Building an Employee Survey Process that Actually Works

Employee surveys come by a lot of different names: an employee opinion survey, an organization health survey, or an employee engagement survey. Whichever term, the purpose of the survey remains – for the organization’s leadership to get an honest, unfiltered sense of what’s working and what’s not.

At PeopleResults, we often work with clients to help them determine what to do with their survey results. Clients ask for advice on how to communicate the results and what actions to take based upon the results.

I recommend three best practices for your organization’s employee survey:

 1.  Gather participant data

You need information on who completed your survey. Otherwise you can’t take action on the results in a meaningful way. Employees in Chicago do not have the same experience as employees in London. Men do not have the same experience as women. If you haven’t gathered demographic data to filter your results by location and/or by gender, you will not know what actions to take for women in Chicago or for men in London.

Other data you may need includes, department/function and age. You could find meaningful differences in answers by generations. You won’t know if you don’t gather the data.

2.  Hire a third party to design and administer your survey

This will address concerns about anonymity, which will likely arise if you administer the survey in house. Also, specify a minimum number of employees required for a leader to receive a report. For example, out of 12 employees in a department, 8 must participate in the survey or the leader will not receive a report.

Many companies specialize in survey design. They can help you build meaningful survey items which lead to actionable results. For example, avoid items on your survey which ask two questions at once. Such as “Do you believe Company XYZ’s leadership has a vision for the future and is communicating it well?”

Plan up front for the critical few survey items for which you will want to track history or progress over time.

3.  Set and manage expectations from the start

Tell employees why you’re asking them to take the survey and what you’re going to do with the information. Then act on what you committed to do in a timely way.

Don’t ask them questions you’re not prepared to act on. This is very difficult for organizations to apply! If you’re not going to change compensation, don’t ask employees how they feel about their compensation. All employees respond that they want more money. Every. Time.

Develop your plan to build task forces or committees (by topic, by geography – whatever makes the most sense for your organization) to act on survey results. Then give your team time to implement the committees’ recommendations before the next survey. It takes time to make statistical progress. Don’t re-survey too quickly.

When you deliberately build your employee survey applying these three best practices, you will have a meaningful process. Then the survey results can provide strategic insights to your business leaders. Those insights can ultimately influence investments, talent management and retention.

Betsy Winkler is a Partner at PeopleResults. She can be reached on Twitter @BetsyWinkler1