Plek blog

How to use a data-driven personalised conversation to boost engagement

The ‘data & conversational’-revolution now enters the field of employee engagement. The impact of this revolution for ‘listening-strategies’ is significant: factual insight, (mass) individualisation and conversation all in a time- and cost-effective manner. In this blog, I’ll explain how this new technology can help you to increase employee engagement and improve decision-making.

New vs old engagement strategies

Employee engagement is a top priority for many organisations; perhaps it’s on your agenda as well. Nowadays, engagement is often measured using a standardised, model-based survey in various lengths, frequencies and means. At first sight, a great solution, but one fundamental problem remains; ‘standardised-listening’ is always biased and based on questionable assumptions.

‘By periodically repeating the same question and asking whether employees agree with it, is a profound underestimation of how humans think, work and decide’

First of all, every standardised-listening approach by design is a generalisation and tries to explain the specific from the generic. Assuming the standardised questions rightly capture the particular, contextual human complexity and dynamics in organisations and communities is a gross oversimplification. And secondly, this form of listening in itself, by periodically repeating the same question and asking if people agree or like it, is a profound underestimation of how humans think, work and decide.

Making friends with the data & conversation revolution in employee engagement

So what’s the alternative? We advise companies to start with conversational interfaces. Imagine an intelligent bot. Intelligent not in the sense that you can ask simple questions, but rather the other way around. The bot engages in a conversation with your employees about - for example - their commitment and engagement and the impact it personally has on them.

What happens if your personal commitment- and engagement needs are not met? Will you leave? Or will your productivity or energy go down? Do you think it’ll impact the quality of your work? But also for the opposite: imagine they are met. Then what? The objective of all of this is to capture the individual ‘engagement model’; to find for every individual what drives them and what happens - cause and effect - when things work well or when they don’t work well.

This conversation takes place digitally and takes about 12-15 minutes. Once all employees have taken this first round of conversation, all factual conversation data is analysed by a clustering algorithm. All data counts. And algorithms are unbiased. They take the data as a given. With one press of the button, relevant clusters of employees are identified. In every cluster, people have comparable combinations of personal needs and the impact of engagement. These clusters are the basis of what is called data-driven employee personas. The personas will give great insights into the preferences and expectations of your employees. It’ll give you factual data on how your employees think and what drives them. They can be used as a beacon to create and test policies, interventions and communications.

But the conversation continues. It starts with all individual needs and insights. Imagine you meet me for the second time. It would be very disengaging if I’d start the conversation as if I were meeting you for the first time and start with the same set of standard questions, wouldn’t it? As if I don’t know you! But with the data at hand and the intelligence of the personas, the conversation can become more human and intelligent. And therefore engaging. ‘Dear Jim, last time you said ‘Open and honest feedback’ is important to you. And you were not that positive (XX). How do you feel about it today?’

From measuring engagement to an engaging conversation

So what are the benefits of using this technology for you? Well, first and foremost, it’ll increase engagement. Why? Instead of regular surveys that tend to generalise, everybody gets to have a voice, and their input is also taken into account. Unbiased. And that’s essential. Because did you know that more than 80% of employees in traditional surveys think that not all data and input is taken as input in decision-making? There’s still a lot to improve!

The second advantage is that by asking individual questions, you’ll keep connecting with the employees’ own context and perceptions and keep referring and further building on it over time. That in itself is a whole new way of listening. It’s an ongoing process. It makes it very easy to follow up on conversations, gives employees a voice, and improves organisational purposes.

‘Did you know that over 80% of employees think that in traditional satisfaction surveys, their answers are not used in decision-making or results?’

Better decision-making

But there’s a third advantage with a more profound impact. The essence of listening is not trying to do what somebody else is telling you to do. Instead, it’s addressing it and providing follow up in a relevant way. Then people know they’re being heard, and it helps people grow.

Data-driven agendas are a compelling and fast way for teams to act. For leaders, HR departments and internal communication employees, to know what they can do to help the organisation improve. They shorten the distance between organisational input and feedback to action, from a couple of months to only 2 - 3 weeks. And because they’re based on the input from people in the organisation, there’s no doubt resistance against the outcomes. But, the facts are what they are. And all change and improvement start with the facts.

If you would like to know more about personalised listening at scale or would like to see how we at Plek have implemented this, please contact me via e-mail or or visit our dedicated page.

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