Planning for Employee Satisfaction Surveys
Many organisations feel the need to “survey their people” and put some questions together and hope for something useful. Unfortunatly this is where it often goes wrong – not with the intent, but the implementation.
Asking questions is easy, asking the right question and interpreting the results is quite another. In this short series of articles we continue our exploration of what it takes to run a successful employee survey.
The following outlines some of the factors that should be communicated at each stage of the process:
- Objectives of the survey, rationale for the survey and how the results will be fed back
- Use an independent, third-party agency for data collection and analysis
- Timing of the data collection
- Senior management commitment to the survey
- Importance of getting a good response rate so that all employee opinions are heard
- Importance of participation
- Methodology to be used
- Assurance that the study will protect anonymity and preserve confidentiality
During the Survey
- Reminder of the objectives and assurance that action will be taken
- Assurance that individual surveys cannot be seen
- Regular reminders and a notice of when the survey completion period will end
- How the results will be acted upon
- Update on current response rate
- Reinforce the importance of participation
- How employees can participate and what employees should do if having problems accessing or completing the survey
- Reinforce anonymity and confidentiality of the results
- Thank employees for participating and communicate how results will be shared
- Final response rate (Company wide vs. Business Units/Divisions)
- Detail on how employees should get involved in the improvement action planning process
- Local results and local improvement action planning
- Provide top-level summary results
- Reminder of the action planning process
- Highlight and recognize successful examples of action planning and progress made
- Recognize the contributions of teams and individuals to the action planning process
- Senior management endorsement and support of the final action plan/survey outcomes
- Detailed plans for the next survey
- Highlight any areas where action cannot be taken and the reasons for this
- Highlight the impact of action planning on customer service and business performance
An effective survey will enable you to see where your company stands on each of the following factors of employee engagement and satisfaction:
- Commitment to assess employee engagement,
- Culture of leadership and accountability,
- Communications by effective management and
- Compensation to measure employee perceptions of pay and benefits.
It is the period between surveys that are the most important for determining the appropriate action, if any, on each of the factors listed and for communicating the actions taken back to employees. Improvement action is the most important part of the survey process, especially since many employees generally believe that little or no improvements are generated from employee surveys. However, the perception that little action has been taken often is not true. Lack of awareness of improvements among employees, or their inability to link the improvements back to the survey, lead them to believe that nothing positive is happening. This is one of our biggest challenges.
Branding the survey and subsequent action planning activity with a name and/or a logo is another way of raising the profile. In this way, employees can link the results of improvement actions back to how they responded in the survey. A short-form name or acronym can help make your employee survey more memorable, especially if the name or acronym is used consistently throughout the survey process.
Electronic and Web-Enabled
Increasingly, organizations are starting to move towards electronic methods of surveying their employees and the most common method is hosting a web-enabled survey. This type of survey offers many benefits including:
- Cheaper and easier to administer than a paper-based survey,
- Availability of real time response rates,
- Giving each respondent a unique access password prevents employees from completing more than one survey,
- Allows employees to be routed to certain questions based on their type and/or their responses to certain questions without them knowing they are being routed,
- Ensures all respondents answer every question they are asked.
However, before deciding that this is all too good to be true and that a web-enabled survey is the best option, consideration should be given to the following questions:
- Do all employees have, or have access to, a PC that has external Internet access?
- Are all of the employees sufficiently computer literate to complete a web-enabled survey?
- Do you have field-based employees and, if so, how would they complete a web-enabled survey?
- Can your IT Department provide the necessary assistance with the survey?
- Is the culture in place for it and would it adversely affect the response rate if the survey were web-enabled?
The design of the questionnaire is important as it can have as much influence over the response rate as the method of completion.
The elements of a good questionnaire are as follows:
- Each question must directly relate to, and be measured against, the survey objectives,
- It must be easy to complete and not attempt to “trick” employees,
- Take no longer than 15-20 minutes to complete,
- Only ask questions that employees can reasonably answer,
- It should have similar questions grouped together,
- It must only include questions that will provide relevant and actionable information to the organization,
- It must strike the right balance between addressing the needs of employees and the needs of the organization,
- It must include questions that will allow employees to provide improvement ideas and suggestions in the form of free text or verbatim comments.
As part of the questionnaire design process, it can be valuable to conduct focus groups and face-to-face interviews with employees and key survey stakeholders (i.e., managers with a real interest in using the survey results) in order to obtain their feedback on the subject matter and content that should be included in the questionnaire.
