To Survey or Not to Survey, That is the Question…

Leanne Buehler, Ph.D., Principal Science and Innovation AdvisorEmployee EngagementLeave a Comment

To survey, or not to survey; that seems to be the question every year as budgets are slashed and organizations are looking for ways to save money and drive bottom line growth.

I always find this dilemma typically exists only in those organizations where the voice of the employee is not equal to the voice of the customer. A customer focused organization never struggles with the question, “Do we ask our customers how we are doing this year”? It sounds absurd to even think of taking a year off from asking our customers how we are doing. In that year—well actually 2, our competitors are most likely not taking a sabbatical from understanding how to best serve customers and are taking our market share.

Waiting around to get key employee feedback sends the message that it is a low priority, not because employers don’t care, but many just don’t know how to integrate survey results into business results. So they never take any meaningful action from the survey and employees come to realize that nothing will be done with the results. Again, if an organization paid a marketing firm thousands of dollars to understand the customer demographics, needs, wants, desires and then threw the research in the drawer that would sound absurd. No way—they study and analyze it to death. Why? Because not listening to feedback about the customer experience can lead to the graveyard of many “great” ideas that died when the company knew more than the buyer—think DeLorean, Colgate frozen meals, Smith and Wesson Mountain Bikes, Sony Betamax and New Coke…all failures because they didn’t listen to customers.

Our best practice clients never hesitate to ask employees about their workplace experience and how to improve the effectiveness and dynamic of the work environment. They understand there is a direct correlation between the employees experience (specifically are they valued) and the level and quality of service customers receive. After 19 years of studying employee engagement we can definitely demonstrate the linkage between highly engaged employees and mission outcomes.

So why do we struggle with administering our employee surveys regularly? The organizations that skip survey rounds typically do not see the employee survey as a form of business intelligence. They see it as a “check up” and if it isn’t too bad, then why do it every year? Organizations driven by intelligence and customer feedback get that the employee survey isn’t a “one off.” High performing organizations see engagement as integral to understanding how the work environment can drive greater effectiveness and efficiency, lower the cost of turnover, and stimulate more innovation and market penetration.

Our highest performing clients never work on survey action items in a vacuum as a part of an HR exercise. The results of the survey are looked at in the context of the strategic plan, customer feedback, and other key metrics of health and growth. After one of our clients struggled with quality issues in the field and suffered the cost of returns and rework, we helped them engineer an employee survey to get at the heart of the work environment. What surfaced post employee survey was a significant gap between letting the front line teams solve quality issues and senior leaders bringing in “experts” who were much too far away from the quality problem to solve it. Post survey, the senior executives listened to the feedback and worked on process improvements to ensure greater involvement in root cause analysis from a cross section of employee teams. The result: great quality, fewer returns, more engaged workforce.

Some clients who quit surveying are just tired of the same questions, so they throw away the whole process. We agree—there isn’t a perfect set of questions. Each client has a unique culture and a unique mission, so why should everyone use the same question set? Our approach is to focus on your strategy, your mission and the roadblocks to your success. Then let us craft a scientific and reliable survey to help you accomplish your mission. This will involve customer AND employee feedback.

If you are suffering from the survey blues, you might just need to reinvigorate your survey to ask meaningful questions that are the most relevant to your success. In our opinion, don’t waste time asking about trivial matters, but find out what drives your employee engagement and then listen and act and watch how delighted your customers and employees become.

Written by Steve Grant, President & CEO, Newmeasures