How many employee surveys have you done or heard of? How many of them really made change happen?
We can all say that top management support is necessary for this to happen: It's a given. However, there a number of things we can do to improve the chances of effective change by planning the survey effort.
Among these are:
Not using agree-disagree scales. It has been known for the last 40+ plus years that this is one of the worst kind of scales to use.
Include the survey process into the normal business planning cycle.
One way to influence an organization is to become part of its planning cycle - its goals, objectives, and budgets. Employee involvement efforts can achieve this by scheduling survey events so recommendations were ready the month before goal setting and budget planning sessions. To accomplish this, schedule backwards. For example, if budgets are due in June, present survey recommendations in May and develop them in April. Analyze the survey recommendations in March, and distribute the survey(assuming a "one shot" survey) in February. Determine the survey groundrules in January, and form the survey group in December. By scheduling this way, surveys deliver the maximum "punch" possible.
Create and communicate clear, specific actions from the employee survey data.
"We must communicate more," and "We must change people's attitudes" are often the recommendations that come from surveys. Unfortunately, these platitudes do little to fix the problems that survey responses describe. Specific changes in policies, personnel and procedures are what many employees want.
Organizations must inform employees about survey planning, data collection, and implementation plans. Without this communication, employees who would otherwise support the survey become confused, frustrated, and eventually complacent. Loss of this critical mass of support may eventually doom whatever changes the company implements.
Don't look for what you already see.
Many organizations believe they understand their problems, and call in consultants to work out the details. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If an organization investigates only subject "X", they will only get back information on subject X. They may overlook other issues of major concern.
Use multiple survey methods.
Using multiple techniques to ask about the same kind of information is a hallmark of good information gathering. Any surveying technique has its weaknesses. For example, numerical surveys (where survey items are rating one a scale of one to five) are easy to score. However, how you write the question may not exactly apply, and misses getting to the heart of the matter. An organization may miss discovering important issues because they didn't ask.
On the other hand, open-ended questionnaires have less of this problem. This is because questions are less precise, and so get richer information from the survey taker. Unfortunately, the more open-ended the questionnaire, the harder it is to score. Whoever summarizes written comments injects their own opinions into the rating process, something that does not happen with numerical surveys.
It is best to many approaches if possible. Focus groups and individual interviews are useful at the very beginning of the survey effort to find broad areas of concern. Open-ended survey questions and numerical surveys can pinpoint specific issues, and allow employees to express their concerns anonymously. Organizations can use focus groups again to get feedback on specific issues or recommendations. employee surveys or employee surveys or employee surveys employee surveys
Keep the data anonymous, but communicate the actions.
Organizations often keep survey information anonymous and confidential to increase the accuracy of the data received. This rule of thumb is usually a good idea, but also can have its drawbacks. Among these drawbacks is the uncertainty of what to do with allegations of illegal actions. Additionally, confidentiality can lead to nonaction by those who need change the most.
Decide how to analyze data before you gather it.
Whenever creating surveys, decide how to analyze, chart and graph the data before employees complete them. This approach avoids bias when there is no set procedure for analysis, and reduces last-minute panic when the data comes flooding in. After developing the survey and are uncertain about analysis, give your preliminary survey to a sample of people who are similar to your employees. Use this sample to fine-tune your questions, decide how to analyze the data, and change the questions to make your analysis easier.
Decide on your sampling plan, and how to "break out" the data.
Many organizations survey their employees, usually once a year. But because the organization surveys only once, management can't distinguish between flukes and trends. Only surveying multiple times a year, using a sample of employees, can an organization distinguish between special, one-time events and ongoing concerns.
When deciding a sampling plan, decide how to break out the data before distributing the survey. Is there interest in finding out how staff employees feel compared to line employees, or how each department answered the survey? These comparisons can help pinpoint employee groups concerned about an issue.
Involve influential employees in the survey effort.
Organizations can survey their employees, accurately assess their needs, and still meet with resistance to change. One way to lessen this problem is to involve formally and informally powerful employees in the group that develops or selects the survey, distributes and analyzes the results, develops recommendations, and implements solutions.
Never survey without acting.
Management can survey their employees to assess working conditions out of curiosity, or to relieve their anxieties about everything being "all right." However, surveys raise expectations by those who take them, and those they tell. When expectations of change remain unfulfilled, employees can become more demoralized than before the survey.
Management must decide what actions are possible and what are not, even before the survey group gathers the data. When employees or raise concerns, management needs to communicate that they understand their concerns. If management cannot immediately solve these issues, employees must know this.
Use surveys with good reliability and validity.
Validity is how well a survey measures what it should. This usually means measuring each survey topic with several questions, and in several ways. This usually means at least three questions, preferably five on each survey topic, and asking similar questions during interviews and focus groups. Review the survey's validity by comparing it to existing methods of gathering information to minimize missing or unclear questions.
Reliability is how consistent the survey is over time, and the consistency of survey items with each other. If a survey is unreliable, survey statistics will move up and down without employee opinions really changing. What may look like a significant change over time may be due to the unreliability of the survey methods used.