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Survey Strategy Response to COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic dominates the time, resources and attention of leaders around the globe, priorities are shifting on an hour-by-hour basis. Many are struggling with how their employee survey fits in the organization’s response to the crisis. The employee survey that had been planned for months may suddenly feel inappropriate and out of touch. It’s likely that the survey you had planned a few months ago is outdated; however, that doesn’t mean that employee feedback is irrelevant right now. In fact, there has never been a more important time to listen to your employees.

Leaders need data and insights to inform the increasingly difficult decisions they are making each day about their people and how to support them. But the data they need today is different from what they needed a month ago. And they need this new data quickly.

To meet these emerging needs, many of our clients are taking a different approach to their survey program. Some are forging ahead with their planned engagement survey, but changing the content or adding more specific items to address the COVID-19 response and new ways of working associated with it. Others are filling the immediate need with strategic pulse surveys focused on these critical topics. As you adapt your survey strategy to better fit the current climate, consider:

  • Survey Timing: While some organizations consider pushing back the administration of their planned surveys, others are rushing to accelerate the survey process in order to gain necessary insights more quickly. Strategic pulse surveys were designed for this kind of environment. A focused and concise pulse survey is a great way to fill the gap if the annual survey seems too far away or if you need more time to focus on such a large program given the current resource demands. This approach is especially effective in rapidly changing environments like we are experiencing today. A pulse survey can be executed with less time and fewer resources, making it easier for HR to provide real-time insights to leaders as they need them. Opening the lines of communication during these trying times can provide not only critical data for leaders, but can also reinforce the value leaders place on employees and their experience with the organization.
  • Survey Content: In normal circumstances, we recommend well-rounded employee surveys that help leaders understand the barriers to engagement and performance. Under the current circumstances however, there are strategic topics that are more critical to measure. It will be important to evaluate and revise the survey content to reflect the challenges we are facing today. The focus of the survey should evolve to include specific items related to health and safety, the company and leadership response to COVID-19, and how employees are adapting to new remote work arrangements. Even though organizations across the globe are facing this common challenge, the precise items used in the survey will depend heavily on the changes each organization is making in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the unique problems their employees are facing.
  • Survey Follow-up: With any survey program, the focus should be action and impact. This is no exception; however, the focus, level, and speed of those actions may not follow the traditional process. Monitoring progress on key measures such as Engagement or Manager Effectiveness will take a back seat. The focus for action planning should shift to overcoming the barriers to effectively working in this new context. Organizations considering taking a year off from their employee survey because they anticipate a decline in scores based on current external factors are overlooking the underlying purpose of the survey. It’s not about the scores or the trend. It’s about the feedback employees provide. It’s about giving employees a voice to share their concerns so leaders can provide the support they really need. During these challenging times, the trend to the previous year and even the items from the previous year aren’t terribly relevant. Instead, focus on generating the insight leaders need today and what actions they can take to support employees through the uncertainty.

“It’s not about the scores or the trend. It’s about the feedback employees provide.”

There has never been a more important time to think strategically about your employee listening approach. Resist the urge to postpone or cancel the survey just because everything else is being cancelled. Times of uncertainty call for even greater communication, clarity, and feedback. Leaders can’t afford to “wait and see” how employees are feeling when things settle down; this world changes by the hour. Ultimately, it will be critical that leaders commit to listening to employees, acknowledge the impact of the pandemic, and adjust their response accordingly. If there were ever a “moment that mattered” for engaging employees and understanding their experience, this is it.

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