Employee surveys: it’s all in the follow-through

by 04 Feb 2008

Online surveys solve the problems of cost, timeliness, anonymity, data collection and analysis the biggest issues in employee surveys. Todays major issue is follow-through. Teresa Russell talks with two companies that have effectively leveraged employee survey data to create positive business results

Regardless of your job, it is very satisfying to identify a problem, propose and implement a solution and then get to see lasting benefits as a result of your intervention. HR professionals who survey employees across a whole organisation have the added satisfaction of being able to positively influence and change the working lives of many people.

Arriving in mid-2005, Liz Powne was the first person to occupy an HR role at Doutta Galla Aged Services (Doutta Galla), a community, not-for-profit organisation that provides residential aged care through eight facilities in northern and western Melbourne. She is now human resources manager to 430 staff working in the areas of nursing, personal care, administration and environmental services.

Powne says the aged-care industry has undergone significant change in the last few years. “We now face huge competitive pressure from other providers in both recruitment and employee retention. The aging population means that our client base comprises more high-care residents with more complex needs, due to the improvement of services that keep people in their homes. There have also been significant increases in the regulatory requirements for aged care,” she says.

Anne Rein, group general manager, people and business improvement at ComfortDelGro Cabcharge (CDC) took up her role in late-2005 when the joint venture bought the Westbus Group, a company that had then been under administration for 12 months. Singapore-based ComfortDelGro is the second largest listed land passenger transport company in the world and Cabcharge is the well-known ASX 200 company.

The organisation has grown almost 30 per cent in 2.5 years, now employing over 1,300 people and operating bus and charter services in Sydney, the HunterValley and Central Coast of NSW. Most employees are drivers, but mechanics, administration and operations management staff are also employed throughout 12 metropolitan and regional depots.

The surveys

Powne used Insync Surveys to conduct an organisational alignment survey at Doutta Galla in September 2005. “We needed to establish a credible baseline to guide our HR strategies and assess the future sustainability of our organisation,” explains Powne, who says there were no real surprises in their poor results. “We rated low on the measures of clarity, consistency and commitment when compared to our industry benchmarks. It also showed that we lacked credibility as an employer and that we needed to utilise fair and consistent practices when managing employees. There was a lack of confidence in our leaders and poor internal communication,” says Powne, who describes these results as “very helpful in guiding strategy.” The September 2005 survey was followed by another conducted in April 2007.

At CDC, Rein took a different approach to the timing of the initial survey, waiting just under two years until July 2007. “We had a series of issues and introduced a number of business-related changes when we took the company over. The initial changes needed were pretty clear,” explains Rein, who lists the introduction of corporate and business planning, KPIs, a new organisational structure, an increased number and quality of buses in the fleet, improved employee facilities and the introduction of a performance management system, training, recognition programs and bonus schemes as some of the changes.

“We wanted to achieve significant cultural change in the company – move it from an operational focus to a customer and business focus; from silos and tribes to one company; from ‘them versus us’ to mutual respect; from being reactive to proactive. We needed to evaluate the impact of the changes we had already made and provide a series of benchmarks to measure future change. We also wanted to identify any differences between locations so we could focus on particular areas or depots. We needed to refine our strategy,” explains Rein.

CDC chose Full Circle Feedback to conduct the survey. “I knew what the larger survey companies would have charged us from my experience in previous companies, so we canvassed a few of the smaller providers and got quotes against our specs, then followed up with checking referrals,” says Rein, who felt the flexibility in offering either online- or paper-based surveys suited her workforce, while the tailoring of questions was also important.

Rein reports that their results were better than they had expected in a number of areas – people understanding their job responsibilities and priorities; planning to still be with the company in 12 months time; feeling satisfied and secure in their jobs; believing that the company pays attention to health and safety; and freedom to talk with managers and supervisors about their problems.

However, they scored low on internal communication; taking ideas seriously and providing feedback on suggestions; providing feedback on individual driver performance; and future career development opportunities. “These results were not surprising, but it was good to benchmark them,” says Rein.

Implementation

Both organisations had workforces that had widely varying levels of computer literacy and access, so their providers offered both web-based and paper-based surveys. Anonymity was also another issue. CDC first piloted the survey among its unionised employees and then appointed survey coordinators who were not part of the management team at each depot to encourage participation and stress confidentiality of the completed surveys.

Powne reports that participation rates at Doutta Galla were just 26 per cent in 2005 and 45 per cent in 2007. “We were pleased with the increase and have identified the reasons people may have not completed the 2007 survey and are addressing that for the next time,” she says.

Rein was happy with the 52 per cent participation rate at CDC’s first survey.

Follow through

After receiving the survey results and providing feedback to staff, both organisations undertook targeted interventions to specifically address the issues that had been uncovered by the survey.

All managers at Doutta Galla were put through a diploma of frontline management and the next level down undertook various certificates in management in order to add business skills to their existing technical skills. Powne also gave regular in-house HR workshops on issues from industrial relations to employment relationships. She stressed models of consistency and appropriate behaviour.

The follow-up survey 18 months later reflected a doubling in leadership scores and significant improvement in clarity, consistency and commitment. “Although we had progressed exceptionally well in most areas, the second survey identified leadership as the most important focus for the future,” says Powne.

CDC introduced a driver assessment/feedback program, an online management development program and a career development program that shows employees what they need to do to progress into new roles. They have run updates for drivers about violence prevention; revised the planning methodology for both timetable and roster changes to now include input from drivers and customers; are trailing the new role of team leader as a step towards management and a link between management and workers to raise issues; and are piloting depot action teams to identify key issues and follow through on the survey results at particular depots.

All the actions that management decided were important were locked into performance agreements and business plans to ensure follow through.

Business results

Both organisations have seen improved business results as a result of their follow-through actions. Staff turnover at Doutta Galla has steadily dropped from 40 per cent in 2005 to just 10 per cent in the year to date. “I’m also starting to see a positive impact on our WorkCover premiums [which have a three-year cycle] and there has been significantly less union involvement than three years ago, because employees now feel they have a voice and will get a fair go within the organisation.

CDC’s staff turnover rate has dropped from 25 per cent in 2005 to just 12 per cent now and absenteeism has dropped from 3.5 per cent to just 2.8 per cent today. “The survey has allowed us to become more sophisticated in where we focus our efforts and to properly target activities into the depots and areas that need them most,” concludes Rein

Maximising the benefit of staff surveys

• Tap into expertise - use experts to ensure the best and most efficient process

• Ensure that senior management is onboard

• Market the survey effectively to all staff

• Protect anonymity and the confidentiality of responses

• Rapidly seek to understand the results

• Acknowledge both strengths and opportunities

• Act quickly on opportunities

• Communicate the results and planned actions to staff promptly

• Repeat the process regularly

Source: Full Circle Feedback

Selecting a provider

• Make sure the provider can compare your results against their benchmark database for perspective

• Ensure the provider has qualified organisational psychologists who can manage your project, help you understand the results and act as sounding board for improvement ideas

• Look for a survey tool that paints a picture around your organisation's future performance, rather than simply measuring past performance

• Be aware that staff may be "satisfied" but this doesn't necessarily mean they're doing what's best for the organisation's strategic direction. Alignment-based surveys can overcome this.

Source: Insync Surveys