Guest blogger for this post is James D. Stilwell.
You name it, somebody is trying to measure it: employee satisfaction, employee engagement, organizational pulse, leadership, attitudes toward a recent change, etc. The problem is that organizations are collecting a great deal of data but not applying it in ways that result in substantive change. An important reason for this is that organizations frequently miss critical steps in the learning process. The typical scenario involves a few leaders identifying a problem and then deciding that gathering data would be a good thing to do by using an old survey instrument or hiring a consultant to create a new questionnaire, sending it to all of the employees, looking at some resulting data, often in the form of charts and graphs, and then either continuing with business as usual or making changes that they deem warranted by the survey results. Further complicating the process is that, In all likelihood, analysis of the data was influenced by a leader’s own expectations and understanding of the problem that generated the survey in the first place. Other than a momentary snapshot of attitudes, the organization has likely learned little and probably has succeeded in alienating employees.
Missing from the process are some crucial steps. First of all, it works best if senior leadership communicates a compelling need for the survey in advance of sending questionnaires to all or a sample of employees. As a part of this communication, leaders should clearly define the entire data gathering and feedback process emphasizing the role of employees. Secondly, the findings from the survey would benefit from validation by key stakeholders – namely those who have provided the survey responses. The data from a survey can always be interpreted in many different ways given organizational circumstances, response rates, respondent demographics, the wording of questions and design of the survey. Thirdly, discussing the findings with groups throughout the organization and at all levels for their interpretation and recommendations leads to a deeper understanding, greater alignment, and vastly better solutions. A fourth important step in the process is for leaders to communicate back to the entire organization what it is that will be done as a result of the insights gained through the survey and all of the group discussions. This communication should clearly define what leaders know now that they didn't know before? What will be changed that will improve the work environment and increase organizational success? Who will be responsible and when will it happen? How will follow-up happen to ensure the success of the changes?
Without these crucial steps, an employee survey is a waste of time and resources. In fact, it is better to never have surveyed at all. Expectations for change are heightened when employees are asked questions about their organizations. The first few times that they fill out a survey they might be sincere in their feedback, but if they begin to believe that management is not paying attention and not listening, they will provide inauthentic responses to questions or cease participating altogether.