Surveys Can Tell You a Great Deal if You Do Them the Right Way.
By Steve Schumacher
One of the first companies I ever worked for surveyed all its employees to see what we thought about management and the company as a whole. I had not been out of college very long, and had experienced some challenges with the managers in the company, so I looked forward to the opportunity to let my feelings be known.
The company hired a consulting company to administer the survey and interview a cross-section of the employees. I was one of the ones that was interviewed and did my best to be honest and open with my opinions. The survey was anonymous and we filled it out in groups with the consultants handing them out and collecting them. We all felt confident that we could be honest and that we did not have to worry about retribution.
After a couple weeks, several people started asking some of the managers about the survey results. They were told that the results were still being analyzed and that a report would be coming out soon. After about six weeks, with no report, I began to wonder what had happened.
I started asking around and the word was that the report was so negative, that the management of the company decided not to share it with anyone. To this day, I don’t know the results. Nor does anyone I ever worked with who responded to the survey.
I learned a lot of lessons from that experience about how to administer employee surveys. Some of those lessons are:
- Have a purpose.
Many companies conduct employee surveys because it is the “thing to do.” Decide what you want to accomplish from conducting an employee survey. They take time and money, so decide on an objective that will get you a return on that investment. You can gain a lot of valuable information like management abilities, talent levels, work/life balance, company performance, teamwork, accountability, feedback, recognition, benefits, etc. The key is deciding what you want to know before developing a survey.
- Use a professional.
Once you’ve decided on your objective, get a professional to help you design the survey questions, decide on survey breakdowns and how to administer it. If you use in-house resources, you run the risk of employees feeling like it won’t be anonymous. An outsider can be completely objective and should work on building trust with employees prior to giving out the surveys.
- Customize the questions.
There are a lot of canned surveys that you can find on the internet, along with companies that have designed their own. Some questions are generic and can be used with any company, but make sure your survey reflects issues that reflect your specific organization. Before administering the survey, review all the questions to make sure they get the information you want.
- Communicate the purpose.
Notify everyone in the company that the survey is coming, why it is being done, how and when the results will be communicated. Understand that most employees will be skeptical of the true purpose. Some may even be fearful that it means layoffs. Those fears won’t go away until the survey results are fed back to them and they see action being taken based on the results.
- Ensure anonymity.
I made the mistake once of letting employees use whatever pen or pencil they wanted to fill out a paper survey. There were no names written on the surveys, but one manager saw a couple surveys that were answered in red and green ink and knew who used those color pens. From that experience, I learned to have everyone use the same type of pencils when responding. Don’t allow any names to be written on the survey, only department names. Have the professional hand them out and collect them. Do not allow anyone within the company to see the individual surveys. The more people feel that their responses are anonymous, the more honest they will be.
- Action planning.
When you get the results, put an action plan together with your management team. Prioritize the results and put resources into improving those results, just as you would with any other information about customers, markets, or any other aspect of your business.
- Communicate the results.
Share all of the results with employees, along with your action plan. No matter how you feel about the results, the worst thing to do is not give employees feedback on the results. If you do not give the feedback, employees will lose trust in you and will not be honest in future surveys.
- Follow-up regularly.
Set up regular reporting of progress on the results. Hold your managers accountable for measurable improvement. Administer the same survey on an annual basis to see if you truly have improved. Celebrate the areas that have improved.
Employee surveys are a tremendous way to get information that you wouldn’t get otherwise. Sure, most managers ask their employees how things are going, but most employees will tend to tell the boss only what they think he/she wants to hear. Properly done, employee surveys can assist you in opening lines of communication and achieving greater levels of employee morale and productivity.