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Planned Census Survey: The Foundation for Employee Listening Programs

Planned Census Survey: The Foundation for Employee Listening Programs

As employee experience experts, Perceptyx partners with hundreds of organizations globally, helping companies elevate the voices of their team members and act on their employee feedback. Although the way each organization listens to their employees can vary, Perceptyx’s State of Employee Listening research reveals commonalities do exist across organizations, even when comparing organizations just beginning their listening journeys to organizations embracing a model of continuous conversations.

One hallmark of successful listening and actioning strategies is the planned census survey. This point-in-time listening event — which can be administered using a product such as Ask from Perceptyx offers all employees the opportunity to share their feedback at the same time, producing a rich snapshot of perceptions for all leaders to take action and illuminating both broad trends as well as targeted insights. 

For organizations just beginning their listening journey, the planned census survey provides an inclusive listening event for all employees to share their important feedback to drive action and positive change. Although the listening event itself is episodic, occurring at a single point in time or only a few times each year, the rich data gathered across the entire organization provides an abundance of feedback that can be used to answer new questions that may emerge about your people as well as highlight multiple opportunities to take action on throughout the entire year. 

As organizations continue to evolve their listening strategies, they begin to incorporate additional listening channels that align with their business objectives. These additional ways of collecting employee feedback may include targeted surveys, continuous monitoring of key employee moments, crowdsourced solutions, and assessing actual behaviors. Organizations also begin to increase the speed at which employee feedback is acted upon, adjust their listening strategy to suit changing business needs, and integrate data from different sources to gain a holistic understanding of the employee experience.

While the role of the planned census survey may change as more feedback is being collected, the census survey still serves as a critical anchor in the employee listening strategy, providing an inclusive opportunity to understand all perceptions at a single point-in-time. This continues to facilitate action across the entire organization while also providing a robust dataset to understand how perceptions may be changing across the employee lifecycle and how the employee experience impacts business success. As opportunities emerge through the census survey, organizations with mature listening strategies leverage additional listening channels to gather more and deeper feedback on these critical topics. Overall, the research confirms that having continuous conversations does not mean the planned census survey disappears. Instead, insights from the planned census continue to inform cross-organizational actions and additional listening needs to help the organization and its people thrive.

Because the planned census survey is a cornerstone for most organizations to successfully listen to and act on employee feedback, regardless of how mature an organization’s listening strategy may be, it is critical to understand the benefits of a census survey and best practices to ensure the census survey facilitates valuable insights and actions that support improved employee experiences and business success. The following article addresses both of these topics.

Why a Planned Census Survey Is a Key Part of Effective Employee Listening

Successful listening strategies start by aligning with business goals and priorities. For many organizations, goals of improving the employee experience, driving retention (or other people and business metrics), and creating an inclusive workplace are top priorities. When it comes to listening channels, the planned census survey helps achieve these goals, making it a foundation for a strong listening culture and providing the following benefits

When properly administered, the planned census survey:

  • Values feedback from all team members. A planned census survey ensures that every employee has the opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns, regardless of their position or background. This inclusive approach helps organizations tap into a diverse range of perspectives that not only provides more complete feedback but also helps all employees feel valued and that their opinions matter. Because employees are more likely to be engaged and stay when they believe their ideas and feedback matter, organizations should incorporate inclusive listening channels that help them feel valued. 

  • Enables employee and business success. By acting on employees' feedback that emerges from a planned census survey, organizations can make informed decisions that lead to improved employee experiences and better business outcomes. Planned census surveys provide organizations with the comprehensive data needed to identify areas for improvement, such as resource access, management practices, or workplace culture. Analytics on both quantitative and qualitative data help quickly identify overall trends, unique perspectives across groups, and hot spots where positive best practices can be learned or immediate actions are needed. By using this feedback to drive both organizational-wide actions and targeted team or group actions, organizations can enhance employee engagement and well-being, reduce turnover, and improve business performance.

  • Empowers teams with data to take meaningful action. Because all employees are invited to provide their feedback at the same time with a planned census survey, most leaders across the entire organization receive feedback for their immediate team in which to use for further discussion and meaningful action. With this team-level feedback, leaders are empowered to address emerging workforce questions and create inclusive, data-driven strategies at all levels in the organization. While other channels of listening may only target a particular group in the organization (for example, a topical survey for only one business unit or a multi-rater assessment focused on leaders), or collect feedback at different times (for example, an always-on onboarding survey continuously capturing new hire perceptions), the robust, point-in-time measurement of a planned census survey helps organizations achieve their goals of improving the employee experience by creating feedback for every team to use at the same time to take meaningful action. This organizational effectiveness exercise enables the entire organization to take data-driven action grounded in evidence. With all teams empowered to take action together, improvements across the entire organization are possible. 

