Employee survey data is often collected but not used, at least not in any significant way. It has been my experience with employee surveys that once I have reported my findings to senior management, rarely is anything more done with the data. They might disseminate a high level summary of the results, but there is little attempt to help employees understand and learn from the data. Not only is that a waste of time, money, and effort, but it’s a waste of an opportunity to improve performance and it erodes trust between management and employees.
We should be making raw data available to employees so that they can tell us what it means. Instead, managers keep the data to themselves as if it belongs to them. I believe employee survey data belongs to the respondents. They answer our questions with the implicit understanding that their answers will be used to make the organization more successful and a better place to work. If it’s their data, then they should be allowed to look at it, manipulate it, and interpret it.
David Zinger, in his employee-engagement blog, writes:
It seems to me that we fear being open about our data and sharing our data with the very people who create it. We can do better – we must do better – if we have an authentic desire to have our data move from a hoarded collection to a vehicle of authentic engagement.
I agree with Zinger that fear is part of the reason why raw data is not shared. Managers fear what the data will say (i.e., make the manager will look bad), what employees will say about the data, and how people outside of the organization will interpret the findings. However, I think that control is another part of the reason. Managers want to be in control and they assume that giving the raw data to employees will diminish their control over the situation. What they don’t realize is that it could have the opposite effect.
Making data more accessible to employees is in line with a plea by Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, in a Pecha Kucha-style TED presentation (see video). He argues that if people would make data widely available, other people would make sense of it in ways that would add value to that data. This is what we need to do in organizations with employee survey data. We have every reason to believe that if the raw data is available to employees, they will look at it in new and different ways which will contribute to organizational learning and employee engagement.