Feature: getting an employee survey right

Getting an employee survey right

October 9, 2013

How do you get the best from an employee survey? Giving employees a voice is a must if you want an engaged workforce – and a staff survey is a useful tool as long as you face up to what people are saying and act on it.

Sue Kiddy asks specialists from Gallup and Sirota how IC professionals can help their organisation create effective feedback.

Surveys without action are largely useless, says Nick Starritt of Sirota.

A good, robust survey is simply the starting point for creating effective employee engagement, according to Nick, Managing Director and Partner EMEA region for Sirota, which has four decades of experience helping global organisations to improve their performance by better understanding their people.

Nick Starritt
Nick Starritt

“If, as most organisations claim, people are their most important asset, then understanding what motivates/frustrates them becomes a vital component in creating sustainable business success,” Nick said.

“Many organisations fail to make the connection between a survey and action. The challenge for IC people is to be part of ‘what happens next’.”

The IC function often plays a critical role in establishing what people think, as they are experts in knowing how to create viable communication channels for the employee voice.

To create the right environment to drive improvements it is important for IC people to forge a strong partnership with HR, Nick suggests.

“When IC functions play a major role it really helps in identifying and segmenting the internal stakeholders in a survey and establishing and getting out the right messages to each group.

“For example, executives need to understand how to strategise based on the results, middle managers need to know what the organisation wants them to do and how to enthuse people to participate, while all employees need to know why they should take the survey and that their feedback will be acted upon and help create a better place to work.”

Another benefit of having IC people closely associated with the survey, adds Nick, is that they can have a ‘journalist’ eye on what to do, whereas sometimes HR can get bogged down in more technical detail. Keeping the story simple and engaging is important, he says.

“I often think that the employee survey ought to become a third leg of the Management Information Systems (MIS) that already exist within an organisation.

“Making the survey results part of MIS can help get leader buy-in: if this information is presented to leaders/executives in a format they are already used to and which they see as important, it can be very helpful for getting them onside.”

As organisations become more adept at interpreting the results of the survey, it can evolve and change so it goes beyond being ‘just’ a survey, and becomes an established way of having a conversation with employees.

To do this effectively, it needs to become part of the day-to-day role and accountability of the line manager, according to Nick. “The level of analysis organisations are increasingly seeking through their surveys is becoming more sophisticated and the challenge for IC people is how to understand and really use the data to its best effect to drive improvements.”

Peter Flade, a Managing Partner at Gallup, which has world-renowned expertise in research and employee engagement, agrees that good internal communications is a vital component of success.

“I can think of a few organisations who have reached top-quartile performance and I’d say that for each one, internal communications has played a huge part,” said Peter.

Peter Flade
Peter Flade

“I’ve seen organisations’ approach to communications and engagement evolving significantly over the past five years. In the past, although there is nothing more engaging than the human face and voice, leaders of large companies have tended to communicate via email.

“This is less than useful – once it has gone, leaders tend to think they have done their bit: communication over. Doing it in person is much more powerful if you can – or via webinar, preferably live – as a next-best.”

Peter added: “So much of what we take from communication is emotional. Therefore it is important to create a story that resonates from the numbers and concepts that make up the survey results.

“Involving people, conveying personal messages, seems to work so much better. Internal communications professionals can ensure the leadership team goes out with one message: be consistent, keep it simple, make it personal to the leader’s style.”