  • Provides breadth and depth of insights. A well-designed census survey captures a wide range of data on various topics about the employee experience, offering insights into overall trends and targeted opportunities. As new questions about your people emerge, the rich insights provided by a planned census survey allow leaders to answer these new questions with data, exploring the existing feedback for answers to these new questions. For example, a new leader may wonder what is impacting well-being within their part of the organization. By leveraging insights from the robust census survey, the leader already has data-based insights to guide actions and inform additional listening needs. Because the planned census survey includes perceptions from all employees and covers multiple topics, the feedback collected can answer a variety of questions leaders might have, both existing questions and questions that may emerge weeks or months later, providing leaders with data to make decisions and guide next steps.

  • Facilitates understanding of business impact. Planned census surveys help organizations understand how employee perceptions change over time, how they relate to other listening events, and how they impact business outcomes. Although the questions asked in a planned census survey should adjust to measure what is important to the organization and their people today, asking some consistent questions year over year provides a longitudinal perspective to track the progress of actions taken, assess their effectiveness, and adjust their strategies as needed. 

    Because all employees have the opportunity to participate at the same time with a planned census survey, individual perceptions gathered from the census survey can also be tied to other moments in that employee’s journey to see how perceptions are changing over time for an individual (for example, did clarity of the organization’s vision at 60 days impact later engagement and ultimately provide a reason why the employee left within the first three years?). Listening strategies that do not include this anchor census survey make it difficult to explore this robust understanding of how employee perceptions change through their lifecycle and where to take action to improve new hire productivity or retention. 

    Anchor census surveys also provide comprehensive insights to examine the relationship between employee experiences and business success. By incorporating business metrics such as customer satisfaction, sales performance, or financial performance into Perceptyx’s People Insights Platform, leaders can instantly see what aspects of the employee experience impact business success the most, no matter how your organization measures success. Overall, the robust, inclusive quantitative data captured with a planned census survey allows organizations to gain a more complete understanding of how experiences are changing over time and where to focus actions to drive better business outcomes. 

How to Conduct a Planned Census Survey to Drive Meaningful Action

When conducting an effective planned census survey, it is essential to incorporate the following best practices:

  • Start with the business strategy: Every listening strategy and individual listening moment should directly support the goals of the business. When designing a planned census survey, conduct stakeholder interviews with executives to understand what data they need about their people and what challenges they want to solve. Involving executives early in the process not only ensures the focus of the census survey aligns with broader goals of the organization (for example, gathering data on well-being, inclusivity, retention or other business priorities) but also improves executive buy-in by incorporating their feedback and ensuring the data will help them make better, faster decisions. As revealed in Perceptyx’s research, executive buy-in is a top barrier to employee listening success. Seeking executive input to align the content and insights of a planned census survey with their needs and business priorities is one way to proactively build this support.

  • Ask targeted, research-based, actionable content: Planned census surveys do not mean long, time-consuming events. To ensure employees are not diverted from their mission-critical work longer than necessary, include targeted questions that measure what matters most to leaders, team members, and the business. Leverage research-based, best practice questions aligned to these priorities to gain valuable insights, and follow the A-B-Cs of survey design to ensure the feedback collected is actionable, behavioral-based, and clear. This targeted approach focuses employee feedback on the topics that matter most and ensures actionable insights are uncovered, maximizing the impact of the planned census survey.

  • Clearly articulate how feedback will be used: Communicate the purpose of the planned census survey and how the organization will use the feedback to make improvements. This transparency helps build trust with employees, encouraging them to provide candid feedback that can inform meaningful action.

  • Establish clear accountability expectations: Before the survey, remind employees how past feedback has been used and communicate expectations for accountability. This reinforces the organization's commitment to acting on employee feedback and ensures that all stakeholders understand their roles and responsibilities in driving positive change.

  • Provide access to all employees: Inviting all employees to take the survey is not enough to ensure diverse perspectives are understood. Employees also need access and time to provide their feedback. With over three billion deskless workers globally, organizations should administer surveys using a variety of methods such as text messaging, QR codes, kiosks, and more to ensure all employees have access to the census survey to share their feedback. Scheduling time to participate in the survey, ensuring the experience is accessible for all, and providing the survey in a native language are also critical steps to ensure all employees have the opportunity to share their thoughts.

  • Empower leaders with clear insights: Once the survey feedback is collected, provide flexible, streamlined reporting for front-line leaders, highlighting focus areas for maximum impact. Most leaders are extremely busy and spend limited time analyzing employee survey feedback. Dashboards that highlight the most important insights, leader presentations with speaking points to help facilitate productive team conversations, recommended actions to provide a starting place for leaders to take action, and nudges in the flow of work reminding leaders to continuously act — and then communicate those actions — are just a few ways technology can quickly empower and focus leaders on using the data to guide meaningful discussions and action. By equipping leaders with the information they need to prioritize and address employee concerns locally, organizations can create a culture of accountability and action that drives continuous improvement. As shown in Perceptyx’s research, quickly empowering leaders with their own data and encouraging fast action is a critical muscle for advancing an organization’s listening maturity to one of more continuous conversations. 

