Top Six Tips to Improve Any Employee Survey...

It's very easy to run an employee survey. In my opinion, it's far too easy to run an employee survey! Something that used to require a fair degree of technical understanding, planning and investment can now be done on Survey Monkey (or a similar online survey system) in a matter of minutes at almost no direct cost. While this has made surveying far easier, more reliable and more cost effective, many organisations have become overrun by employee surveys ranging from 'great' through to 'destructive' (in fact - that would make a brilliant rating scale - please rate your manager on a scale from 'great' through to 'destructive'). Here are six reminders of ways in which you can improve any employee survey. 

1. Survey what really matters... really.

Employee surveys work best when there's a sponsor who can establish a clear purpose for the survey. Once people hear that you're conducting an employee survey, they will start making requests such as "can you just add a question or two about this" or "great - we can roll in the other survey that we conduct on this". The risk is that the survey blows out and lacks a consistent theme or purpose. Having a clear purpose and defined sponsor enables you to make decisions about what (and what not) to include in the survey. Surveys need to be short and focused. If the survey takes more than 10 minutes to complete, you'll start losing people. And it's always better to have more people complete fewer questions than vice versa.

2. Communicate communicate communicate. And when you're done with that, why not communicate again?

Now you have established a clear purpose for the survey, it's time to start letting people know about it. During the weeks leading up to the survey, it's important to communicate the purpose of the survey (i.e. why I should complete this), the level of commitment to action (i.e. what will be done with the results), and the confidentiality of responses and how this will be assured (i.e. who will see the results, how much detail they will see, and the independence or otherwise of the person conducting the survey). 

3. Survey what you're prepared and able to change.

It's important to only survey about areas that you are genuinely willing and able to change. Once you ask about an area, whether it be as important as the relationship with a manager or as pedestrian as the brand of coffee provided in the staff room, you have raised an expectation that something will change. People naturally equate 'having my say' with 'getting my way'. You need to manage this natural reaction through communication, and by only asking about areas you're willing to address and change.

4. Open ended opportunities.

Open ended or free text questions provide opportunities for people to add any other areas of interest or importance to them. You can never fully anticipate every possible area of interest to employees. Open ended questions can be used to provide helpful suggestions (e.g. What one change would have the most significant impact on your satisfaction?), or allow you to clarify your employee brand (e.g. What's the best part of working for this organisation?).  They also help ensure that people feel they've had every opportunity to express their opinion or bring their perspective. 

5. Start with the final report first.

Survey design typically starts with the proposed survey questions. It's actually better to start with the final report first. What exactly is it that we want to explore? What's the best way of presenting this data?  Starting with the final report helps you to confirm what really matters, and also confirms that your questions will give you the kind of information that you're after.

6. Do something with the results.

When you're conducting an employee survey it's critical that you intend to take action. Link initiatives back to the survey whenever you have the opportunity. Let people know how their opinions are shaping the direction of the organisation and how results are achieved. But most importantly, do something! Even if you don't have all the answers, let people know how you will be exploring potential options or gathering further data. 

Employee surveys can be a powerful vehicle for change in an organisation. Hopefully these tips will help improve your survey. Oh, and as a final point, don't forget that sometimes you just need to go and speak to people! Don't ever let a survey get in the way of genuine communication.