One recommendation internal communicators hear often is to conduct employee surveys to learn their communication preferences. And it absolutely is an effective way to learn more about what employees want to hear and how they want to receive those communications.
The problem is, most articles or experts don't go too far beyond recommending a survey and perhaps a few questions to ask or avoid. But once you have the survey data, the interpretation, analysis and resulting actions can turn out to be a lot more complicated than one might think.
With that in mind, here are five tips to ensure you get the most from your survey efforts:
1. Communicate at every step of the way.
If employees only hear about your survey while you are running it, you are missing out on engagement opportunities. Your survey is intended to help you communicate better down the road, but why not use it as an effective tool to communicate better now?
Get employees involved in the entire process and make sure they understand the process steps from feedback to analysis to change management. Immediately after the survey, let people know how many people participated, thank them for it and let them know when you expect to have some results.
2. Avoid analysis paralysis, cherry-picking and lemon-dropping.
Communicators and executives can sometimes glance over survey results and draw conclusions from the most cursory of data – and then act far too quickly. Cherry-picking and lemon-dropping are examples of confirmation bias, confirming the best and worst assumptions. They're where you handpick just a few positive or negative results to make a conclusion. Statistical analysis requires careful, detailed math. What appears to be a cause or effect at first glance may not prove to be a valid conclusion when the statistics are applied.
3. Celebrate the positive; don’t just target problem areas.
Isolating or targeting divisions or programs with lower engagement only serves to further disconnect them. First, identify what is working and promote those behaviors. It will take far less effort to get everyone aboard those bandwagons than fixing what is broken and addressing weaknesses.
It's also important to create actions plans that touch every area of the organization at all levels so everyone can grow and improve together, not separately.
4. Involve employees in planning for change.
Stephen Shinnan, director of marketing and business development at TalentMap, puts it very directly: Having little or no employee participation in action planning after a survey is the path to failure. Instead, work the 80/20 rule. Develop an employee engagement steering committee that can identify a few opportunities for improvement, the top 20 percent, and set improvement goals. Then focus your efforts on achieving those goals rather than trying to do everything at once, and you should see 80 percent of the benefits of doing more.
5. Make actual change.
Doing nothing with your survey results may actually be the worst decision you could make. Employees make an effort to provide feedback, and they expect and want improvements to come after; otherwise, why even participate?
When it comes time for your next survey, it would be ideal to kick that off by being able to point to improvement and changes made as a result of the last one. As more people see the feedback loop working, the more people will participate in the virtuous loop.