9 Best Practices For Getting The Most From Your Employee Surveys
By Bradley Wilson - November 12, 2018
Businesses of all types and sizes have been conducting employee surveys for decades, for good reason: A well-designed and executed survey can offer many benefits, including increasing employee engagement, improving employee performance, reducing voluntary attrition, and even helping to embed core values that leaders have identified as critical to the organization’s success.
The key to reaping those benefits is not in simply conducting a survey. The real power of the exercise can only be unlocked by following employee survey best practices. Without a best-practice approach, a survey may deliver a neutral or even a negative ROI. If employees perceive that it is a meaningless exercise due to a lack of communication or action, a survey may leave people more frustrated or less engaged.
Because all businesses are not alike, a one-size-fits-all approach to the employee survey is not appropriate—though there are factors that all successful survey programs have in common. This post is focused on the nine critical components of a best-practice approach to employee surveys.
How you design and conduct an employee survey can be as important as the data you collect. Request a demo to see how Perceptyx can help you make the most of every step of the survey process.
1. Begin With Business Problems You Want To Solve And Strategic Questions You Want To Answer
The first step in the survey process should begin with clarity about issues or problems the organization needs to solve, and what the executives or leaders need to know to address those problems. Once they are identified, everything in the survey should be designed around answering those critical questions.
One of the mistakes an organization can make in designing a survey is asking a question because it’s always been asked, rather than because it addresses an important business question or opportunity for improvement. Asking irrelevant questions is one of the quickest ways for surveys to lose impact.
For example, if a company is going through a major restructuring and wants to know how employees feel about the changes, the survey needs to include questions that focus on the new business structure, policies, or other aspects of the business affected by the reorganization. A question regarding the employee benefits plan, if it was not affected by the restructuring, will be of no value in assessing what leaders really need to know. Instead, zero in on employees’ attitudes about the changes to alert leaders to what needs to be communicated regarding the restructuring. Stick with those questions and eliminate the ones that aren’t focused on the issues or problems that need to be solved.
2. Focus Employee Survey Questions On Behaviors Rather Than Feelings
There are two good reasons to align survey questions with observations of behavior rather than feelings.
First, the questions themselves are more straightforward. Questions such as: “Does your manager provide relevant and timely feedback,” “Does your manager set performance expectations,” and “Does your manager show recognition when you’ve done a good job or gone above and beyond,” are all easy to answer.
The second reason to keep questions behavior-centric is that the responses to these questions are actionable. The answers to the questions identify solvable problems and will inform actions to take in response. Feelings-based questions, on the other hand, have little use in action planning. The response to “Is your relationship with your team important to you?” might highlight a problem with disengagement, but provides no insight into how the problem should be addressed.
Another issue with feelings-based questions is competing perceptions. A question asking if respondents believe their manager considers multiple viewpoints when making decisions may be met with a response of, “Well, I do that,” from the manager; since it is not an observable behavior, it’s impossible to tell whose perception is accurate. Avoid these issues by sticking with questions based on behavior, which will provide clear-cut, actionable data.
3. Commit To Action On Survey Data
The commitment to take action on survey responses should perhaps be the first item on this list, because without this commitment, there is no reason to do a survey. Employee surveys can provide data, suggestions about why it matters, and even answers about what can and should be done in response to survey results. But without action, the survey might as well be an academic exercise.
The value of an employee survey lies not in collecting the data, but in applying the insights gleaned from the data to make improvements. Unless an organization has both the intention and the means to take action, there is no reason to do the survey.
4. Help Employees Connect The Dots Between Survey Responses And Actions
Leaders often make the mistake of assuming employees will “connect the dots” between survey feedback and actions. In reality, employee perception is often, “We did this survey and nothing happened as a result.”
Communication about actions taken in response to feedback is important. Leaders need to “toot their own horns” and promote actions to remind employees they are listening. The communication can take the form of email, presentations, or even signage—such as pasting a survey logo on a new piece of equipment acquired as a result of survey responses. Don’t take it for granted that employees will understand that changes are the result of cause and effect—spell it out for them so they know they were heard.
