The Secret to a Successful Pulse Survey

Callie RushtonPulse SurveysLeave a Comment

Over the last few years, it’s become trendy for organizations to use “pulse” surveys to gather employee feedback.

In contrast to the typical annual employee survey method that asks 30 to 40 questions to gain insight on every dimension that impacts engagement—perceptions of senior leadership, feelings of intradepartmental teamwork, the adequacy of resources and information to support daily work—a pulse methodology is designed to be short (5 – 10 survey items, less than five minutes to complete) and frequently administered (say every 2 – 6 months).

The appeal of the pulse survey approach is obvious. We live in a society that has come to expect instant gratification, whether it’s through Facebook likes, Amazon Prime deliveries, or Chipotle burritos made to order in less than three minutes. So, the argument goes, people are more likely to fill out surveys that takes them to the “Congratulations, you’re all done!” page as fast as possible. A pulse survey is highly compatible with the technology of the modern age too: it’s a lot easier to tap out a response to five items on a phone or tablet than it is to scroll through five pages of Likert scales.

They’re also appealing to those in HR tasked with developing and implementing the survey. For those with a full plate, a quick pulse survey is an easy and efficient way to get a high level view of how the organization is doing and how employees feel about certain topics. And because pulse surveys can be administered more frequently, it allows senior leaders to stay abreast of the latest employee sentiments.

Seems like a win-win, right?

Well, it can be. But just because pulse surveys are shorter and more accessible doesn’t make them “easier.” There is certainly a wrong way to do pulse surveys, and we see it often at Newmeasures. Here are two common pitfalls of pulse surveys.

1) There’s no “why”

Monitoring employee sentiment with a pulse survey is pretty pointless if you’re doing it because you read a cool article about them on LinkedIn and decide to charge ahead with one of your own. HR managers think, “This quick tool will help us totally curb our turnover and get our culture back on track.”

But if you haven’t spent time thinking about why you need this feedback—and why now is the right time to seek it—you probably don’t have a clear plan of how you’re going to use it once it’s received. We often see organizations overemphasize survey participation and forget about actually following up on the data that’s collected. When we are only after people to take the survey without demonstrating that we really care what people think, people start to just click through the survey so they can say they did it, without taking the time to respond thoughtfully and honestly. If people begin to feel like there’s no point to the survey since nothing ever happens, the process quickly loses its integrity and becomes more about going through the motions and less about gleaning insight from collecting meaningful feedback.

2) There’s no action

As the previous point indicates, it’s often difficult to take action on feedback if you haven’t taken the time to clarify your intentions for gathering that feedback in the first place. But inaction may also be a product of growing pains. In an organization that is experiencing major growth or restructuring, the leadership may have a genuine desire to get a read on employee perceptions of the change, but may not really have the bandwidth to address the data that comes in. Employees can quickly become disgruntled and frustrated when they don’t see change following a survey, even if leaders had the best intentions in collecting their feedback.

Unfortunately, doing nothing with pulse survey feedback may also be the result of ineffective HR practices. Most managers these days recognize that employees value feeling heard, and a pulse survey might seem like a simple way to tick that box. But as we’ve said, employees definitely take notice when strategic priorities or new policies don’t seem to reflect the sentiments they took the time to express through the survey. These surveys shouldn’t be a replacement for conversation; rather, they should be a catalyst for more productive, constructive dialogue.

Now that we’ve identified what not to do, here are two best practices we’ve found to get the most value out of your pulse survey.

1) A complement, not a replacement

One of the most effective ways to incorporate a pulse survey into your HR strategy is to use it as a complement to an annual engagement survey. Suppose your organization discovers from its engagement survey that employees do not feel they have good work-life balance. You may wish to know more about why they feel that way so that you can determine the appropriate response. A simple pulse survey designed to dive deep into the issue may illuminate that people want more flexibility with their work schedule or options for working remote a few days a week. The way you respond to this need is very different from what you would do if you learned that employees feel like they need better technology to support their ability to work remotely. Pulse surveys can help translate broad themes to specific calls to action.

Pulse surveys can also serve as a complement to a traditional engagement survey by helping leaders determine if efforts to address a certain problem illuminated by the annual survey are paying off. You may think you’ve come up with a great solution, but it’s generally a good idea to check in with those directly affected to see if it’s working for them.

2) A monitor of key events

Another way to conduct a powerful pulse survey is to connect it with key events happening at the company. Maybe there’s been an acquisition of new facilities that has changed the way distribution works at a paper company. Or perhaps a private school board has decided to bring in a business-minded headmistress to improve the school’s facilities and marketing practices in order to attract new families. Change can take many forms, but across the board, it’s a good idea check in with employees to ensure they understand why the change was made, what it will mean for their work, and how they contribute to the decision-making process to ensure the change has a positive effect.

Conducting a pulse survey in a thoughtful way can be a useful tool for measuring employee engagement—just be sure it is followed up with action and communication!

Interested in learning more about effective pulse surveys? Contact Newmeasures.