As business owners and managers we are working in an ever increasingly competitive environment. So now more than ever we need to know what our employees think, feel and say about their work, because to a large extent this will influence what they do at work. This insight and knowledge can impact on our selection, retention and development strategies and ultimately the success of our businesses.
However, there are many reasons why businesses are reluctant to conduct employee surveys from management apathy regarding employee feedback, the fear of what employees really think about the business and (more daunting), us as individuals. Yet we need to rationalise this fear because there will always be concerns or issues within our workplaces and not identifying them just preserves the status quo.
The Value of Workplace Surveys
If your business is small enough, arguably you could be talking to your employees on a daily basis to find out what they think or feel about the business, though without the anonymity of a survey, some employees may be reluctant to give feedback – warts and all. Larger companies may not find meeting with every team member achievable or practical. There are of course other means of finding out what your teams think and feel about the business and you for that matter, including workplace surveys.
So what are the benefits of conducting these information gathering exercises? They can assist in:
- Developing the skills, abilities and behaviours of individuals at all levels of the business
- Improving performance, productivity and profitability
- Increasing employee motivation and commitment
- Identifying the strengths within the business and areas for development
- Providing information on how to attract and retain key employees
- Improving teamwork
- Giving direction to achieve greater customer satisfaction
- Increasing quality of product or service delivery
What Makes a Good Survey?
The benefits are immense, though the first step to a good survey is knowing what you want it to achieve. If the focus is on performance improvement e.g. more engaged employees, more satisfied customers and even becoming a more profitable or successful business, you need to ask questions relating to these specific areas.
Using valid and reliable measures will increase the integrity of your survey, without you ending up with meaningless results, wasted time, effort and money. There are a number of excellent survey providers in the market that can create bespoke or even standardised surveys which will measure the areas of interest to you and deliver comprehensive results and recommendations for actions.
Effective communication is essential. Many organisations ask how soon they can have their survey ‘up and running’. Of far greater concern is the communication behind the survey. Employees, who get an unexpected survey in their inbox on a Monday morning with no advance communication as to its purpose or how the results will be used, are often not likely to respond. The critical communication source is undoubtedly the head of the business, who must demonstrate a commitment to the survey process and a personal desire to act on the results.
Which Survey to Use
Knowing what you want to measure right at the start will help you choose the right survey. Following are some examples of workplace surveys that organisations commonly undertake:
Employee Engagement/Culture Surveys
Scenario: You have noticed turnover and absenteeism is increasing, morale seems low and the company is falling behind competitors.
Businesses that are viewed as great places to work will achieve heightened performance and productivity. How well your business succeeds is largely dependent on the capabilities and engagement of your employees. This type of survey would help your business find out how employees feel about their place of work, their job and their working relationships. It would illustrate how employees believe their efforts are recognised and rewards, what opportunities are available to them for promotions, their sources of frustration, as well as areas of satisfaction. If the organisation in the above scenario were able to implement actions to counter the issues by getting to the root cause of the problems, it could see performance improvement e.g. more engaged employees which may equate to less turnover and absenteeism.
360 Degree Individual Development Surveys
Scenario: You would like to develop your team leaders to enhance their capabilities leading their divisions, thus enabling the business to achieve the planned strategic goals. But, how do you determine what areas need to be improved?
360 degree surveys can be a great tool to use as part of the employee development process. Individuals receive a full-circle of feedback on their performance from their manager, direct reports, peers and even customers and suppliers. Viewing performance in this way means the information can be used as a catalyst for change and improving an employee’s performance in relation to their role and the strategic goals of the business.
Scenario: Two employees have left your business within six months of starting, what is going wrong and how could you prevent this? They say that the role and business don’t resonate what they were told when they joined.
A post-appointment (or new employee) survey is a powerful instrument to accurately pin-point gaps within the recruitment, selection, and induction/onboarding process. Research has indicated that the greater the match between the initial expectations of an employee and organisational reality, the less likely this person will leave within the first 12 months of employment. By gathering feedback and evaluating the similarities and differences between employee perceptions and reality, business owners and managers can measurably improve overall business efficiency with regards to the recruitment, selection, and induction processes.
Training Evaluation Surveys
Scenario: You have devised your succession plans for the senior management roles within your business, how can you identify what skills, experience and abilities you to need to develop in those you hope to promote and develop to these critical roles?
Training evaluation surveys are used to analyse what type of training intervention is required to either help an employee meet their job requirements, or to develop them further to become a high performer, and/or to progress them to a more senior role within the business.
However, this is only half the equation as it is not always just the identification of an individual employee’s training needs but the training needs of an organisation as a whole, especially if you intend to introduce a new product, system, or even a new performance appraisal and reward system. Any of these examples usually require a huge commitment to training within an organisation. From the outset the organisation needs to ascertain exactly what training is required, who requires it and to what level. Hence, needing to know this kind of information has resulted in the creation of the training evaluation survey!
Scenario: Several people have left your business and you really aren’t sure of the reasons why.
The overall goal of an exit interview or survey is to identify opportunities for improvement relating to future staff employment or the business itself. They enable an organisation to respond to employee issues and elicit information on how to retain key people. In addition, they provide a final opportunity to gather objective insights into what employees see as right and wrong with your business.
Sometimes the reason for an employee leaving a business is straight forward and the circumstances for an employee cannot be influenced by the organisation, however often the situation is something the organisation can have an effect on. Often losing an employee comes at a great cost to the organisation including the loss of skills and organisational knowledge, the lost cost of investment in training and the cost of replacing the employee through recruitment and selection, training and reduced productivity while the new employee gets up to speed. In many instances, the exit interview not only tells an organisation why an employee is leaving but how a repeat of the situation might be avoided for the future.
Post Survey – Once You Have the Results
Once the surveys are complete, they need to be acted upon to be of use. Focus on the big issues and act quickly, leverage off the key drivers rather than attempt to fix everything identified (remember the Pareto 80:20 rule). Statistical analysis of the data should be an integral element of any employee survey as it helps identify what's important and what's not.
One of the biggest mistakes companies make is to conduct a workplace survey, receive the results and then do nothing. This can be more damaging than not doing the survey. The survey should be a starting point not an ending point. The most effective way to see action in an organisation following a survey is to create an action plan with clear accountabilities – which are measurable and time bound.
Today's workplace surveys have a strategic focus in identifying the connections between employee experiences and engagement levels with bottom-line performance. Employers making use of workplace surveys can see them as a source of potential competitive advantage because they allow them to effectively manage their most important asset - their workforce.
by Sharn Rayner, Director, www.podconsulting.net.nz