Sometimes great intentions don’t always go as planned.
Leaders at the Town of Danville in Northern California wanted to get the pulse of its employees so they could better identify and build employee engagement initiatives. So, it created a home-grown survey program. However, due to the limitations of those solutions, the organization couldn’t demonstrate to employees that their candid feedback would remain anonymous. This led to mistrust—a “them versus us” situation that wasn’t at all healthy in an organization that prides itself on its open-door policy between employees and senior leaders.
As well as to create better employee engagement programs—which was the Town of Danville’s original intent—it now had to take a step back and regain the trust of its employees.
Danville is a town in the San Ramon Valley, which is nestled between the peaks of Mt. Diablo and the Las Trampas Regional Wilderness of Northern California. An incorporated municipality, the Town of Danville is home to some 43,000 residents, who enjoy Danville’s small-town atmosphere and outstanding quality of life. If you’ve ever watched the 1993 movie, “Mrs. Doubtfire” you may know that the main restaurant scenes were filmed in Bridges, an eatery in Danville.
The Town of Danville employs 95 full-time employees in departments that span administrative services, development services, maintenance services, and recreation, arts, and community services. Some 100 additional part-time staff join during the summer months to support the Town’s many seasonal educational and recreational events.
While its employees are drawn to the Town’s family-oriented atmosphere, the Town of Danville is challenged to attract and retain great talent in an area that is within commuting distance to San Francisco Bay Area’s tech giants and startups. Although the Town’s open leadership and financial stability are also big draws, Danville leaders compete against organizations that offer the types of retirement and benefits packages that Danville doesn’t.
Unsurprisingly then, keeping a pulse on employee engagement is an important initiative for the Town of Danville. Faced with issues of employee trust, former Town of Danville Administrative Services Director Nat Rojanasathira (who recently became assistant city manager for Monterey in California) sought a better solution. He discovered SurveyMonkey Engage, a survey platform that takes a whole-person approach to understanding employee engagement.
Powered by prebuilt surveys, HR professionals use Engage to automate survey distribution and understand engagement at a granular level with built-in advanced analytics and dashboards. Engage also anonymizes feedback, so employees feel safe to provide candid responses. Feedback remains anonymous, even when HR administrators read and respond to employees’ open-ended comments.
It didn’t take long for the town’s administrative leaders to regain employee trust. After it purchased Engage, Nat, together with Qiana London, the Town of Danville’s human resources analyst gave product demonstrations to the Town’s Employee Engagement Committee, which represents the Town’s various departments.
“We did a walkthrough of what feedback looks like within Engage, particularly on the administration side,” Qiana explains. “At one point, we were replying to anonymous feedback. We showed them what it looks like on our side so they could be reassured that the feedback was in fact anonymous, and that they could speak candidly if they chose.”
Jed Johnson, who replaced Nat as the town’s administrative services director, adds: “The level of mistrust started to disappear, and engagement increased.”
Act on employee feedback
With regained confidence, employees began to give constructive feedback, providing managers with lots of ideas for new engagement programs. One such is the Town’s new employee onboarding and evaluation toolkit. Based on feedback, the toolkit contains processes and materials to help managers and employees work together to build fulfilling careers for staffers at Danville.
As Jed explains, the Town’s use of Engage has also introduced other benefits—which ultimately leads to better employee satisfaction. For example, department leaders use the Engage dashboard to compare the engagement rates of their own departments vis-a-vis those of the entire organization.
“We can also see if a particular question rates higher or lower in a certain part of the organization. These are really good identifiers for us to address, which we were not able to see in our previous attempts at surveys,” Jed says.
Improve survey participation
The Town of Danville has been using Engage for 12 months and has sent out as many surveys during this time. The Engage methodology includes two core surveys a year that measure all factors of engagement, along with monthly pulse surveys, each diving into a specific factor. With a response rate of 75% for the core, and mid-60% for the pulse surveys, Jed and Qiana feel participation is slightly low. Some employees reported feeling overwhelmed by the frequency. To improve the response rates, Jed and Qiana are working with their SurveyMonkey partners to reduce the frequency as well as to retool some of the questions.
Overall, Jed and Qiana are delighted with Engage. “Employees now know that they’re being heard and that we’re looking into things and getting back to them. It may not always be the answer that they’re looking for, but at a minimum their information is being heard and responded to,” says Jed.