Before You Fill Out Your Next Company Survey – Read This

Before You Fill Out Your Next Company Survey – Read This

“I have to go now,” my friend said, “It’s survey season.”


“Excuse me?” I answered. “What does that mean exactly?”


“Survey season. You know, the annual “How do you feel about your company questionnaire…I have to get mine in by close of business today.”


“Well, that’s important….”


There was a long silence on the other end of the phone. I’ve known my buddy for over 20 years – one thing is certain.


There is NEVER any silence on the other end of the phone.


“You still there?” I asked.


“Are you serious? Nobody gives a flip about these surveys. The only reason I fill the darn thing out is because they track my division for responses.”


“Okay, is that a bad thing?”


“You listening to me? We complete these things so someone on high can check a box that says COMPLETED. No one ever does anything with them – they go into some dark file somewhere in corporate – until next year when we repeat the process.”


“So…why do you even bother?”


“I just told you– we’re more concerned with our “fill rate” than the content of the feedback. This is ALL a big joke.”


“Are you telling me NOTHING happens…nothing???”


“Oh sure…at some point there will be a meeting…or a teleconference …and we’ll see some kind of high level summary. Someone with an impressive title will tell us how important all of this is…and there will be a TC or two. And then we will all go back to status quo. I can’t tell you what I even said last year…or the year before.”


“So the value of your Employee Engagement Survey is….”


“Just below the price you paid for your coffee…maybe about half.”


Does this little conversation sound familiar?  Apparently it does for quite a few of us. HRmarketer validates – suggesting:

  • About half of us see little to no value in the survey tool our company uses
  • That same percentage sees the same amount of benefit in even going through the process
  • The perception of quality is highest at senior levels – and drops disturbingly as we go down through the ranks
  • A majority of company employees don’t see how any of the feedback affects what happens after


So my friend isn’t alone.


The real question – what do we do about the malaise of Survey Season?


How do progressive and well-intentioned companies actually connect with their constituency – listen and collect feedback that makes a positive difference – instead of just making people mad?


That conversation led me to research a bit more. And yes, there are companies who seem to have turned Survey Season into something more. The variability is fairly broad but Best-in-Class examples share all or part of the following 5 attributes:


  1. An eagerness to listen. The “genuine article” – those firms that sincerely want to know the pulse of their employee base  – are far less interested with window dressing.  Translation – they don’t waste ballyhoo on the front end trumpeting the importance of a survey; they invest in their follow up.
  2. They have a rigorously designed survey vehicle– that reflects the objectives behind asking in the first place. Many get employees involved in the construct of the survey – making sure they ask the RIGHT questions.
  3. They thoroughly explain the WHY beforehand – and they commit the feedback collected will be (1) valued, (2) confidential, and (3) acted on.
  4. They simplify the survey – and drop misleading indicators such as tracking employee response – which smack of “the beatings will continue until morale improves” school of leadership.
  5. They ensure a defined plan of action as regards assessing and taking action after. The very best seem to do a few things that distinguish, namely:
    1. They assign a senior business leader to own the follow up
    2. They craft a well constructed “State of the Union” message to all that says – “Here’s what we heard, Here’s what we learned, Here’s what we plan to do…”
    3. They energize and support a cross company guiding coalition to spearhead “next steps”
    4. They commit to a full 12 month plan to assess progress points – AND a communication vehicle to ensure those updates reach everyone
    5. Finally, they provide useful tools and resources for leaders at every level to take action – not simply file the information away. And yes, some further incentivize leaders for progress made


Engagement surveys apparently CAN work. But it takes more than an annual “swing of the bat” – apparently it’s the seasonality of Engagement Surveys that can kill.


Truly committed companies recognize they are much more than singular events – they’re a trigger mechanism to make certain the conversation continues ALL YEAR.


I can’t wait to call my friend.


Of course I may have to buy him a cup of coffee first.




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