A Single Engagement Question a Week Helps Company Maintain Culture, Manage Turnover

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By Caryn Freeman

Oct. 7 — Uncovering small problems in the workplace before they become complicated and unmanageable creates a better work culture and improves retention and engagement, Mike Volpe, chief marketing officer at HubSpot, told Bloomberg BNA Oct. 2.

The Cambridge, Mass., media marketing company that helps businesses attract and retain customers via social media, content management and e-mail marketing. It uses an anonymous third-party vendor to distribute one engagement question per week to employees via e-mail. Responses remain anonymous unless employees are willing to reveal themselves, Volpe explained.

“I think frequent inquiries improve engagement because we're not waiting for quarterly feedback in order to hear about a problem. You know about them as they happen, so we can fix them before they're too big to overcome and that resentment sets in,” he said.

One Question a Week

Volpe said HubSpot uses a third-party vendor called TINYpulse to distribute questions and maintain employee anonymity. A sample question might be, “How happy are you working here on a scale of one to 10?” There are also custom questions designed to generate more feedback, such as, “Who do you think is the unsung hero of your team and why? How would you rate your relationships with your co-workers? How likely are you to refer someone else to work here and what initially attracted you to our company?”

“What I love about that last question is that you get a lot of information about why people are interested in your company and if, as an organization, we are living up to those expectations. Delivering on those things certainly keeps employees engaged, happy and productive,” he said.

Volpe said HubSpot has been using TINYpulse for about 18 months, with a response rate of approximately 60 percent. Anonymity allows for more candid feedback. He said sending out a single question a week, rather than a survey, significantly increases the response rate.

Anonymity Elicits Candid Feedback

If an employee's comment draws the attention of management, the employee's manager or Volpe can respond directly to that employee while still preserving the employee's anonymity, he said. If the employee is willing to discuss the matter further or is willing to meet with him or another manager, the group works together arrive at a solution, Volpe said.

“Because it's anonymous, employees are relatively willing to share what they see as problems in the company,” Volpe said. “I would say a third of the time, employees are willing to ‘out' themselves, but they do value the anonymity. That's the price you pay in order to get that level of feedback frequently and in real time,” he said.

Volpe explained that whether employees are willing to “out” themselves is not crucial because “the anonymous response allows for such candid feedback that, as a manager, it still flags some issues where you may be able to dig deeper without their identity.”

“I'll reply and let the employee know I received the comment and would like to work on fixing the problem,” he said. “I either ask for more details about the problem or ask if they're willing to sit down and have a conversation. Employees can respond and say either ‘yes' or ‘no,' ” he said.

Volpe said trust is key and added that if there's a culture where employees distrust management and are skeptical, they are not likely to reveal themselves because “at their core they don't trust you.”

“If you have a culture that is completely broken, anonymous feedback can help mend that but there are a lot of other things you need to do. Implementing this alone is never going to completely fix your culture, but it will help,” he said.

Resolves Conflicts Among Teams

He also said weekly engagement inquiries have been useful for resolving conflicts among and within teams and for identifying “culture conflicts” before they turn into larger personality conflicts.

“If I start to see a couple of comments about how one team is difficult to work with and then see corresponding comments from the other team, that's a manageable communication problem,” he said.

Volpe said weekly inquiries have helped with retention as well. He explained that among the 75 employees he manages directly, “there hasn't been an instance, within the past year, where something came completely out of left field or the reason someone left the company was a surprise.”

“In every company, there's going to be some level of turnover, but I think this has helped with that surprise turnover or those unexpected resignations. I think we have a sense of the core issues. Some of them you can work on and some of them may not be a priority,

but we know what problems are out there,” Volpe said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Caryn Freeman in Washington at cfreeman@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bna.com