Positioning and Communicating
The survey communication strategy will make or break a survey effort. It should convey the survey's purpose, the executive team’s commitment, the importance of gathering employee thoughts about improving the company, initiatives that were driven by previous surveys, etc. The most successful surveys are three-way partnerships between the communications group, senior leadership and a survey team that guides and facilitates the process but does not occupy the spotlight. The executive team should be seen as driving the survey and pre-survey communications should include a direct appeal from the CEO to employees for their input and support.
Branding is important and should underscore the survey's focus on improving the enterprise. Names such as Insight, Perspectives or Viewpoint reinforce the objective of harnessing employee thoughts and ideas about making the enterprise more effective, competitive, successful and a great place to work. Names such as Pulse, Employer of Choice or Voice are not recommended. They imply that the purpose is to monitor employee vital signs, focus on conditions of employment or give employees a chance to vent their dissatisfaction.
The worst survey mistake is to conduct a survey and do nothing with the results. The second worst mistake is to do brilliant things but neither communicate those initiatives to employees nor link them back to the survey. Employees will say nothing comes from the survey and executives will feel frustrated that they took action but got no credit for doing so. Don't stumble by failing to have an effective post-survey communication strategy.
Analyzing the Data
The data analyses should first examine the key strengths and opportunities for improvement based on the pattern of survey results and those issues that are rated most favorable and unfavorable. Second, key-driver analyses should be conducted to identify the shortlist of issues that will have the greatest organizational impact. Linkage analyses can identify how the results impact business performance measures, including customer satisfaction, marketing/sales success, revenue/profitability, employee absenteeism/turnover, etc. These analyses are some of the most powerful in driving home the point with executives that engagement matters.
A survey should be anonymous. Period! The over-arching mission is to capture employee and organizational reality as accurately as possible. Employees who have doubts about their anonymity are less likely to be open and honest, resulting in distorted or overly favorable survey results. Make every effort to reassure employees that their responses are anonymous and confidential. Also be transparent about data collection, limit the number of demographic questions, explain how the data will be processed and reported, specify the minimum group size for reporting results, etc. A single stumble on any of these issues can raise employee suspicions.
It is tempting to report survey results for every possible work team, even for groups of only four or five people. But groups this small do not provide employees the “safety in numbers” protection they need to feel that the process is anonymous. Lacking a shield of anonymity, chances are they will create one by inflating their responses to the questions to avoid any possible retribution. Moreover, results based on groups this small are highly unstable. Since one person in a group of five represents 20 percent of the vote, a score of 60 percent favorable for a specific question could plummet to 40 percent or soar to 80 percent the very next day, based on just one person changing his or her mind. The quality and integrity of the information being gathered should not be compromised by anything that may leave employees feeling exposed and vulnerable.
Interpreting the Results
Numbers do not always speak for themselves. Providing insights into what the survey results say about the organization is crucial. Pulling together all of the information from a survey effort – the results of each question and key driver analyses – is the first step in helping an executive team understand what to make of the findings. But there is no substitute for the knowledge and experience that comes from having examined countless company profiles and having worked with some of the world’s most successful organizations. This is what makes all the difference in helping an executive team see beyond just the numbers to fully understand the organization’s culture and how the enterprise can be improved.
Employee participation is essential. Surveys that focus on relevant issues, are embraced by the executive team and have visible impact on the company should yield voluntary response rates of at least 70 percent. Some companies use prizes or giveaways to entice participation. These methods can trivialize the effort by implying that employees neither care nor are adult enough to participate without a material incentive. It also is ill-advised to mandate participation except in those countries where compulsory participation is an accepted part of the culture. Encourage participation through an effective communication strategy, but do not force involvement.
Our Unique Approach
A world-class survey leverages intellectual capital – the perceptions, insights and ideas of employees on how to improve the enterprise. It gives employees a chance to cast their eyes on the organization and tell their leaders ... anonymously ... about the company's greatest strengths, challenges and opportunities to be more effective, competitive and successful. It should not merely provide the company's leaders an opportunity to learn if employees are engaged, happy and committed. This extremely important distinction of keeping the primary focus on the organization has profound implications for the content and range of issues covered in the survey.
A mistake many organizations make is trying to do too much. Attempting to tackle every issue surfaced by a survey will diffuse valuable energy and resources across so many initiatives that nothing much gets done. A well-designed system should help executive teams identify the highest priority issues that demand attention. The results of the survey along with the overall action-planning process should be clearly communicated to all. This process should be managed in very close partnership with the corporate communications staff.
Every organization must decide whether it will manage its post-survey process using a centralized, decentralized or hybrid approach. Many companies prefer a “rifle” strategy, identifying a shortlist of issues to address and staying focused on only those issues. Other organizations push ownership of the process down to the lowest possible level, including letting local leaders decide what issues are most important for their part of the company and how they will address them. A hybrid approach combines the best of both. It identifies a handful of key-driver issues that impact most or all of the organization, but allows the flexibility for individual leaders to identify additional issues and formulate action plans based on the data reports for their areas. Leaders at all levels are involved in the follow-up effort in all three scenarios, the only difference being in how the organization identifies the issues on which it will focus and how it goes about addressing them.
Conducting Deep Dive Sessions
Employee deep dive sessions on specific issues revealed by the survey can clarify the results. On the surface, it would appear to be a very simple and straightforward process to pull together a group of employees, review the survey results and then discuss what should be done to address key issues. However, there are three potential risks in conducting these sessions: 1) the group may not understand the survey results they are reviewing, 2) the group may begin discussing possible solutions before agreeing on the exact nature of the problem and 3) the group may pounce on the first solution that comes to mind before considering other possibilities that could have more impact. Impose enough discipline and structure on the process to avoid these risks. The group facilitator should have sufficient knowledge to answer basic questions from the group about the survey process and results. Second, the discussion should focus on clarifying the problem. Finally, the discussion should include a brainstorming phase to generate a variety of possible solutions. The best ideas may require further evaluation to determine if they are cost-effective and make good sense from an operational and/or human resources perspective.
Designing the Survey
The best surveys are broad-scope, organization-focused, strategically-aligned, intelligence-gathering vehicles that are fully embraced by the executive team. The wrong questions will yield little information. The right questions will produce the kind of intelligence that can have significant organizational impact. In the interest of time, speed and cost, many organizations use off-the-shelf surveys. Or they design the survey in a vacuum, using only the input of the survey team while ignoring employees and senior leaders. The most effective survey design efforts begin with a handful of employee focus-groups to ensure that important issues are covered. Selected senior leaders also should be interviewed to get their views and make sure the survey will address what they want to learn from employees about the company.
Presenting to the Executive Team
The executive team presentation provides an overview of the survey results for the company as a whole, as well as for its major divisions/brands and key demographic groups. Objectivity is imperative when walking an executive team through the survey findings. Executives need someone who has no hidden agenda, can cull the most important messages from the data, can put the results in perspective relative to other organizations, will not soft-pedal even the toughest points, will identify issues having the most organizational impact and will provide the guidance necessary to decide on next steps. Most executives assimilate information quickly and are eager to take action. Thus, it is best to share survey findings in the controlled setting of an executive presentation to outline the most important messages, answer questions from the team and clarify their understanding of the results. This goes a long way towards avoiding the kind of misinterpretation and wasted energy that can occur if the results are released in an uncontrolled manner. One of the most common questions from a CEO during an executive report session is, “Have you seen this situation before?” At that critical moment, he or she is seeking every ounce of global experience, knowledge, insight and wisdom that has been brought to the table. Lykins International prides itself on being able to provide the advice and counsel that the CEO and executive team seek.