  • Leverage demographics to understand unique perspectives: Opportunities and successes vary greatly across an organization, making it critical to examine how perceptions may differ across groups. Planned census surveys provide an abundance of quantitative data across the entire workforce which can efficiently highlight where targeted actions are needed or where ‘hot spots’ may exist. By comparing perceptions internally across groups, organizations can quickly uncover these similarities or differences. Layering multiple demographics together such as leadership level and gender identity can further uncover unique experiences. Because all perceptions are captured at a single point in time, time is eliminated as a potential cause for differing feedback and the comprehensiveness of perspectives gathered increases the chances that even small groups will have enough responses to understand their unique perspectives.

The People Insights Platform’s dashboards give access to meaningful, integrated insights via "view-at-a-glance" displays

The People Insights Platform’s dashboards give access to meaningful, integrated insights via "view-at-a-glance" displays

  • Embrace “1-2-3 action planning”: To maximize success, simplify the action taking process. Specifically, prioritize one (1) theme based on the collected feedback. Focus on the top driver of engagement or another critical outcome (for example, turnover, advocacy, belonging) to guide action on an area that will also have the greatest chance of improving that critical outcome. Next, identify two (2) actions to address the chosen focus area, whether they are ongoing initiatives or new actions based on planned census survey feedback. Assign owners and deadlines to enhance accountability and increase the likelihood of following through on taking action. Last, ensure employees see the connection between their feedback and organizational response by clearly communicating the link at least three (3) times. Start team meetings or town halls with updates on actions taken and publicly recognize teams continuing to act on survey feedback. This regular communication encourages future feedback and facilitates the improvements needed to help people and organizations thrive. In fact, research finds organizations who use this 1-2-3 approach not only have higher engagement but also are more likely to see improvements in their employee experience year over year.

  • Crowdsource solutions: For many teams, it is easy to reach consensus on where to focus efforts but what actions to take can pose a challenge. Even with suggested actions, team debriefs, or exploring comments, many leaders desire a faster way to confidently identify the best actions. Crowdsourcing solutions — using a product such as Perceptyx’s Dialogue — is a listening strategy that can quickly address this challenge. Once a team has identified their one focus area, ask employees to provide their solutions on what actions to take to improve that topic and allow employees the opportunity to vote on the suggestions from their peers to prioritize the solutions. For example, if cross-team collaboration is an opportunity, ask employees what one action our team can take to improve cross-team collaboration to generate a prioritized list of possible actions. This inclusive listening channel gives all employees an opportunity to not only share their ideas but also be part of prioritizing the solutions, leading to increased buy-in in the actions the team decides to take. By incorporating crowdsourcing following a planned census survey, leader and team actioning is accelerated.

  • Follow up with an “Action Accountability Pulse”: To hold leaders accountable for acting on census survey feedback in a timely manner, follow-up a census survey with an action accountability pulse. This short survey asks all employees whether their team discussed the census survey results, whether an action plan was created, and what actions the team committed to taking, in their own words. This pulse survey process holds leaders accountable, encourages continuous improvement, and keeps employees engaged in the organization's efforts to address their concerns.

  • Integrate census data with other listening data and business metrics. To develop a more comprehensive understanding of the employee experience, integrate census survey data with data from other listening events such as onboard or exit surveys. By connecting the dots across listening events, leaders develop a clearer understanding of how experiences change across the employee lifecycle and what actions to take to improve the overall experience. Incorporating business metrics into Perceptyx’s People Insights Platform also allows organizations to communicate how employee experiences impact organizational success and where to focus efforts to improve not only employee perceptions but also business outcomes. For example, comparing the employee experiences of those with the most favorable customer ratings compared to the least favorable customer ratings illuminates potential barriers in the employee experience which could be removed to accelerate improved customer outcomes.

  • Measure impact: Analyze the impact of action with additional listening events, including future census surveys. Examine whether actions on particular topics resulted in improved sentiment and ask whether employees saw action from their previous feedback. Compare perceptions of teams who report seeing action to those who did not to provide local evidence on the impact action has on the overall employee experience. By systematically measuring the impact of actions taken, leaders can identify which strategies are most effective and adjust their approach as needed. This data-driven approach helps ensure that resources are allocated efficiently, and that the organization continues to evolve in response to employee feedback and changing business conditions. Measuring impact can also showcase the benefits of sustaining or broadening employee listening programs, generating support for expanded initiatives and promoting a culture of continuous conversations at scale that encourages the adoption of additional listening channels.

Perceptyx Can Help You Build the Foundation of Your Listening Strategy 

Adopting these best practices can maximize the benefits of leveraging a census survey as part of your overall listening strategy. This inclusive listening event provides rich data to understand both broad perspectives as well as targeted insights while also promoting action across the entire organization. When the content measured during the planned census survey aligns with business goals, the data produced helps organizations make better, faster decisions and take actions needed to improve the employee experience and business success.

By partnering with Perceptyx, you can develop a listening strategy leveraging the right listening channels at the right time about the right topics to achieve your business goals. Our People Insights Platform and industry expertise will help you capture the perceptions and unique behaviors of your employees, enabling you to address their needs and drive continuous improvement as your listening strategy expands and evolves. To learn more, speak to a member of our team, or complete our free interactive listening maturity assessment to gain a thorough understanding of your organization’s current listening capabilities and future listening needs.

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