How to get executives to care about employee survey results
Est. Read Time: 3 min.
One of the reasons I’ve always loved employee surveys is the potential effect the results can have on leaders. In some cases, a survey is the first time a leader truly hears and considers the perspective of employees. It can truly change their mindset and view of the organization.
Notice, I said “potential effect.”
The kind of impact I describe is only possible when those leaders are committed to and care about hearing the employees’ feedback. If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably had many experiences where that simply wasn’t the case.
Despite the significant investment of time and money made to execute an employee survey, many leaders have a hard time hearing and processing what the employees have said. There are a couple of reasons for that.
Leaders and employee survey results: Where things go wrong
First, many leaders aren’t great at accepting and processing feedback of any type, let alone feedback of this magnitude. That’s understandable because I’m sure it feels daunting to hear that the employee population doesn’t fully trust you or feel that you value them. Unless leaders can approach the feedback with an open mind, seeking to understand what’s being said, they won’t hear it.
There’s also the problem of perspective. As people get promoted to higher rungs on the corporate ladder, their day-to-day experience of the organization becomes far removed from that of the average employee. Executive leaders have access, influence, and privilege that drastically shape their experience. It’s easy to forget that not everyone has this same experience.
Finally, even in the best companies, leadership always takes a few hits in the survey. That’s the burden and responsibility of leadership. Even so, many leaders become defensive when that criticism comes. This defensive reaction leads to strange behaviors like arguing with the survey results: “Those employees don’t even know what trust means.” They forget that perception is reality for employees.
When leaders become defensive, they stop listening. They begin rationalizing and explaining away the results. This is painful to observe because it represents such a lost opportunity to hear employees’ concerns and meet them with empathy and a commitment to do better. When leaders become defensive, they don’t take action on the feedback. And when you don’t take action, you lose trust.
How to get leaders engaged
What can you do to ensure that your leaders not only care about but will take action on the employee feedback that is shared through a survey?
1. Involve your leaders early in the survey process. As you embark on your survey process, it’s good practice to engage your leaders upfront in some conversation about why the survey is important and what impact it can have. In addition, ask where they might like to solicit specific feedback. It may not seem like an obvious necessity given their role, but taking these few steps with executives will help them feel more invested in the process.
2. Prepare your leaders for the feedback. One thing you can count on in every set of survey results is that leadership is going to take some hits. By nature of being leaders, they bear an outsized burden for how things are going overall. From an employee’s perspective, when things aren’t ideal, leadership is at least partly to blame.
Knowing this is likely to happen, start preparing your leaders in advance for how to receive this kind of feedback. When I share survey results with executive teams, I start by explaining to them that this process is a lot like going for your annual physical with your doctor. The results of the survey, like the results of your physical, are likely going to reveal some insights that you aren’t too excited about.
The key, with both survey and annual physical results, is not to argue with the results. They are what they are. Feedback itself isn’t good or bad, it’s just information. What’s important is to understand what the results mean so you can use that new information to choose what you do next.
By helping leaders get into the right mindset, they will be in a better spot to take the results and do something positive with them.
3. Set clear expectations. In addition to preparing your leaders for how to process the survey results, it’s important to help them understand what their role is once the results are in. Don’t assume they will know what to do because they likely don’t and many won’t ask. They will just move on to the next meeting. If you expect them to meet to develop some key actions, make sure that’s communicated upfront. If you expect them to meet with their teams to discuss results, then make that clear. The more explicit you are about what’s expected of your leaders, the more likely it is to happen and the less anxiety and confusion there will be.
While it may feel at times like your leaders don’t care as much about survey results as you’d like, they do care about the impact those results could have on the organization. By investing some time in getting them involved and preparing them for what to expect, you will dramatically improve your ability to turn survey results into real progress.
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About Jason Lauritsen
Jason Lauritsen is a keynote speaker, author, and consultant. He is an employee engagement and workplace culture expert who will challenge you to think differently. A former corporate Human Resources executive, Jason has dedicated his career to helping leaders build organizations that are good for both people and profits. Most recently, he led the research team for Quantum Workplace’s Best Places to Work program where he has studied the employee experience at thousands of companies to understand what the best workplaces in the world do differently than the rest. Jason is the co-author of the book, Social Gravity: Harnessing the Natural Laws of Relationships, and author of his new book, Unlocking High Performance, to be published by Kogan Page in October 2018.