The vital first step to effective employee surveys (that you're probably skipping)
Est. Read Time: 3 min.
If you’ve been in HR for at least a few years, you’ve probably either administered or supported the use of employee surveys. Surveys have become one of the go-to tools as we try to create a better employee experience. As someone who loves surveys and collecting data, I’m thrilled that the use of surveys has become so commonplace. Employee surveys can be incredibly valuable and powerful when used the right way. The problem is that far too many surveys are poorly conceived and don’t ultimately solve the problem that prompted their creation.
This is because in our rush to launch a survey, we skip over a critical first step that should be taken for any survey project—the creation of a strategy. This can lead to disappointing results, or worse, could make the very problem you're hoping to solve even worse.
Surveys are more than just questions
An employee survey isn’t simply a set of questions you send to employees. When you send out a survey, there are impacts and consequences that you may not even be thinking about. A survey is a form of organizational communication. It signals to the employee what is deemed to be important and worthy of attention. If you ask employees questions about safety, they're going to assume that safety is something that's valued.
A survey is also an act of relationship building. You're asking for feedback from the individual, which implies that you intend to use the feedback in some way to inform changes. This creates an expectation that something will come of this feedback. When you don’t follow up, the employee loses trust and confidence in you.
A survey sends many messages to employees, so it shouldn't be undertaken lightly and without intention. That’s why making the time to create a strategy is important.
Creating an employee survey strategy
Before deciding what technology platform to use or what items to include in your survey, consider these five questions. Clearly articulating the answers to these questions dramatically increases the likelihood that your survey project will be effective and have the desired results.
1. What is the objective of the employee survey?
Every good strategy starts with a statement of intention. This should be a clear articulation of the problem you're solving or the opportunity you intend to cultivate.
2. What are you planning to measure or assess?
Surveys are measurement tools. We use them to measure many things: engagement, satisfaction, sentiment, etc. Definition is the first step of measurement. So, if your goal is to measure employee engagement, then you must first define exactly what that means for your organization.
Without a clear definition, it’s impossible to make a meaningful measurement. For example, if your organization wanted to measure growth, the first thing you’d need to do is clarify what growth means for you. Is it top line revenue growth? Or is it number of customers? Or is it number of employees? Without clarity of definition, talking about (let alone measuring) growth would be challenging.
3. What will you do with the results?
A survey is a diagnostic measurement tool. When designed correctly, you will get a quality diagnosis of what’s happening or where the root of the problem lies. Just like with your doctor, an accurate diagnosis is critical. But it’s just the first step. The treatment plan your doctor creates based on the diagnosis is what cures you of your ills. Without that plan and subsequent follow through, the diagnosis is essentially meaningless. Knowing what’s wrong doesn’t automatically fix it.
You need to plan how you will analyze and take action on the survey results. By laying out this plan in advance, you can set the groundwork and prepare for successful execution when the time comes.
4. Who will need to be involved in the process (and how)?
A common fail point of survey projects is that leaders and managers aren’t clear about the critical role they play in the process and, as a result, don’t take any meaningful action following the survey. To address this, identify and document the expectations for leaders, managers, employees, and HR in support of this process. Once this has been clearly articulated, share and socialize this information with those who have key roles to play. This helps them prepare to make the process a success.
5. What does success look like?
Finally, how will you know if this project has had an impact? In other words, how will you assess the effectiveness of the survey? For example, if you're preparing for an employee engagement survey, what impact will improved engagement have on the organization (and how will you know)? As a reminder, the survey is a diagnostic tool, not an end in itself. So, success should never be defined in terms of the survey (i.e. increasing our engagement scores by 10%). Instead, describe what impact can be realized using the survey information. Staying with the employee engagement example, examples of success for the survey might be improved employee performance or reduced turnover.
Surveys can be tools for transformation and change. Engaging your employees in a conversation about how to improve the organization is a great way to make progress. Before you take that step to send out a survey, ensure that you're clear about why you're doing it and what's needed for it to succeed. By spending a little time creating a strategy up front, you will be well on your way to ensuring your survey project delivers the results you seek.
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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.