At the start of each new project, an effective consultancy provider will collate data to highlight some of the key employee-related issues in the organization.
Online surveys can generally be completed in a 1-2 week timeframe, although participation should be monitored in real time so as to decide when to send reminders and thereby maximize employee participation. The shorter the time frame given the better the response, caution should be given to making deadlines too tight so as not to alienate people on leave.
A two to three week period should be allowed for survey paper-based completion, with an additional week set aside (but not advertised internally) for the inevitable late returns. This will allow time for employees who are on holiday or away from the office for another reason to participate in the survey.
Consideration should also be given to whether employees on maternity leave, sick absence and contract/agency staff should be invited to participate in the survey. It is strongly advised that these groups are included wherever possible.
If a paper-based survey is being administered, then the distribution method needs to be carefully considered so that the maximum possible response rate is achieved. There is no right or wrong answer or blanket method that must be used and the most suitable method will depend on the organization, its structure and culture.
The following sets out the possible survey distribution methods and the potential pros and cons of each:
|Internal Mailing Directly to Office Address||
|Hand Distribution by Immediate Managers||
|Organized Completion Sessions at Set Venues||
|External Mailing to Home Address||
Employees must not be expected to complete the survey on their own time (unless they specifically want and choose to, of course) as this would undermine the value and importance of the survey. Therefore, it is important to allocate them 15-20 minutes of work time for survey completion and to clearly communicate to them that they can take this time at work to fill out the survey.
The subject of offering incentives for survey completion is an interesting one.
Our experience suggests that personal incentives such as entry into a prize draw do not really boost response rates.
One incentive that does appear to make some difference is making a donation to a company-sponsored charity based on the response rate (i.e. the greater the response rate, the greater the amount of the donation).
Another to consider is a team competitions where a prize is offered to the team with the highest percentage of returns.
The key incentive
In contrast to the weak influence of incentives, research shows that employees are more likely to participate in an employee survey if they believe that the results will be acted upon. The golden rule of this type of survey is that, if you do not intend to act on the results, then do not conduct the survey in the first place.
Results Analysis and Reporting
There are many different ways of analysing, cutting and reporting results and each organization has to decide individually on the best method for their needs.
Some key things to consider are:
- Report the results to employees as quickly as you can after the end of the survey completion period. This will ensure that the momentum and interest that has already been generated will be maintained.
- Adopt a phased roll-out of survey results on a top-down basis so that the employees can absorb the results and are not overwhelmed by them. Although employees will be most interested in the results for their own team, they will also be interested in the results at an organizational level.
- People – Face-to-face feedback of results is the preferred communication method and, although this will probably not be logistically possible at an overall organizational level, it is essential for the feedback of local team results. This will allow employees to ask questions and suggest the root causes behind the results.
- Information – Do not dress bad news up as being good news and likewise do not hide bad results. Honesty is important if you want to involve employees in improvement action planning as they will quickly identify anything that is trying to be hidden. It is as important to highlight and celebrate good results and recognize the reasons for them.
- Delivery – Add interpretation to the results so that the employees can consider them in true context. This can be achieved by considering that the design of the survey can provide some invaluable interpretative analysis.
- Business Intelligence – Consider using proven statistical techniques to identify the key drivers of employee satisfaction. Using factor and regression analysis will highlight the most important areas to focus on from the survey results because these areas will bring the greatest overall benefits in improvement action planning.
- Involve – Before the results reports are produced, ensure that managers are familiar with what they will be receiving and what they need to do with them. The test of whether this has been successful is whether managers are able to interpret and identify the key strengths and weaknesses for their team within 30 minutes of receiving their report.
- Avoid the temptation to spend lots of time overanalyzing the survey results and re-cutting the data in a combination of different ways. We call this “Analysis Paralysis” because it gets in the way of focusing attention on taking improvement action. While the data from the survey will not provide you with all of the answers you need, neither will cutting it numerous additional ways. The results are intended to provide a catalyst for discussion and the best way to get behind the data is to actually discuss it with employees in teams.
IMPROVEMENT ACTION PLANNING
As noted earlier, the guiding principle of employee survey is that, if you are not prepared to act on the results, then do not conduct the survey in the first place. You have spent time and effort getting employees enthusiastic about the survey and they now have high expectations that there will be improvement activity in which they will be involved.
Although improvement action planning is the most important part of the process, it is also the activity that a number of organizations fail to deliver against. One of the main reasons for this failure is the lack of a clear and coherent process for action planning throughout the organization.
