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ABCs and 1-2-3s: Why Everything You Need to Know About Effective Employee Surveys You Learned in Kindergarten

By Lauren Beechly, PhD - August 09, 2021

“Bye, mom!” waves my daughter as she enthusiastically sprints toward her Kindergarten classroom, greeted by hugs from her teachers as a new school year begins. As she takes off her oversized backpack, I glance at the letters and numbers vibrantly lining the classroom wall, and I smile thinking of how my team leverages these same foundational learnings as we craft listening programs. In fact, when it comes to effective employee surveys, the ABCs and 1-2-3s taught in kindergarten create a powerful framework for driving positive action based on employee feedback within any organization.

Across hundreds of enterprise customers, Perceptyx consistently hears one complaint from employees: no one is listening to me. It’s not that organizations fail to seek employee opinions, but more often that employees fail to see action based on their feedback. Ensuring that employees feel valued and heard is critical for driving long-term engagement and an employee experience that supports positive business outcomes, regardless of an organization’s size, industry or location. This is why it’s imperative that organizations close the gap between listening to and acting on employee feedback. To help organizations close this gap, Perceptyx recommends designing surveys following the ABCs and taking action following the 1-2-3s.

ABCs of Good Survey Design

The first step to driving action from survey feedback is to start by asking employees positive, declarative statements that follow the ABCs:

  • Actionable: When designing an employee survey, it’s important to consider, “are we willing and able to do something if this perception reveals itself as an opportunity?” Because employees expect action based on their feedback, it’s important to ask about topics in which the organization is both willing and able to act.

    For example, if an organization is unable or unwilling to alter aspects of their benefit plan, asking for opinions about benefits may prove of little value since nothing will be done, even if an opportunity is identified. Asking actionable questions targets feedback to perceptions in which action can be taken and is foundational to ensuring that insights lead to better, more informed decisions. 
  • Behaviorally Observable: Assessing observable behaviors also makes it easier to understand what actions could be taken to improve the employee experience. Instead of asking about intent, which requires speculation and subjectivity, focusing on observable behaviors provides clearer insight into possible actions needed for improvement. 

For example, although the item, “my manager is effective” provides an overall opinion of a manager, it reveals little insight into what behaviors are effective or need improvement. Leaders with this feedback are left guessing as to what actions to take. By focusing on specific manager behaviors, such as whether the manager provides useful feedback or discusses career goals, leaders can more easily uncover specific behaviors that need attention. Actions based on observable perceptions are much clearer, making it easier to close the gap between listening to perceptions and taking needed actions.

  • Clearly Written: Clearly written survey statements are also critical for turning survey feedback into action. Avoid jargon, simplify language and define terms to help all employees consistently interpret the intent of each item. Avoid double-barreled statements, or trying to assess multiple aspects in one item, to ensure feedback is clear on what actions are needed. For example, the double-barreled item, “senior leaders create a clear vision that is motivating to me,” confounds vision clarity with vision inspiration, making it difficult to know if there is an opportunity to improve clarity, motivation or both. By clearly writing items, teams can more easily understand the survey feedback and necessary actions to improve the employee experience.

1-2-3s of Survey Action

Asking actionable, behaviorally observable, and clear items is just the first step for effectively acting on employee feedback. To show employees their feedback is valued and to ensure it has the desired impact on employee engagement and business outcomes, teams must also discuss, plan, and act on the feedback gathered. 

For many leaders, survey feedback can seem overwhelming, causing some to over analyze results and others to plan too many actions without any follow-through to completion. Perceptyx research across 15 million employees shows 1-2-3 action planning simplifies the process, leading to higher engagement and an improved employee experience. 

  • Select 1 issue: Focused action planning has the greatest potential for success. Rather than focusing on all actionable opportunities, teams should prioritize one focus area based on the feedback collected. To identify where to focus, teams should consider top barriers inhibiting performance and engagement. Comparisons such as how perceptions change over time, compare to other internal groups, or compare to external benchmarks can all help focus actions on a theme that will have the biggest impact for improving engagement and the overall employee experience.
  • Do 2 things about it: Next, successful teams identify two actions they can take to improve the focus area. These actions may be initiatives already in progress or may be new actions resulting from survey feedback or team discussion. Assigning owners and dates not only improves accountability while focusing on actions within a specific team’s control but it also helps improve the likelihood of that team completing their action plans. 
  • Communicate and seek feedback at least 3 times: While many organizations effectively seek employee feedback and even take action, few organizations consistently connect the dots between survey feedback and the organization’s response. To demonstrate that employee feedback is valued, leaders should explicitly communicate at least three times how their actions are connected to survey results. By clearly linking feedback to action, employees can see how their opinions were used, and are more likely to provide future feedback about the company’s progress. Constant communication closes the gap between feedback and action, helping employees feel more valued and improving engagement and the overall employee experience. 

When it comes to your employee listening program, the familiar ABCs and 1-2-3s we learned in kindergarten still have something important to teach us about the power of clarity, consistency, and action when it comes to soliciting feedback. (Now, if only we could figure out how to deliver morning snacks or a nice afternoon nap with those surveys!)

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