February is stuffed full of cute graphics, sweet treats, and nudges to show those you care about how big of a deal they are.
In other words, February is the perfect time to talk about engagement planning.
No, this isn’t going to be about rings and things, but it’s still pretty important! Engagement planning is all about making sure you’re making time to connect with the right people on the right topics at the right time throughout the year. Simple, right?
That might sound like a lot of “right” variables to get right, but planning makes it possible. (Sweet treats and pleasant surprises don’t hurt, either!)
What do you mean by “engagement planning”?
First, start with engagement. Once the ring/marriage proposal confusion has been cleared, most people associate this concept with employees. Yep, employee engagement is kind of a big deal, and it’s a key priority for those in HR and all managers and leaders. What does this engagement look like? Beyond employee satisfaction, employee engagement highlights an individual’s level of investment, motivation, willingness to grow with the organization, and plenty of other intangibles. An engaged employee is in it to win it, we might say, and engaged employees are more likely to be productive, more creative, and better leaders in an organization.
How can we support and cultivate engaged employees? With planning — surprise! 😉
So engagement planning is just for employees, right?
With a title like that, you know the answer. Engagement planning isn’t limited to employees. Who are the other groups of people that you need to hear from and learn from this year?
Employees are clearly a group to listen to, but it’s pretty unlikely that “employees” are a monolithic data set. Unless everyone in your organization was hired on the same day and does the same job in the same location, you’ve already got some built-in data segments. Brand new employees have different experiences than veterans, those in different roles have different stories to tell, and those who work in different locations will paint different pictures, too. Of course, those serving in leadership roles can also provide helpful insights, as can those who aren’t!
Customers are an important group to listen to, clearly, if you want to retain them. Remember that asking for customer feedback doesn’t mean that you’ll do everything that they suggest, but failing to ask for feedback means they’re less likely to stick around. Segment this group, too: New or long-term customers, those who purchase different products or services, and — of course — those with different contract values will all have different experiences to report on. Beyond the “people who buy stuff” description, customers may also include the primary recipients of your services: students, patients, members, event attendees, and more.
Community members can be broken down into any number of groups. Some may have a direct interest in your work — for example, parents or guardians of students in your school district — and some may have a more indirect connection — like community members who pay taxes that keep your district funded! You might also consider donors or volunteers who contribute to your success, partners or vendors who work with you directly, and visitors who stop by every once in while. While their level of engagement with your organization definitely dictates the kinds of insights they may be able to share, hearing from your broader community can definitely expand your understanding.
And… This is clearly not a comprehensive list, but it’s a good start! Think about those individuals and organizations you interact with throughout the year. Who else is missing?
What’s all this engagement we’re planning?
Once you know who you need to connect with, the next logical question is what you need to learn from them. What questions do you need to have answered — and why? A few topic-and-goal examples:
- Ask customers what they think of your latest release. Why? To learn from current successes, fix any issues, and plan for what’s next.
- Check in with donors about how satisfied they are with your recent project. Why? To ensure your work aligns with the mission they value and make sure you’re on track to maintain their support.
- Learn from new employees about their onboarding experience. Why? To improve training and identify gaps that need to be addressed.
Remember that while much of the data you’re looking to collect may be useful for you, some conversations provide value to other audiences.
- Conduct an employee 360 review project so that each employee learns how they’re perceived by those around them. In this case, the individual employee is the one who needs the answers.
- Set up an always-on feedback system so that your team can continually collect and process questions and comments from customers, employees, and/or community members. In this case, you might set up a help desk style ticketing system and see only high-level results.
Key point: There’s no shortage of topics that you might want to bring up with your most important audiences. If you’re an event planner, for example, how will you balance your desire for participants to respond with your overwhelming urge to ask for feedback about every single decision you had to make (salmon or chicken?!)? You’ll need to be able to differentiate between the need-to-know and nice-to-know data. For example, your leadership team might decide that an employee engagement survey will provide need-to-know data but that a 360 review is nice-to-know for now. Asking customers about every single feature in a new release might provide nice-to-know answers, but their overall satisfaction may be a need-to-know CX metric. Decisions, decisions!
When’s the right time to engage?
When you’re ready to commit to your audience, topic, and goals, it’s time to choose the best time for each conversation. In some cases, of course, the conversation should be ongoing. If you only ask your employees how they feel once a year, you’re likely to miss out on plenty of potential feedback — and your employees are either going to be frustrated (and maybe gone) or they’ll deliver all kinds of ad hoc feedback through any channel they can find. The same is true for your customers, too — if they can’t get through to you, they’ll share their feedback on review sites and other public comment channels. Setting up an always-on listening solution that will allow them to direct their questions and concerns to the right members of your team is a smart baseline plan.
Once your foundation’s in place, start to map out the conversations you need to have at times that make sense. For example, if you’re looking to do benchmarking, make sure you’re conducting a study at the same time you did last year. An employee engagement survey in November may not be comparable to the same survey conducted with the same group of people in March. Whenever you’re repeating a project, reduce the number of variables that may make comparison irrelevant. Avoid holiday seasons and times that are already busy for your audience. The end of the school year is a terrible time to conduct K12 surveys, in many cases, just as the end of the month is a bad time to ask for feedback from sales team members. Make sure you know the rhythm of your organization’s calendar before you layer too much on top.
A well-balanced strategic engagement plan
There are so many conversations you might want to schedule during the year — employee pulse checks (weekly? bi-weekly? monthly?), employee engagement studies, annual customer satisfaction surveys — and some that are triggered by specific events, like customer purchases, new employee onboarding, or training course completion. It’s quite possible that your engagement calendar may become overstuffed too quickly, necessitating a clear-up to avoid over-surveying.
If you’ve done this before, you have at least a rough draft plan in mind to work with. If you’re starting from scratch, you might go looking for a template, but beware of “one-size-fits-all” engagement calendar templates. Whether you’re working with an internal team or bringing in an outside consultant or partner, be sure you’re taking into account all of the conversations your organization wants to have (hello, Survey of Surveyors!) before you finalize the plan. From surveys and forms to focus groups and one-on-ones, the right conversation with the right people at the right time can help you to build better relationships, and analyzing and segmenting your results can lead to deeper understanding.
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