HR Consulting: Who is the barrier to survey effectiveness – senior leaders or HR?

by External24 Apr 2013

What's the key to getting HR and other senior leaders on the same page when it comes to organisational surveys? Dr. Neal Knight-Turvey provides some tips.

In a recent research exercise, Kenexa asked a group of HR practitioners to identify what they considered to be the biggest barriers to an effective employee survey. The top three barriers included the level of importance placed on the survey, execution of the survey program and allocated resources. Here are some typical responses from our HR practitioners around these top three barriers:


• “If senior leaders were more vocal about the strategy and reason the survey is important, I think that would trickle down to the frontline.”


• “Leadership and management often leverage the survey to identify areas for improvement, but don’t always follow through on the necessary actions.”


• “Limited time leaders can devote to it given other priorities.”

The top three barriers effectively point towards senior management as the underlying reason organisations do not fully realise a survey’s potential. But we wonder if we’re not missing a rather important question – who is really responsible for these barriers in the first place?

We asked these same HR practitioners how they felt their survey addressed the most important concerns of their business leaders. Less than half agreed that it contributed to customer satisfaction or bottom-line financial performance. In other words, more than half did not view this supposedly strategic measurement program as addressing the most important concerns of top executives.

Executives and senior managers are going to regard as important, and execute and provide resources for those organisational initiatives that help them achieve the greatest business success. Yet, as the table below shows, HR practitioners tend not to consider strategic metrics when evaluating the success of their survey program.

Metrics used to evaluate survey success



Category description

% of comments

Response rate

Response rates


Score improvement

Improvement on targeted survey areas


Change perceptions

Employees’ perceptions of change


Action planning

Tracking completion of action plans


Business outcome link

Internal and external performance metrics


What is interesting is the finding that the least commonly relied upon metric to evaluate program success is the link to a business outcome, whether that be a link to an internal measure, such as employee attrition rates, or a link to an external measure, such as customer satisfaction or business unit performance. One has to wonder: If the most common metric used to evaluate survey program success was a clearly established link to a business outcome, would the top three barriers to survey follow-up success still be failures in execution, lack of perceived importance and inadequate resources?

Get senior leaders onboard – link survey content to business outcomes

In terms of purpose, surveys fall on a continuum from defensive through to offensive. Defensive surveys look to identify warning signs of trouble within an organisation, such as turnover vulnerability.

An offensive survey, on the other hand, seeks to predict and drive organisational outcomes, such as customer satisfaction and business performance.

Knowing the defensive-offensive nature of surveys helps focus attention on survey design. Employee survey content that best predicts staff retention is not the same as survey content that best predicts customer satisfaction with an organisation’s products and services. Many surveys tend to focus on the former, not the latter.

In the end, executives will be fully supportive of an employee survey if they can see how it aligns with business strategy and key business metrics. Of course, let’s not limit our thinking to the survey. When the HR function can show it has a tool strategically geared towards improving business performance, that’s when we can really expect executives to dedicate themselves and the right resources for effective survey follow-up. Strategic HR anyone?

About the author

Dr. Neal Knight-Turvey is Executive Consultant at Kenexa, and IBM Company, Australia Phone (03) 9602 3899 or email