It’s that time of year again. The 2014 Federal Employment Viewpoint Survey (FEVS) results are in and agency leaders are asking the eternal question, what can we do to increase employee engagement?

One of the first mistakes organizations make is to identify the lowest scoring items on a survey as the most important areas to focus on. The fact that an item scored lowest doesn’t mean that it’s a key driver of employee engagement or that it identifies a concern of true importance to employees. Sustainable improvements to your organizational culture only happen when there is an environment conducive for the change to take hold; from leadership openness, to employee receptivity, to a shared vision and drive for change. Survey results can be helpful, but there are things you can do to begin a productive dialogue on improving organizational culture and employee engagement without necessarily even seeing your engagement survey results. Consider the following:

• Rather than talking at employees about survey results, structure meetings that invite employees into dialogue with one another and help them to see new possibilities and opportunities for the organization’s future. Pose questions that reconnect them to the “big why” of your organization and let them explore what that might look at going forward. All of us have a desire to contribute to the future of our organization in meaningful ways.

• Creating fertile ground for a shift in organizational culture requires a “safe to speak” environment and frank discussion. Engage in straight talk by always telling the complete truth with transparency; explain the big picture, including why and how decisions are made, what employees can expect, and how decisions help meet goals. No “spin”!

• Seek opportunities to connect employees with the mission in a way that cuts across organizational boundaries and breaks down silos, rather than reinforcing an “us vs. them” mentality. Create opportunities for cross-cutting collaboration, in real time, on matters of importance; avoid artificial “task forces” or “engagement survey work plans.”

• Strongly object to unnecessary bureaucracy, bottlenecks, gate-keeping, and broken processes – demand that everyone focus on keeping it simple.

• Remove the fear that employees have of making mistakes if they try new ways of doing things; leaders must demonstrate their support for creativity, innovation, and failure.

• Create consistent and honest messages about future vision and initiatives, resource realities, and employees’ connection to the day-to-day work and vision; explain how decisions are made and consistently ask for employee feedback. Don’t surprise employees with bad and/or last-minute news; be completely transparent about upcoming and ongoing changes and share more information.

The top things you can do to build engagement within your own unique organizational culture may vary depending on what you identify as your key drivers. The important thing is to avoid the temptation to pick the low-hanging fruit from your survey results, and opt for taking steps to continuously build employee engagement instead.