(Editor’s Note: Today’s article is brought to you by our friends at Workify, a tech-enabled service that helps companies establish more real-time feedback loops to uncover hidden engagement issues. Enjoy!)
Employee surveys are important. I’d like to think we all agree that asking employees for their feedback is valuable. However, the real impact of a survey is in what companies do with the data they receive. It’s the actions that organizations take as a result of the survey that tells employees the feedback they provided was valuable. But the only way companies can take action is by getting detailed, specific information.
Chances are that will not come directly from a single survey.
I’ve always said that employee surveys start conversations. They don’t finish them. Even the best designed surveys can struggle to anticipate the follow-up needed to get specifics. That’s why setting a baseline is important, then going past that baseline to get more additional feedback is necessary.
4 Common Organizational Concerns (and How to Address Them)
When it comes to getting specifics, it’s important to ask the right follow-up questions. The last thing you want is to ask a question that intentionally gets the response you’re looking for. Not only do you run the risk of confirmation bias, but the organization will not get clear information. Remember the old saying “garbage in, garbage out” (GIGO). It’s really more than just computer jargon.
Let’s take four common organizational concerns like communication, management, misalignment, and change management. These are challenges that most companies struggle with and almost all employees would have opinions on these topics. For each, we can talk about what organizations might ask to get that additional feedback they need to take action. Because it’s the detail that will point the company in the right direction.
#1 COMMUNICATION: Every single organization needs to communicate well to accomplish their goals. Every single employee needs to communicate to perform well. I don’t need to spend a lot of time talking about the importance of good communication. But we all know that communication isn’t perceived the same way. The baseline survey feedback could indicate there are communication issues but then the question becomes what kind of communication issues. Is it a lack of transparency or that communications are poorly timed or maybe that messages just aren’t clear and understandable?
To make sure that the organization focuses its efforts in the right way, they can include a follow-up item such as “I get the information I need from my manager to be effective in my role.” Employees have the opportunity to provide the additional information that might lead the organization to understand that developing a better communication rhythm (i.e. better timing) is what employees are looking for.
#2 MANGEMENT: Almost all of the work that happens in the organization happens through management. Managers are responsible for planning, organizing, staffing, coordinating, and controlling the work. That’s why engagement survey items are designed to receive feedback about management. But the words “manager” and “leader” can be interpreted differently. In my experience, the survey wasn’t designed to be intentionally vague or to trick the employee. People just read and interpret the item differently.
If the baseline survey results report that management is inconsistent or untrained or look like they’re stressed, then the organization needs to have a better sense of who those comments are about – front line supervisors, department managers, C-level leaders, or everyone. Including a follow-up item such as “My manager challenges me to improve.” could provide additional clarification and feedback about not only “who” but “where” the focus needs to be. For example, if the company needs to provide management development, what should be included in the program?
#3 MISALIGNMENT: This is also a good time to point out that the themes we’re talking about don’t stand alone. It’s possible that managers have issues communicating, which adds a whole new dimension to the employee engagement conversation and what the potential solutions might be. For instance, if the baseline survey results show misalignment, is it because policies and culture don’t match OR communications and culture don’t match OR performance and communication doesn’t match. All point to misalignment but can manifest themselves differently in the workplace.
The organization might want to follow-up by asking, “What one change would improve your confidence in the future of our organization?” Responses could signal the need for an employee recognition program that creates alignment between culture and communication. Another option might be the need for a more formalized goal-setting process to align performance and communication.
#4 CHANGE MANAGEMENT: Everything we’re talking about involves change. And employees will openly and honestly give their feedback when they think something will change. Trust is a key ingredient in employee surveys. Organizations need to pay attention when baseline survey results show that employees don’t feel that their voice matters. They might believe the organization is either hesitant to implement change, incapable of prioritizing changes, or poorly equipped to execute action plans. Or all three!
It could make sense to include a follow-up item such as, “I am excited about where the company is going.” to get a greater understanding of what employees think about the company’s future. It might also prompt additional employee feedback sessions or the creation of a suggestion program.
Use Follow-Up Surveys for Greater Understanding
Conducting a baseline employee survey is the first step in the process. When organizations see changes in their baseline data, then they can take steps to find out specifics they need to implement real change. Some companies choose to do this through focus groups and action committees. While these efforts can be successful, they can also drain resources, quickly get hijacked by loud individuals, and end up not providing a whole lot of value.
Deploying follow-up items through a second pulse survey enables organizations to go back and diagnose the issues in more detail. Companies can ask specific questions (both quantitative and qualitative) to better identify the key issues, and crowdsource ideas to improve engagement. And you get the added benefit of showing your employees that you are listening.
The overall success of any survey is based on the action taken from the survey. The only way you can take the right action is by understanding the specifics.
P.S. You can read more on how to quickly identify organizational concerns and get specifics out of surveys in Workify’s Engagement eBook, “3 Step Guide for Taking Action on Employee Feedback”. It’s well worth your time.29