The ideal situation must be for each manager (from senior management to the localized frontline manager/supervisor) who receives a results report to work with their team to identify and prioritise three to four areas requiring improvement and then develop and implement an improvement action plan that is regularly reviewed.
Improvement Action Process
Improvement action planning should be “top down” process where the priorities for the organization are identified, communicated and acted upon at the senior management level. Then moving down to Divisional and Unit levels, local teams should identify and tackle the things that they have direct control over and escalate anything else back upwards.
Before proceeding with action planning, it is vital to ensure that:
- Employees have had time to see and digest the results,
- The results have been discussed fully by the team and the main issues identified together with their root causes,
- There is clarity about what is being tackled at higher levels,
- That all members of the team are committed to moving forward,
- Any “Quick Wins” can be identified.
Prioritising Improvement Actions
Prioritisation of improvement actions should be taken under consideration. Some organizations struggle with improvement action planning because they try to tackle far too many improvement actions at once and start spreading the valuable resources they have too thinly over too many actions.
Our recommendation is that not more than three to four improvement actions should be tackled at one time and that further actions should not be pursued until at least one of the existing actions has been fully completed.
The four key questions to address in the Action Planning Prioritisation are:
- How important is this issue to your employees?
- Is it something you have direct control over?
- Are the benefits of improving the situation worth the effort?
- Will there be a marked improvement in business performance and/or customer satisfaction?
This model that can be used in conjunction with the action planning process by simply reviewing proposed actions against each of the above questions. It is of particular importance that each of the proposed actions lead to some improvement in customer satisfaction and business performance. This reinforces the commercial and business imperatives of the survey.
Formalizing the Action Plan
Having identified the key improvement areas and prioritized the improvement actions, it is important to determine how they will be delivered. To achieve this goal, it is vitally important that this plan be fully documented and summarized so that everybody is aware of the content of the plan. This summary can then be used to review the progress of the plan as actions are taken as result of the plan.
The specific components of the plan should be as follows:
Area for improvement: What is the problem? What impact is it having on employees and customers? What is causing the problem?
What Needs to Happen: Specify the specific improvement action that is required to address the problem.
How It Will Happen: Specify the process and activities required as part of the improvement action.
Timelines: It is important to have a target date for completing the delivery of the action. This sets the focus that any target delivery date is realistic and achievable and it may be stretched if not met.
Action Owner: It is important for one person to be allocated ownership for the action. This does not necessarily mean that this person is solely responsible for the delivery of the action, but they are responsible for ensuring that the delivery does actually happen. Ownership for actions should be spread around the team so that no one person is overburdened.
Resources: Specify and determine what individual resources are required such as personnel, money, materials or support from other parts of the organization.
Improvement Targets: It is important to be able to determine whether improvement actions are having the desired effect by setting improvement targets. The survey can be used as a source for this by pulling out appropriate questions and setting targets for improving the results to these questions in the next survey. Also, keep in mind that survey data may not be your only data source for target setting and you should also consider using other HR data metrics and customer satisfaction data.
Method of Measurement: List the data sources that will provide the information needed for improvement targets.
Review Dates: Specify all of the dates when the improvement action will be reviewed.
Review of Progress: This step should be completed after each review to outline the progress made against the action.
Completion Date: The date when the action was finally completed.
Impact: Completed after the action has finally been delivered to define the impact and difference that the improvement action has made to employees, customers and the business overall.
Reviewing the Action Plan
Regular review of the action plan is perhaps the most important element of the improvement action planning process because it ensures that the momentum is being maintained, enables progress to be tracked and identifies any barriers that may exist.
The frequency of review is largely determined by the target dates specified for improvements, although we would recommend that they take place at least quarterly (maybe as part of a normal team meeting).
Reviews are intended to be a learning experience and not for repeating mistakes, so as well as understanding and celebrating any successes, it is vital to also review the parts of the plan that are not working well and determine what needs to be delivered differently.
If an improvement action is not producing the desired results and an alternative action route cannot be identified, move on and tackle something else.
If any actions have not progressed in the way that they should or as fast as they should, it is important to understand the reason for this. Rather than unnecessarily attributing blame to individuals, it is more important to identify the corrective action that is required to bring things back on track.
If any improvement actions have been completed, the review can be used to determine new improvement action areas to focus on.
The final part of the review is to re-confirm targets and timelines and check that all members of the team are happy with the progress that is being made.