Using Employee Surveys to Know What You Don’t Know

Posted by Ward TLC - Thursday, December 5th, 2013 at 3:53 pm


Contributed by Alan D. Anderson, SPHR – President and Managing Partner,
The Lytle Group

Close-up of magnifying glass focusing on two peopleWhen it comes to making decisions, very often it’s the things you don’t know that can impact the outcome of those decisions the most. And since employees are the lifeblood of every business, you need to take the time to get their input. Employee surveys can help you learn more about things that are important to your employees . . . and to you.

Getting Started

The first step to conducting an Employee Survey is to find a reputable third party to design and administer the survey. A third party can help you formulate and scale the questions to yield the most meaningful results while providing a level of confidentiality that will increase the number of respondents and the validity of the data.

Some Key Points

Content, Content, Content – A good survey will typically include questions that provide insight into categories such as teamwork, communication, supervisory effectiveness, employee engagement, compensation and benefits, and degree of commitment.

Size matters – The sample size is important because the degree to which the responses are representative of the entire work force or sub group is directly proportional to the sample size. Therefore, if your workforce is relatively small, it may be worthwhile to have the survey administered on site so that everyone completes it.

Demographics pros and cons – An overall or “aggregate” view of an organization is useful in providing a snapshot of how the entire workforce views a number of important workplace issues. However, unless you break out the data into meaningful components such as departments, shifts, and/or job categories, it is easy to miss significant differences that may exist between these categories. Yet, if you try to provide too much granularity (i.e. age range, gender, years of service, etc.) in these breakouts, employees may feel like you are trying to identify them by name, and they will be more reluctant to complete the survey.

Action Planning

Once the survey has been completed, that’s where the work really starts. The survey results are an excellent way to drive incremental improvements in areas that are important to your employees. These results provide a baseline against which you can measure the impact of changes that you make. A comprehensive action plan should be developed that includes action items, assigns responsibility and accountability for follow-up, and has a clear time line for achieving each step in the action plan. Unless you utilize the employee survey results to shape the culture of your organization, you are missing a great opportunity, and would probably be better off not to have conducted an employee survey.

Communicating the Results

After the action plan has been fully developed, it’s time to communicate, communicate, communicate. First, each member of the leadership group needs to be fully informed about the results as well as the action plan. Ideally, they will have played a role in developing the action plan, and they will have taken ownership of the plan. Then the results, as well as the action plan, should be communicated to employees. This should be designed as a process, not just a one-time event. In fact, an employee survey provides a wonderful platform for ongoing communication. As various milestones in the action plan are achieved, it provides a perfect opportunity to provide updates. In addition, with a survey, you can control the content and agenda on a broad range of issues through a proactive process rather than reacting to events in a piecemeal fashion.

Follow-Up

Once the plan has been developed and communicated, it’s important to ensure that the milestones are achieved. It is also important to measure your progress in the future, so a follow-up survey should be conducted at least every other year. The other advantage of building this into your culture is that it creates a higher level of accountability and transparency when everyone knows that you will be asking employees to provide their input on the good, the bad, and the ugly on a regular basis.

A Cautionary Tale

Many companies have joined a growing trend to participate in “best places to work” surveys. While these surveys do have some limited value for companies in that they can claim to have made the list, and are therefore desirable places to work, they are generally woefully inadequate as tools to help employers transform their workplace. Therefore, be sure to design a robust employee survey process that provides breakout data and yields detailed action plans. Then be sure to clearly communicate all relevant information to employees if you want to achieve the full potential that an employee survey offers.

In summary, your employees can provide important insight into a broad range of issues that help drive the success (or failure) of every business. Take the initiative to learn what they know through a well-designed and well-executed employee survey.

 

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