you are an HR professional working in a company of 1.300 employees with different nationalities. The company’s senior management team recently launched a new health strategy, and now they want to make sure that the strategy feels relevant to the employees and has the intended effect on the everyday work life in the company.
It is part of your job to know what your senior management team is aiming for — and maybe even help them think about and discuss what their options are.
So, now you tell them that:
It’s no coincidence that the words ‘employee engagement’ and ‘survey’ are inextricably linked in the everyday life and language in today’s organizations.
Because occupying and attracting employees’ interest or attention is exactly what managers and HR professionals do when they run their annual — or in some companies, monthly — employee engagement surveys.
They have a standard question library that includes a set of different driver- and sub-driver questions about things like: goal setting, management support and relationship to peers. And by running employee engagement surveys, they not only attract employees’ attention to the importance of these things, they also make it possible to measure and benchmark how their employees relate to these things compared to other companies and other time periods.
So, if you and your senior management team decide to use a survey to involve your employees in the new health strategy, it should be because you want to be able to measure and improve your key performance indicators when it comes to health.
Not because you want to involve your employees in finding out what a healthy workplace looks like for your company — or because you want to empower your employees to take action on the different aspects of the new strategy.
If you, however, realize that your senior management team is ready to involve your employees in the exploration and ideation process (while defining and/or implementing the new strategy), you need methodologies and tools that are designed to make your employees think and talk about your strategy to find out more about it.
And that’s exactly what idea management tools are designed to do. Unlike surveys, idea management tools are not driven by a long list of generic questions predefined by you. Instead you define the one problem and ask the one question, you want your employees to think and talk about — and then you ask your employees to come up with as many answers and ideas on how to solve the problem as possible.
Your one question could be ‘How do we become a more healthy workplace?’ And then it’s up to the employees to suggest, comment and qualify their own ideas on how to make your company a more healthy workplace — while the idea management platform helps you collect, manage and process the input in a meaningful way.
By using an idea management tool instead of a survey, you will encourage your employees to be more curious about the company’s new health strategy. But by asking them to provide answers to one predefined question, you also assume that ‘becoming a more healthy workplace’ is something that matters to the employees.
And what if that is not the case?
If you ask your employees questions about something that doesn’t matter to them, it doesn’t make that big of a difference whether it’s a lot of questions in a survey or a single question framing a problem on an ideation management platform: They won’t give you what you need to make the health strategy a success.
To have an impact, the strategy has to be relevant to the employees, and the only way to find out whether that is the case is to let them ask their own questions about health in the specific context they are part of.
And that is what Qvest is designed to do.
Instead of multiple predefined questions (surveys) or multiple answers to a single question (idea management tools), Qvest is driven by multiple question-and-answer exchanges among the people who are affected by the subject matter — in this case the new health strategy.
So, if your senior management team is aiming for a way to encourage and support your employees’ ability to do something when it comes to health, you should tell them to use Qvest.
And if they ask you how Qvest is different, you say that Qvest is the only tool that empowers people to drive change together — and that the secret to doing that is to allow the employees to ask and answer all the questions.
When you kick off a Qvest, you don’t ask a question. You frame a topic. Instead of asking ‘How do we become a more healthy workplace?, you make a statement about what you think is important, e.g. ‘Making [company name] a more healthy workplace’.
By framing a topic instead of asking a question you allow your employees to disagree. They don’t have to agree that ‘making the company a more healthy workplace’ is the most important thing to focus on right now.
They are free to ask each other questions like “Why don’t we focus on productivity instead of health?” or “How do you think health is related to productivity in our company?”
With Qvest, you not only acknowledge that your employees might have insight that is important to your topic. You also allow your employees to interact about what they think is important.
And if it turns out that your employees ask more questions about productivity than about health, it’s probably because productivity is a bigger problem for your company right now than health is, and then you — and your senior management team — will have a much better chance of succeeding if you think and talk about health in terms of productivity.
If you’re used to using surveys to promote employee engagement and get feedback, you are also used to asking a lot of questions of your employees and other stakeholders. But before you design and ask your employees to respond to a list of questions, you should always start by asking yourself and your primary stakeholders one simple question — and that is:
What do we want to achieve by leveraging the employee experience in our organization/department/team/project?
Do we want to:
If you don’t ask yourself this question, and you just use a survey, because that’s what you’re used to doing, and that’s what you think will give you the answers you need, I have some really bad news for you:
Your employees will never think or talk about something to find out more about it (explore), and your organization will never encourage and support its employees’ ability to do something (empower).
To do that, you need completely different methodologies and tools — which luckily are out there, ready and easy for you to start using.
Co-founder and Chief Methodologist at Qvest. Pia is the inventor of the Qvest method. She has a PhD in Philosophy and has spent the last 20 years researching and writing about the nature and impact of questions.
Qvest is made for corporate rebels, who are willing to try new things to reach new goals.
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