6 Things Savvier Employee Survey Consumers Know

People often ask us about what makes a good employee survey.  The quality of an employee survey can have significant implications for your organization.  Here are the 6 things that stand out to us the most based on nearly 20 years of experience helping companies use opinion surveys to move to drive a strong culture of continuous improvement.

You’re not generic and your survey probably shouldn’t be either. Even if it’s only a handful of items, customizing items pays dividends in shaping a culture that supports employee engagement. A survey is a great opportunity to educate about, and reinforce, desired behaviors. Don’t miss the chance to measure the elements of your mission and culture that make people want to work for you. Caregivers at a hospital are all about creating a strong culture of patient safety and quality care.  Your employees might highly value diversity and inclusion, or innovation.  The point is simple.  In addition to typical drivers of engagement, ask about what is meaningful to your people. Those may be missing from an out-of-the-box instrument; make sure you check.

Make sure you are really measuring engagement. Many survey vendors claim to measure employee engagement, but really evaluate satisfaction with the work environment.  If you want results, start with a reliable and valid measure of employee engagement — one that includes commitment (affect) and discretionary effort (behavior) – as well as the drivers of engagement.  Without discretionary effort, you won’t see increases in performance and productivity.

Make sure leaders care about what you are measuring. If you are getting leaders the information they crave, they will put more effort into analysis and follow-up. Do they really want to know what people think about the survey items, and are they clear who owns the follow-up on each item?  Leaders are interested in knowing whether their people are ready and willing to give the effort to support organizational needs and goals. If they don’t get the logic behind an item, explaining it ahead of time is essential.

Help leaders move quickly from analysis to action. This struggle is real! I can’t tell you the number of times companies have called me to help them understand long survey reports from another vendor. Statistical analyses, like regression, help pinpoint specific items that best explain employee engagement in your organization on which you can focus during action planning. This analysis prevents you from spending too much time going after low-scoring items that may not predict the outcomes needed (and which may depress your leaders because of too much focus on “what’s wrong”!).

Know Who Is Writing Your Recommendations. If you’re getting executive summaries and recommendations from a survey vendor, make sure that the person helping you interpret what your survey results mean has deep understanding of your business, your employees, and the survey data.  Many firms do that well; others tend to over-rely on green employees or pre-populated templates.  You’ll also want to check that themes from employee responses to open-ended questions are incorporated into the recommendations.  After all, combining your employees’ perspective on what helps and hinders them, along with expert interpretation of what is really driving the scores, helps you set a course that will get results.

Survey results don’t belong in a file drawer. Survey results are born to be applied. Where else can you use the survey results to make better decisions?  Rather than looking at the survey as a stand-along data source, integrate survey results into what your organization is already doing and is planning to do, including strategic plan reviews, executive coaching, and leadership development.  Survey follow-up doesn’t need to be an add-on process or an overlay.  Engagement is a lead indicator of what is happening in your business; treat it accordingly.

Here’s the bottom line: a good survey measures asks employees for their input about what matter and provides leaders with useful insights.  If you show employees that you value their input and act on their input, your employees will perform better and your leadership with be strengthened.