5. Timely Communication And Action Are Important
Time matters. In some organizations, it is normal to conduct a survey and not hear anything back for weeks or even months, but that should not be acceptable. Especially with younger employees, there is now a higher expectation of immediate feedback. Real-time technology has changed the game with survey data. It allows for organizations to foster more natural and meaningful conversations.
If too much time passes between the survey close and communication of the results and an action plan, the message is: “We asked for your opinion but we didn’t really care enough to do anything about it.” Real-time reporting and feedback will create a bigger, more positive impact for the organization, and engenders trust between employees and the organization.
6. Make Sure There’s A Benefit For Employees In Completing The Survey
Some surveys incorporate a personal component that offers employees individual feedback. Personal surveys are usually conducted at the end of the overall survey, and employees have the option to participate or decline. These surveys have a very high opt-in rate, in the neighborhood of 85–90 percent.
Once completed, the survey system can provide immediate feedback, identifying what the employee has indicated is important, opportunities for improvement based on the employee’s personal experience, and things the employee can do for improvement in the short term.
Personal surveys are popular because people love learning about themselves. They offer survey participants a reward for giving their time, paying attention, and thinking critically. In addition, this personal feedback empowers employees to take a more active role; instead of waiting for managers to get back to them with survey results, they are empowered to initiate conversations with managers and co-workers. Incorporating a personal survey component balances things out, so employees are not the only ones giving—they are being given something of personal value in return.
7. Make The Dialogue Safe For Employees
To get accurate data, employees must feel safe in answering survey questions honestly. Protecting individual confidentiality is critical to gathering accurate information.
There are two important components to protecting confidentiality. The first, on the technical side, is a minimum data-filtering threshold. Managers should be able to filter data for demographic groups or combinations of demographics, but when the filtering reaches a minimum threshold where it might identify a single person or very small group of people, the system should withhold the data. Informing employees of this system limitation helps to reassure them that their feedback will be reviewed in aggregate, and not used to single them out as an individual.
Therefore, the second component is on the management side. Managers must be focused on survey results as opportunities for improvement, rather than trying to single out who said what or seeking retribution if scores didn’t come out as desired. Over time, retribution may yield false higher scores as employees seek to avoid conflict with the manager, but it completely undermines what an effective employee survey is designed to do. Ensuring individual confidentiality by addressing these potential issues enables employees to respond honestly.
8. Use External Benchmarks But Communicate Them Sparingly
Benchmark data can be useful for giving leaders an idea of a “normal” or “average” response. There is value in knowing how the company’s employees responded to a question versus the average score across millions of others, or what the highest scores are from the benchmark group, but the focus should be on the company’s own scores and internal comparisons.
Over-communication about external benchmarks can create the perception that leaders care more about how the company stacks up against others, rather than listening to employees and responding to their feedback. While benchmark information is helpful, it should not be heavily emphasized.
9. Model Desired Behavior For Using & Responding To Employee Survey Data
In all aspects of conducting an employee survey—the way questions are asked, listening to feedback, responding to results, and involving employees in solving problems—leaders and managers need to model the appropriate way to use and respond to employee survey data. Often, the behavior of management reflects the behavior of executives, so leaders need to set and model the expectations for how they want everyone in the organization to use the important information revealed by the survey.
It is crucial to pay attention to all nine of these important factors to get maximum benefit from a survey. Ultimately, employee survey best practices involve thinking critically about desired outcomes and making sure all the pieces are in place for the survey team, so they can enable leaders to make more informed decisions with greater speed and confidence. Failure to address each of these factors will affect the organization’s ability to make positive changes.
Last but not least, it’s important to recognize that a well-designed and well-executed employee survey fulfilling all these criteria not only goes far beyond a measurement or research project—it is a critical communication tool for collecting data and measuring perceptions, and an important communication tool in and of itself. It serves the purpose of collecting data, but it also influences employee experience and perception through its execution and follow-up.
Could your business use a hand in implementing a best-practices approach to your employee surveys?
As outlined above, there are several critical factors involved in getting maximum benefit from your employee survey. Perceptyx has helped some of the biggest names in business design and implement survey programs that address every aspect of a best-practices approach to the survey process. Get in touch today and see how we can help your business harness the transformative power of a well-executed survey program.