A matter of opinion

by 03 Feb 2009

Surveys can be an important tool in gauging the engagement of employees. Allan Watkinson looks at some of the latest developments and how to make the most of employee surveys

Companies in general are becoming far more demanding about employee surveys, and this is a good thing. Many now see their survey as an important diagnostic tool integrated into their wider change program or organisational strat egy. As a result, they expect the survey to be closely linked to things they can meas ure that reflect business value such as pro ductivity, profitability and staff retention.

They also want the results of the sur vey to be focused and highly actionable. Too many employee surveys measure a large number of things, many of which are not linked to business value or can’t be actioned. Managers can realistically focus only on a small handful of things at a time.

Another trend is an increasing desire to link employee surveys with internal and external customer surveys. This is allowing organisations to be more confident that their people are not only highly motivated, but are also doing the things their cus tomers value highly. This is bringing the traditionally separate HR and marketing functions together to form a powerful alliance where the business improvements are multiplied.

Keys to success

As with most things in life, commonsense goes a long way towards success. Here are seven commonsense elements of success ful employee surveys:

1. Understand why you’re doing the survey and what you want to measure

2. Get the wording of the questions right. Asking the right questions in the wrong way may bias the results

3. Ensure you have senior sponsorship and belief in the objectives.

Link the outcomes to business metrics that have a personal implication for sen ior managers

4. Have a great communications plan to create high awareness and expectation

5. Make it a program in its own right and integrate it into other change initiatives.

6. Ensure the survey is quick and easy to respond to. This will increase the rate and validity of the response.

7. Focus people on taking action. What we’ve found is that there is a very strong correlation between action and things such as employee engagement and confidence in the leadership. One final bit of advice though: if you don’t plan to take any action as a result of the survey, then don’t run the survey. The damage to morale and confi dence in the leadership can be consider able.

Securing senior support

The key to getting the CEO and leadership to take responsibility is to demonstrate the link between the survey and business out comes in which they have a personal stake.

The structure of the survey is also important. It should be structured to pro vide feedback at a leadership team level, at an organisation-wide level, and at an individual team level. This ensures that everyone in the company gets information that they can personally do something with, including the CEO and the leadership team.

One powerful thing about an employee survey is that it tells a version of “the truth” about what is going on in an organisation, and that is a rare com modity. Leaders are often challenged to know what people are really thinking at the coalface, because staff are generally reluctant to voice feedback directly to senior management.

An anonymous survey can be a powerful way of getting the CEO and the leadership team to take notice – especially when the results are poor. One CEO I worked with recently described the results as “hum bling” and was embarrassed by how his leadership team was perceived across the company. His imme diate reaction after he got over the shock was to address his team to take immediate action.

Not all CEOs believe bad news, however. It’s not unusual for the leadership team to go into a period of denial until they are convinced to dig a bit deeper, sometimes through further qualitative work, and realise that all is not rosy.

Allan Watkinson is a principal consultant and engagement manager for Gallup Consulting