It’s the time of year when many organizations are starting to think about administering an employee survey of some sort. This process, while well intentioned, is too often embarked upon without really thinking through the process and understanding what your organization hopes to achieve at the conclusion.
If your organization is about to enter this arena for the first time, or you are set to start your cycle for this year, I would encourage you (and especially the person to whom this responsibility falls) to ask the following questions. If you’ve given attention to these points, the quality of your survey will increase dramatically.
1. Why are we doing a survey? OK, I realize this seems like a no-brainer, but you would be amazed at the number of people who tell me that they are running an employee survey simply because senior management thought it was a good idea to collect some opinions from the employees. Successful surveys have a strategic purpose. They are used as a tool to move the organization toward an objective, to identify and fix fatal flaws, or to assess success on a recent change event.
2. Are we measuring the right things? Here is the first law of employee surveys. Never ask a question if you have no intention of taking action on the data you receive. If you ask your employee group if they are satisfied with their compensation package, and you don’t have it in the budget to adjust compensation following the survey, prepare for disengaged employees. If feedback is given to the organization, and nothing visible happens to respond to that feedback (even if it was positive), the next time you ask the question, the results will be lower. As a rule, only measure things that have a specific purpose, and that you are willing to act upon.
3. Is the length right? When you test your survey, it should take you no more than 20 minutes to complete it. This is typically in the range of 40-60 items. You can be less than that if you’ve really spent the time narrowing the focus of your survey and you can ask precise questions that get the desired data. If you go longer than the 20 minute mark, employees start to lose interest and the integrity of your data becomes compromised. There’s nothing worse than a large number of employees clicking through without reading questions, just so they can get back to work.
4. Who is the Steering Committee? Let me be clear about this one. Employee surveys are not effective as human resources initiatives. Yes, your HR department needs to be involved. Yes, someone from HR or OD will probably have the lead in the process. For any survey to be effective, it needs the support of the entire organization. Successful survey implementations happen when a team made up of a good cross section of your company have the responsibility to be the shepherds of the process.
5. What is our post survey plan? The survey itself is just the start. Unfortunately, in many organizations, it also becomes the end. Data collection and reporting will give you information. You have to share the information with the entire company and then gain commitment to take action on what was learned. The steering committee is a great resource for spreading the message and holding managers and leaders accountable for communication and action. Just make sure you have a plan in place before you even send out the link for the survey.
That’s all there is to it. Ask yourself those 5 questions and make sure you like the answers you hear before you tackle that next survey project.