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Using Employee Surveys Effectively To Retain Top Performers

Contrary to popular belief, a satisfied employee is not the best employee. Employers have endless tools at their disposal to make sure employees are satisfied enough to remain on the job. While this might seem like an effective way to lower turnover rates and hiring costs, how does that work for productivity?

Although many still consider this an employer’s market, very few with hiring authority want to ride the turnover rollercoaster. Like most employers, they would prefer to keep good employees content with their jobs. However, the road to satisfaction does not necessarily start with salary increases or other perks. Boosting the satisfaction levels of underperforming employees is not good for the company, and ultimately is not good for employees.

Enter the resurgence of employee surveys to determine not only what will keep employees in their current jobs, but also what can improve their productivity. Keeping employees satisfied and engaged in their work requires using every tool available. When developed and used correctly, employee surveys can give insight into how employers can retain their top performers.

Reasons to Conduct an Employee Survey

Generally, employee surveys are an effective tool for measuring employee sentiment throughout the organization. Never should management take the approach that conducting an employee survey leads to initiatives that will satisfy employees. Rather, engaging employees should come from a more thoughtful, strategic approach.

Data collected from survey responses can help management identify ways that motivate top performing employees to maintain their productivity levels. Often, the byproduct of an effective survey is satisfied employees. However, the goal of this initiative should not simply be to make employees happy.

By conducting an employee survey, HR professionals can:

  • Demonstrate an interest in issues that are important to employees
  • Identify what is causing a stressful workplace
  • Encourage employee participation in process improvements
  • Learn useful insight for ways to introduce change
  • Improve the bottom line
  • Retain the best performers

How to Use Employee Surveys Effectively

There are many dos and don’ts for conducting employee surveys. Typically, HR professionals will select the scope, questions and the delivery method based on the organization objectives. The number one reason not to conduct a survey is when leadership is not committed to acting on feedback received. Asking employees what they think and do nothing with their responses fosters skepticism and cynicism. The work atmosphere could be worse than if a survey was never conducted.

Organizations should never conduct an employee survey unless senior leadership is fully on board. The impetus for using this instrument must come from the top. Otherwise, chances for follow through on the results are not likely to be successful.

Partner with Third-Party Consulting Firm

Some organizations might find that partnering with a consulting firm is the best approach. This gives organizations an opportunity to benchmark the results with other companies within the same industry. Attempting to design and implement an employee survey in-house could result in a loss of confidentiality. With a consultant, the survey is created to the organization’s specifications. Additionally, the consultant is responsible for an agreed upon delivery method and results roll out.

Cost might be the primary reason an organization decides to keep the employee survey in-house. However, any savings will be offset by the massive internal administrative effort. The possibility of diminishing employee trust and not having credible external benchmark data can make the in-house approach an expensive venture. Partnering with a third-party consulting firm is an investment that can yield tangible results.

Have a Communication Plan of Action

Once the consulting firm summarizes the results, a representative of the firm should deliver the information to senior leadership. The consultant can discuss the results within the proper context that will help to minimize any anxiety among leadership that may take less than positive results personal. Afterwards, the consultant can provide guidance on the next steps for how/when to share results with employees.

At some point, it is imperative to communicate the overall company results in order to build transparency. Frequent, open and consistent messaging is important. Employees want to know that their feedback was received, analyzed and appropriate actions are in the pipeline. Otherwise, employee surveys lose credibility and everyone’s time was wasted.

Establish a Committee to Review Results

A cross-departmental committee should review the overall company results before they are released to all employees. Recommendations to senior leadership should come from this committee of 10 to 20 employees. Actual makeup and number depends on the size of the organization, but should include an equal mix of leaders and non-leaders. Large organizations with several locations may also establish subcommittees to review local results.

Having a diverse team reinforces the mutual commitment of using the survey results for improvements. Typically, this team should remain active for at least 12 months after the survey for ongoing guidance and monitoring of progress.

Keep it Simple

There is a tendency to overpromise and under deliver after conducting an employee survey. While management might have great intentions, succumbing to the temptation could lead to a skeptical work culture. Before making any promises, there should be a rigorous review process that includes a budget to ensure initiatives resulting from the survey are adequately funded.

A well thought out plan requires making key investments. Temper the energy of leadership with tangible initiatives and targeted results to show that any work culture changes will benefit the organization and employees. Nevertheless, recommendations and initiatives will take time to implement; more time is required to analyze whether the action plan is working as expected.

Starting out with an overly ambitious action plan can lead to organizational fatigue. Follow-up and follow through are two key elements to having a successful implementation. Employees and initially skeptical leaders will judge the success of all efforts.

Have an Employee Feedback Mechanism

There should also be a plan to solicit ongoing input from employees. With an employee feedback mechanism, employees remain engaged in the outcomes of participating in the survey. The cross-departmental committee serves as the liaison between HR and senior leadership, and employees on a regular basis. Some managers might want to add an agenda item related to the survey to department meetings for a few months.

Make Heavy Investments in Post-Survey Results

Investments in post-survey results are more important than the technology vendor or consulting firm that is used to conduct the survey. When employers concentrate more on the feedback, interpretation, action plans, communication and follow-up/follow through, an employee survey becomes an invaluable tool. Expensive bells and whistles will only mask what employers claim they want to address openly with employees.

Failure of an employee survey is not because the right data was never collected. Instead, the survey fails because results were not interpreted properly, which caused poor prioritization and action planning with decisive follow-up/follow through.

Wait 18 to 24 Months for a Second Survey

Committing to another survey too soon after the first is not good for any organization. Effective actions on feedback from the initial survey take time to implement and to know whether initiatives are working. Conducting a follow-up survey outside the 18 to 24 month window could mean that the organization did not make proper time to digest data.

Applying Best Practices for Employee Surveys

Many organizations make fundamental mistakes when conducting employee surveys. Some collect data from employees without having a plan of action to implement changes that are beneficial to the organization. Others misinterpret the results and try to satisfy employees who are discontent and underperforming. Measuring employee satisfaction is important, but it should never be the primary focus of the survey.

Using employee surveys in a meaningful way should help organizations retain top performers. Effective strategies require promoting specific actions and progresses along the way. Ultimately, this leads to tremendous rewards where initiatives focus on strengths and development areas that exist in every organization.