2011-03-09

10 best practices for employee surveys, part 2

Patrick J. Gilbert, Ph. D

This is Part 2 in a 2-Part Series called "10 Best Practices for Employee Surveys". To read Part 1 first, click here. 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.

 

Continued from Part 1 (click here to read it first)...

Following are the last five 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.

 

6. Demonstrate management commitment

The research process will have greater credibility if employees believe that it is endorsed and supported by senior management. Senior management commitment can reassure employees that their views will be taken into account and acted on.When management commitment is lacking, employees may view the survey as a public relations exercise designed to project a "caring" management style rather than a process for identifying and acting on employee concerns.

KEY QUESTION: Who is the principal sponsor of the employee research and how is this person’s commitment to the process demonstrated?

 

7. Ask the right questions the right way

The survey should be designed to measure areas that are of concern to management and employees. Even when the questionnaire includes standardized items, the wording should be modified to reflect the culture of the company. An "off the shelf" instrument that fails to address issues of concern or that fails to reflect the language and terminology of the organization will be seen as lacking in relevance and will fail to engage employees.

KEY QUESTION: What are the topic areas that should be covered in the survey and how should these questions be asked?

 

8. Collect data the right way at the right time

Consider the data-collection methodology that is best suited to your workforce. Traditionally, surveys have been administered using printed questionnaires, but the technology is now readily available for conducting online surveys that make data collection easier, more efficient, and less costly. Ease and convenience translate into higher response rates.


In addition, unless there is a specific need to coordinate with other business processes or a budgeting cycle, a survey generally should be administered at a time when it will pose a minimal disruption to the business and when a maximum number of employees are available for participation. Times of peak business activity or when employees are likely to be on vacation should be avoided. Similarly, data collection generally should not be undertaken during times when management and employee relations are tense-- for example, during a contract negotiation, industrial action, or downsizing initiative.


Equally important, survey administration should be scheduled so that the findings are available in time to be included in business plans. This will position the survey as a business-planning tool and secure the necessary budget for follow-up actions. Poor scheduling for survey administration will invariably reduce line-management support for data collection and may result in data being available too late to influence budget or other business decisions.

KEY QUESTION: What is the optimal time of the year to administer the survey and when will data have to be available for the business planning process?

 

9. Take clear follow-up action

The most effective way to build confidence in the survey process, and thereby improve participation rates for future surveys, is for the organization to take clear and visible action based on survey results. A realistic number of areas should be targeted for follow- up action to allow the organization to concentrate and focus resources on issues that will have the greatest impact on performance. Failure to take action will create apathy toward the survey, and targeting too many issues will diffuse the effectiveness of follow-up actions.

KEY QUESTION: What are the key areas for action and which actions are most likely to affect performance?

 

10. Review and audit the process

A formal audit process should be planned to monitor the effectiveness of follow-up actions and to measure progress against objectives. Actions that meet with success should be widely communicated and celebrated. This audit should also include an assessment of the ROI associated with follow-up actions in order to determine where investments should be increased, reduced, or discontinued. Measuring the effectiveness and ROI of follow-up actions will enhance the business relevance of the survey for both employees and managers. It sends out the signal that the survey isn’t simply a nice thing to do – it’s good for business.

KEY QUESTION: How effective are the survey follow-up actions and what is the ROI for the company?


Enhancing employee engagement has become a business imperative and is essential to compete effectively in today’s market. The employee survey can be used to develop a strategy for creating a high-motivation work environment and improving business performance. Achieving a high response rate ensures that the survey findings are valid and can be used for local as well as organization-wide action planning. Adopting the best practices outlined above will engage both management and employees in the survey process and can serve as a catalyst for cultural change, creating an environment in which employees are involved and have a productive and open dialogue with management.

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