Survey Says: It’s All About the Follow-up

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 26, 2020

By Cathy Swody, Ph.D.

All too often, organizations launch impressively comprehensive employee surveys to show their care and concern for their people, then proceed to ignore the results.

“We already asked employees what they think…Isn’t that enough?”

Actually, it’s not. What happens after the survey is just as important, if not more important, than conducting the survey in the first place. Effective survey follow-up instills real confidence in the organization’s future. For example, my company, LRI has found that employees who believe that actions are being taken in response to an employee survey are nearly five times more confident that their business is changing for the better.

As a leader you, too, benefit from following-up on survey results. When employees believe that actions are being taken in response to an employee survey, they are 26% more likely to view their manager as an effective leader.

Sharing high-level survey results and improvement efforts help employees feel confident that leadership is listening to them and values their input.  Follow-up also role shows commitment to continuous improvement and helps you influence how your employees manage change.

What to Say: Five Key Talking Points for Leaders

1. Why we survey employees

• Thank all employees providing feedback.
• Reinforce why the survey is important to your organization (i.e., point out alignment with business needs).
• Share what you value in employee feedback as a leader (i.e., why do you take the survey seriously?).

2.  What we heard from you, the employee

• Emphasize the confidentiality of the survey process—the results reflect trends and themes.
• Share what you were pleased to see in the feedback (i.e., positive findings or strengths).
• share 2–3 high-level areas that are in need of improvement.

3. Here’s what we decided to take action on

• Reiterate your commitment to improving the work environment and sustaining those improvements over time.
• Identify the top priorities you’re focusing on (i.e., “While we cannot address everything, we did act on the most important issues”).
• “Link and label” actions by pointing back to the survey results and naming efforts in a way that connects to survey question wording. This helps people see how the survey results are being used and increases your likelihood of “getting credit” for efforts. 

4. Here’s what we actually did and here’s what we plan to do next

• Without using jargon, speak plainly about the decisions and actions in response to the feedback. Clarify what happened—or what can be expected to happen—as a result of those actions.
• Make it clear why employees should care about these decisions and actions.
• Be candid about progress in the areas of improvement; be honest about challenges and action steps that are taking longer than expected. 
• Identify next steps and their timeline.

5. We want to keep this conversation going. Here’s how you, the employee, can help

• Encourage employees to “own” the results. Give credit for actions that they have taken and challenge them to do more.
• Express your continued openness to feedback and input from employees.

What to Say Next: Talking Points When Preparing for Follow-up Surveys

• Tell employees why you’re conducting another survey.
• Reiterate key messages from the last survey and steps your group took to understand these results.
• Update employees on your group’s actions since the last survey. Be honest about what has been accomplished and what will be done in the future. Link actions back to the results of previous survey(s).
• Emphasize your commitment to the survey process and provide details about the next survey.

Survey Follow-up Dos and Don’ts

When it comes to survey follow-up, the old adage is true “it’s not just what you say, but how you say it.”  Here are LRI’s time-tested dos and don’ts for hitting the right note:

—Do show your gratitude for the feedback and suggestions.
—Do reassure employees that their survey responses are confidential.
—Do make it clear that you’re committed to improvement. 
—Do stay focused on top strengths, the most critical areas to improve, and specific next steps.
—Do ask for initial reactions as well as ongoing feedback and support.
—Don’t speak defensively or try to explain away results.
—Don’t share reports. Talk about findings, not details.
—Don’t overly focus on weaknesses. Help employees see what’s great about the group.
—Don’t over-commit.
—Don’t complain, use humor, be sarcastic, or act thrilled. 
—Finally, Don’t “shoot the messenger.”

Here’s the bottom-line: A survey is an informative snapshot of what’s working and what’s not working. If you let employees know that you value their feedback and are willing to act on it, your group will perform better and your leadership position will be strengthened.

About the Author(s)

Cathy Swody, Ph.D. is a leadership and talent development consultant at Leadership Research Institute ( She partners with clients to enhance leadership credibility and employee engagement to support sustainable growth. Contact her at [email protected]