The 5 biggest mistakes to avoid with employee surveys
Est. Read Time: 3 min.
A well-executed employee survey can be a powerful tool to improve engagement and performance in any organization. At the same time, a poorly executed survey can actually create confusion and disillusionment that negatively impacts these same outcomes. As you prepare for your next survey, take care to avoid these mistakes to ensure you make a positive impact instead of an unintended negative one.
Mistake #1: Starting without a plan
It’s hard in any situation to get what you want without first formulating a plan. The same is true for a survey. Considering the amount of time and money that goes into a survey project, it’s critical to know the answers to questions like, “What specific outcomes do we hope to achieve?” and “How we will equip managers to take action on the data?” before you kick off your project.
Create a survey strategy as a first step. Check out this post to help you get started.
Mistake #2: Forgetting that the survey itself is a form of communication
A wise colleague used to describe an employee survey as one of the most powerful forms of employee communication in any organization. He’d say, “It’s one of the very few times when every employee is reading the same thing at the same time.” It’s easy to overlook this reality. When a question is asked on a survey, it sends a signal to the employee that whatever is being asked about is important and/or up for discussion.
For example, if you ask about flexible work arrangements, you're inviting employees to think critically about it. If they’ve never really cared about this before, you have sent the message that maybe they should. In this way, a non-issue can quickly become a problem. They will also expect that some action be taken on this issue (Why else would you, as the organization, ask it?).
Alternatively, failing to ask about key issues can also send an unintended message that you don’t care about what they care about the most. The key is to look very carefully at your survey before sending it out to ensure it’s communicating the message you intend to send to your employees.
Mistake #3: Failing to involve senior leaders in the process
Like it or not, the participation and involvement of senior leaders is critical to the success of any employee survey project. Culture and behavior change within an organization is challenging without leaders being at the forefront. To ensure that these leaders are involved, bring them into the process early on. Asking them for input regarding the goals of the survey and areas of focus can create a feeling of direct ownership and increased interest. In addition, talking your leaders through what happens with the survey results and their specific accountability is vitally important. This helps them prepare for their role in the process so that when it comes, they aren’t surprised by what’s expected of them.
Mistake #4: Under-communicating about the survey
Most “best practices” for communicating about an upcoming employee survey operate on a key assumption: the employee will be an interested and willing participant. This leads us to believe that a simple email and intranet announcement about the upcoming survey is enough “launch communication.” We expect that our employees will be thrilled with the opportunity to provide some feedback.
But, this assumption is often wrong. Employees are often skeptical and indifferent when it comes to surveys. They’ve most likely been burned in the past by surveys that result in no change. By starting with this in mind, your communication plan leading up to the survey must be more robust. In addition to using multiple communication approaches (including manager and team meeting talking points), the messaging should answer these questions:
- Why are we doing a survey?
- What is the purpose of the survey?
- What will happen after the survey?
- How will this impact me?
Mistake #5: Failing to manage expectations
On a very related note is the final big mistake to avoid. Getting a survey designed and launched is a lot of work. In the midst of that effort, it’s easy to overlook the importance of managing the expectations of the many people involved in the process. In the current era of technology, our expectation is that when we click “submit” anywhere on the internet, things should start to happen immediately. We expect real-time results.
Being wary of this, remember to communicate frequently with employees, managers, and leaders about what they should expect after clicking “submit” on that survey. When should they expect to see the results? How will the results be shared? What will happen after that? And perhaps most importantly, when will changes start to happen? When you don’t clearly manage expectations, you’re at the mercy of others’ expectations. This will inevitably lead to frustration for all involved.
By avoiding these five common mistakes, you will be well on your way to executing a successful employee survey that will help you improve employee engagement and performance.
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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.