10 best practices for employee surveys, part 1

Patrick J.Gilbert, Ph.D

This post was written by Patrick J. Gilbert, Ph. D. for the Drake Business Review, Volume 1, Issue 1. Patrick J.Gilbert, Ph.D., is a principal and business leader for employee research in Europe and the Middle East.


Employee engagement is vital to business success.

Increasingly, it distinguishes companies that thrive from those that fail to survive. A highly engaged workforce delivers superior products and services, and this in turn leads to greater customer satisfaction and improved sales performance.

Given the implications for business success, the measurement of employee engagement through the use of employee surveys continues to increase. Survey findings have become a valued management information tool and are often used to identify and prioritize issues for action, monitor the effectiveness of change initiatives, establish performance objectives for managers, and provide metrics for the “people” quadrant of the balanced scorecard.


The Importance of Participation

Because survey results are increasingly being used to guide management decisions, it is important to achieve a high level of participation to ensure that the findings accurately reflect the key concerns of employees.When response rates are low, the validity of the results will be called into question and sufficient data may not be available for organizational subgroups or locations, hindering local action planning and follow-up. Moreover, a low response rate sends an ominous message that the workforce is disengaged and employees feel they lack a collective voice in communicating their concerns to management. All of this diminishes the return that an organization receives on its considerable investment in the survey research effort. Participation in an employee survey is a direct result of how well the survey process is designed and implemented. Simply put, well-orchestrated surveys lead to higher return rates.


10 Best Practices, Plus Key Questions to Ask

Following are 10 best practices for survey design and implementation and the implications of these best practices for employee response rates. Also included are key questions to ask at each step to ensure that your organization is adhering to these practices.


1. Establish clear goals and objectives

In the early planning stage, articulate the overall goals and objectives of the survey and define the anticipated return on investment. These objectives should be developed with management input and clearly communicated to employees in order to demonstrate the importance of the process.Without long-term objectives that are clearly linked to company performance, the survey may fail to elicit the management support and secure the resources required for success.

KEY QUESTION: What does the organization hope to achieve and what are the implications for company performance?


2. Develop a communication plan

Prepare a comprehensive communication plan to support each stage of the survey. The plan should include a schedule of communication “events”as well as a budget and formally assigned responsibilities.In the absence of a communication plan,employees may not recognize the importance of the process or see the connection between survey findings and subsequent follow-up actions.

KEY QUESTION: Who should prepare and issue survey-related messages and when should these messages be communicated?


3. Brand the survey process

The survey should be “branded” with a tag line and an identifiable graphic logo. The branding will help to provide continuity across each stage of the survey and establish the process as an ongoing activity, rather than a one-time event. When possible, the survey should be linked to other ongoing change initiatives.Without branding, the survey may be seen by employees as an unconnected initiative that will have limited consequences for the organization.

KEY QUESTION: What theme does management want to convey through the employee survey and how is this integrated with wider company change initiatives?


4. Allocate sufficient resources

Estimate the internal resources that will be required to develop and implement your survey and to support follow-up actions. These resources should be budgeted at the start of the process and be taken into account in business plans. When this is not done, the survey follow-up stage will lack the support required to be effective and will often meet with resistance from line management. In addition, employees might be convinced to participate in one survey, but if they see no tangible evidence of change after the survey, they are not likely to make the effort to participate again in the future.

KEY QUESTION: Who will be required to manage and support the survey and what resources will be required for the process to be successful?


5. Define roles and responsibilities

Support your survey by creating a network of internal survey champions with responsibility for identifying the requirements for their part of the business, managing data collection, and supporting follow-up actions. Survey champions must be sold on the value of the survey and given a clear description of their role requirements so that they can budget their time accordingly. Similarly, managers who receive survey results for
their areas of operation also should be given clear instructions regarding their responsibilities for survey follow-up.When this is not done, management is less likely to communicate survey results to employees or take action in response to the findings, and employees are less likely to have faith in the value of the survey process.

KEY QUESTION:What are the specific responsibilities of the survey champions and what are the requirements of managers who receive survey results for their areas of operation?


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