Why 73 Questions Only Works for Vogue: Best Practices for Employee Feedback Surveys, Explained.

With employee disengagement numbers being shown at near 70%, more and more organizations are looking at how they can create better workplace cultures to engage their workforce in meaningful ways, and for good reason. Workforces with higher levels of engagement have been found to be more profitable, have less turnover, and have increased customer loyalty. The business case for engagement is clear – it has been found that disengaged employees cost the American economy up to $350 billion per year due to lost productivity.

A key component of successful engagement strategies is understanding your employees’ needs and getting their feedback. One of the more frequently employed methods is the feedback survey, a method that continues to consistently garner a bit of a bad rep throughout the years. The reality is, a deeper analysis highlights the roots from which its bad reputation stems. From poorly designed questionnaires, lack of actionable results, to something as simple as poorly executed follow ups where employees never actually see the impact of their feedback or even if it was heard. Moreover we find that organizations sometimes fail to see that data-gathering and feedback analysis can go beyond the survey form, leading them to miss the opportunity to create an employee insights strategy which combines the various type of insights and data - all of which have their own purpose.

Given many organizations are in the midst of developing their 2018 strategies, we recently caught up with Beekeeper’s CEO, Cris Grossmann, to discuss what they have found from hundreds of customers, across North America, Europe, and Asia, working with brands such as Mandarin Oriental, InterContinental, and Wireless Vision, to drive employee engagement and fulfilling cultures. Cris shared some best practices in gathering employee perspectives via surveys to support employee engagement, experience, and workplace culture initiatives.

Let’s start at the beginning, what are some of the key considerations that organizations need to think about when planning their data gathering activities?

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Cris: There are 3 things we have found that play a vital role in the success of feedback initiatives:

1: Establish clear purpose with key stakeholders

To execute a successful employee survey, you must first define the stakeholders who will be utilizing and benefiting from the data collected. These stakeholders can range from executive leaders, to middle managers, to individual team members. Regardless of where in the organization your stakeholders sit, it is essential that they establish a specific goal to accomplish by releasing a survey.

Is the purpose of the survey to evaluate leadership? Measure overall satisfaction? Assess internal communication tactics? Whatever the goal is, it’s crucial to generate a metric that can be accurately re-assessed and tracked over time to gauge success or failure.

2: Plot communication & distribution tactics

As soon as you have established the survey’s purpose, compose a statement that explains to survey recipients why they are being asked to take the survey, and why they should care to answer honestly. Establishing a clear set of “whys” will encourage employees to take the survey seriously, as well as understand how they may personally benefit from the results in the long run.

Once the “Why” statement is generated, start thinking about distribution tactics. If the goals of the survey are to get an instant read on the general mood of your employee-base about a particular topic, then a pulse survey is the way to go. Pulse surveys are quick and frequently deployed questionnaires that ask a direct and specific set of questions. Annual surveys get more granular, often using both qualitative and quantitative feedback to gather big picture insights about trends and behaviors experienced by the organization over time.

The survey should be accessible and convenient to take. Lean on whichever communication channel is the lifeblood of your organization, be it email, a real-time messaging platform, or physical check-ins. One advantage to using digital channels in lieu of face-to-face interviews is of course faster, less resource-intensive data processing. The other is that you can easily implement “confirmation campaigns.” Confirmation campaigns mandate an acknowledgement of completion from employees, providing an extra level of accountability. This approach also makes follow-ups easy to manage and deploy en masse.

3: Ask the right questions

Good data begins with good survey design. There is no one-size-fits-all survey for every single workforce, so it’s important to ask questions that speak to your organization’s nuances. This is where the opinions and insights of your stakeholders really matter. More than anyone in your organization, your stakeholders will know how to harness a balance of quantitative and qualitative questions that will speak to their goals.

There are distinct pros and cons of each question format. Quantitative data is easy to measure but can feel impersonal and arbitrary to some survey takers. Qualitative data is richer, but can be a burden for employees who feel rushed or stuck on what they should share. One way around this is to offer a quantitative question with the option to expand in an open field.

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These are some great points to consider. Building on the importance of survey design, we also find that the questions themselves need to be a valid way of understanding what you think you are measuring. After crafting a survey, it can help to reflect back and ask yourself - does this question type and the response options legitimately measure what I am trying to measure? Furthermore, what will you do with the results? For example, if 60% responded with a particular response, what will you understand and what can you do with that data point moving forward? We also see the balance of anonymous versus non-anonymous methods as something to consider in your design, which oftentimes will depend on the nature of the survey topic.

