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Employee Surveys: If You Ask, You’d Better Listen June 12, 2009

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership.
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I’ve been reviewing some old files this week and I came across the results from some company-wide employee surveys conducted earlier this decade. This is pretty much standard practice for larger firms these days, and I think regardless of the size of the company there’s a natural inclination among many senior managers who can’t make time for MBWA to occasionally take the pulse of the organization.

It sounds great in principle, but there are many opportunities for disappointment as anyone who has studied statistics can attest. Sample sizes are typically small as most employees don’t participate, for reasons ranging from apathy to hostility to paranoia. Poorly-constructed questions that fail to address the research objectives make it easy to make responses fit assumptions and biases. Questions that change from one survey period to another make it impossible to discern trends.

All of the above can make well-meaning managers — and possibly even their HR colleagues — a bit cynical about employee surveys. After awhile they may become just another item on the annual to-do list that gets checked off, or they may be dropped altogether when the initial disappointment sets in.

That’s bad enough, but ineffective surveys cause a long-term impact to employees that can be even worse. If you’re going to ask people what’s going well and what needs fixing, it’s really important to listen, and then prove you were listening by taking visible action based on that feedback.

An employee survey raises expectations among many of the rank-and-file: “This is our chance to tell management what we think, and then things will improve.” Unfortunately I’ve been in organizations that assign teams of managers to study the survey results and develop detailed plans to address the findings, but later push these plans onto the back burner as too expensive or too ambitious. When nothing changes, employees become less engaged and less willing to participate in improvement efforts.

There’s no point in asking if you’re not going to listen and take action. That does not mean turning the business into a popular democracy. It means using the surveys to develop realistic programs that address major employee concerns, and clearly connecting the dots between survey responses and those programs. When people feel they’ve been heard, and they can see change happening as a result (even small, but positive change), they become less alienated and less likely to blame “management” for their dissatisfaction.

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Comments»

1. Andrew - June 12, 2009

Unfortunately, you and I have participated in far too many of these surveys that ultimately end in general employee dissapointment.

2. Bill Bartmann - September 3, 2009

Cool site, love the info.


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