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Four Ways to Improve Employee Survey Follow-Up

Each year thousands of organizations worldwide conduct engagement and other types of employee surveys, seeking feedback from their workforces on various aspects of the work environment from job satisfaction and confidence in leadership to teamwork and communication.

Many of these surveys fail to achieve their purpose because important improvement opportunities raised by employees in these surveys are overlooked or undercommunicated. Lack of follow-through is commonly cited as a major problem with employee surveys. And it is a serious problem; surveying with no postsurvey follow-through causes the survey process to lose credibility. Employees become cynical and participation levels drop when the next cycle of surveying comes around.

Here are four tips to make your post-survey action taking more effective:

1. Focus
When your survey analysis shows a number of areas in need of improvement, it's best to pace yourself and avoid taking on too many initiatives at the same time. Trying to do too much at once saps organizational resources. It also makes it more challenging to communicate what the primary areas of emphasis really are. Better to prioritize  a few key areas, do good work to address them, and communicate clearly that employee input on the survey has made a difference. Once top-priority items have been effectively addressed, attention can be turned to less critical issues.

2. Select for probability and impact
Improvement efforts can fail if the likelihood that change can realistically occur is low (e.g., trying to address an enterprisewide concern that would require significant policy changes and modifications to a legacy IT system). On the other hand, some change opportunities can be readily made but will have little impact on business issues the organization really cares about.

To prioritize, create a 3 X 3 matrix and plot potential improvement areas as high, medium, and low priority based on two criteria: probability that improvement can take place and impact on the organization. The best targets for improvement are areas that combine medium to high business impact and probability of change.

3. Avoid confusing local with enterprise issues
In situations where follow-up and action-planning efforts take place across and down into the organization, broadly communicate guidelines for selecting improvement areas to tackle. For example, some topics are best addressed at the workgroup level, while others require a policy decision from the top; other changes will need a coordinated, organizationwide approach. Guidelines can keep a department or work-group from struggling with an enterprisewide improvement target, a frustrating and low-pay-off experience.

4. Communicate and follow-up on improvement actions
Often, the bulk of an organization's energy and resources are devoted to survey design, implementation, and reporting of survey results. There is little in reserve for postsurvey action-planning and improvement. The goal of most employee surveys is to improve workplace dynamics, teamwork, internal communication or something similar, but if you merely collect data and limit communication and action-taking to a select few executives and to the HR department, managers and employees across the organization are left out. Their energy and motivation to improve the organization is untapped, plus they feel like their input was ignored so why bother?

Changes made in response to an employee survey can contribute to better organizational performance and an enhanced workplace experience. This can only happen when improvement actions are planned and implemented and communication takes place about exactly what happened as a result of the survey. Doing so sends a message to employees that their opinions do matter and that meaningful changes will follow a survey.

HR professionals can further develop their skills with these AMA seminars:
Fundamentals of Human Resources Management

Workforce Metrics and Analytics: Driving Business Results with Data

About the Author(s)

Patrick Murray is the vice president of Employee Surveys for i4cp. He works with members and other organizations to design and implement organizational effectiveness surveys and strategic organizational assessments.