A common challenge we see in organizations is getting employees to participate. Sometimes this is due to the fact that employees have survey-fatigue, or that they do not see the point as previous surveys have not led to impactful actions.

What are some of the ways in which organizations can encourage employees to participate?

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Cris: The way in which you facilitate your survey will have a major impact upon how seriously your employees take it. There are many different ways to encourage participation, some of which include:

Generating Incentives

High response rates are considered a natural outcropping of well-designed survey strategies. If you find that an asynchronous distribution of the survey has led to fewer responses than anticipated, then, there might be cause for gamifying or collectivizing participation among your staff members. For instance, you could offer a reward to the team whose employees complete the survey first with a happy hour, free lunch, or extra paid time off. If you’re looking for more qualitative information, you could reward the team member who shares the most in-depth answers. Whatever incentive you choose, selecting something that speaks directly to your workforce is crucial.

Supporting the Survey in Multiple Languages

Speaking different languages at work is a global challenge for corporate communications. With the global nature of business today, there is a prevalence of employees whose first language is one other than English. When looking internationally, language barriers are an even larger issue.

If you’re looking for a high employee survey participation rate, it can help to present the questions in the recipient’s native language and allow them to respond in their preferred language as well. The comfort in the familiarity of one’s own language can make it easier for employees to open up and not stress what may be lost in translation or nervous over what they may fail to properly convey in their weaker second language. Take inventory of all the languages spoken at your organization and use a platform that has automatic inline translation technology that includes those languages.

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Another thing we find helpful is incorporating the survey into a dedicated program focused on organizational change where the employees can become a part of the journey and truly believe that change will be made. Programs such as these offer the employees a clear sense of reassurance that leadership is attentive to the feedback and willing to provide the support and resources needed to instill change. In this way, they realize it is not just “data gathering, for data gathering”. Additionally, even if there is no dedicated program, it is imperative to make sure that you follow up with what actions are taken or why others could not be.

This is something we see organizations miss the opportunity on many times - the chance to demonstrate transparency and honesty. Many times employees will understand why something they may want cannot happen - however, to give them the chance, the “why” needs to be clearly explained. You’re not always going to be able to make every change, especially not in a quick period of time, but offering an explanation to why a certain change could not be put in place also offers your employees the comfort of knowing they were heard.

Once an organization has the data, we find the implementation, or execution, of the actions for change can be a challenge. Many times with the best of intentions, actions and follow through get lost in the daily grind.

What are some of the ways in which organizations can use the data to make impactful changes?

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Cris: Two ways in which we find organizations can make meaningful changes are to:

Rapidly deploy meaningful insights

As data rolls in, it’s crucial to be able to quickly deploy relevant information with team leaders and managers. Reviewing the results with your staff will open your eyes to any blind spots the survey may have revealed, as well as give you the opportunity to quickly react with new policies if needed. Creating benchmarks and plotting a roadmap for follow-up surveys are both important for making employee surveys a critical tentpole of information across your entire company.

Follow-up to measure improvements

After formally implementing workplace improvement measures based on your findings, it can be helpful to conduct a follow-up on the topic to assess the success of the initiative. For pulse surveys, following up three months later is recommended as it takes humans approximately three months to get into a rhythm with a new habit. Use annual follow-ups to measure long term impact and facilitate rich data collection.

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In addition, we find that using techniques to understand which is the best solution for change - given an organization's resources and budget - can help get the most impact for the employees and business. There are always several options for how to solve a problem, so it is important to make sure your investments are giving measurable value. This is another opportunity to involve employees in the journey, and, if you have a holistic measurement strategy, you should be able to use predictive as well as diagnostic capabilities.

Thanks, Cris, for all your tips and insights! In summary, some things to consider when designing your employee insights gathering activities are:

  • Be purposefully designed in your strategy - from establishing the stakeholder goals, creating a plan for distribution and communication, and ensuring that your questions and responses are valid measures.
  • Use an understanding of your participant audience to figure out what will encourage participation for them - from involvement and engagement in decisions, to languages used, to rewards.
  • Close the loop with employees - explaining the results, the intended timeline for actions, and, both why and why not actions have been taken to address the learning.
  • Consider the different capabilities you may need in a holistic employee insights strategy - including diagnostic, predictive, and the touch-points throughout their employee journey.
  • Make sure that after actions have been implemented, the indications of success or failure are easily captured - this can help you to monitor the value, and to change course if needed.
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