But what do you mean? Define what success looks like!

As an HR person or even as a manager — do you ever find yourself asking this question, “What do you mean?” Nor in a negative or condescending way, but just because you don’t know. I’d actually make the case that more people should be asking that question.

I was wrapping up some work on an engagement survey recently. Most managers and HR people are looking at the results and trying to figure out what their employees need — better communication, better direction, more resources, better tools — sound familiar? And you know the next step — meeting debriefs with employees to understand the areas you did well and and the areas where there are opportunities to grow or make improvements. Finally comes the sessions to create action plans — to address the areas of opportunities and make sure that you keep the things that are going well. Standard and best practice stuff right? And likely something that you’ve participated in as an employee, manager, or an HR pro (and sometimes all three).

Management (and sometimes HR) start to work on the action plan only to find that they aren’t moving the needle the way they want — its a conundrum (don’t you love that word?) You’ve involved your employees in getting feedback, you’re actively working on deliverables against the action plan, but still not seeing the desired results in helping to improve engagement or employee satisfaction.

What we have is a disconnect!

I don’t want to change the process — I think that its all great stuff and things that we don’t want to lose or skip — however, I’d recommend that you add a step — ask “what does success look like?” or if you prefer ” what do you mean?” If you get feedback that your people need more tools and resources — ask “what does that mean?” — is that people, computers, technology, office supplies?  Then ask “what does success look like” — if you need 10 new people resources is success getting 1, 5, or all 10 (and in what time frame).  Your employees ask for better communication — you ask “what do you mean?” Ask them to elaborate. Is that more email, less email, all hands, team meetings, status reports, cross functional team updates? — and then what does successful communication look like. Make your action plan align to what success looks like.

It might be tempting to jump into action planning and start delivering — but take some time to ask clarifying questions and set some realistic expectations in order to avoid one of a disconnect between you, your teams, and your employees. Give it a try and tell us about it! You don’t have to wait for a survey 🙂 — these questions work with all kinds of situations — and in your personal life too.

Making the HR Connection, yours truly,


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