Your Employees Lie to You…

Lyingsmall An entire industry exists to help you survey your employees and find out what they want and need to be productive, positive, contributing members of your organization.  Unfortunately, too often, the results of these surveys will steer you down blind alleys and hurt your engagement efforts.

People generally say what they expect their audience wants to hear.  Employees are no different.  And I’ll even go out on a limb and say that employees that are happy, engaged and loyal are most likely to tell you what you want to hear and not tell you what they really feel.  Not because they they’re afraid to say anything negative, but just that they don’t want to hurt your feelings.  Remember, they like you, they’re happy they work there and they don’t want anything to change.

That doesn’t help you.  What you really want to look for are behaviors.  What you do is much more important than what you say you do.  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t survey – just understand that there is a huge chasm between what people say and what people do.

Are you influenced?

I do a lot of work talking to employees and distribution channel partners to find out what motivates them, what gets them to work a little harder or go the extra mile to support the client I’m working for.  Many times in these discussions, the issue of incentives and recognition comes up (hey – that’s what I do.)  I’ll ask the question directly – “Does the current incentive or reward program shape your activity?”  Invariable the answer is no.  I’ll ask why it doesn’t.

They then go on about how they work to the customer need, or follow the guidelines for a specific task, or stick to job description.  They talk about their authority to make decisions and how they use their experience and training to do what they think is right.  No program has power over them!

I then ask if they ever check how others are doing in the programs they participate in – do they check the “standings” reports that most incentive and recognition programs provide?  You can see their face light up.  “You bet I do!  I want to know who is doing what and how much they are ahead of me or I’m ahead of them.”

Now let me ask you.  Do you think the program has an affect on their behavior?  If it doesn’t, why would they check their standings?  Hitting the website to see relative performance is one behavior that is a good indicator that the program is having the desired affect.

This same logic applies to questions about what motivates people.  Here’s an exercise for you (hint – there is a money-saving answer at the end of this – don’t jump ahead!)

Run a survey and ask your employees how they would want to be rewarded for their efforts.  List out a variety of options such as trophies, plaques, awards from a catalog, more money, trips, time off.  Anything you can think of.  Now here’s the money saving answer – MORE MONEY will be the number one choice.  Don’t do the survey – just believe me.   There I just saved you time and money.

The point is this, realize that answers on a survey are simply that – answers on a survey.  There is no investment on the part of the person taking the survey so they have no reason to be truthful – or even know they aren’t.

Look for the behaviors – that is the true test of what people are thinking.

FOT Background Check

Paul Hebert
Paul Hebert is the Senior Director of Solutions Architecture at Creative Group Inc and a writer, speaker and consultant. Paul focuses on influencing behaviors and driving business results through employees, channel partners and consumers. Over the course of his career, Paul has worked closely with clients to design influence, marketing, motivation, incentive, loyalty, recognition and reward programs to increase effectiveness and reduce costs. Paul is a recognized authority on incentives and performance motivation. Want to know what’s going to motivate your people to perform at their best and impact the bottom line? Want to know whether your service award program really means anything at all? Curious what psychological principles drive sales behavior? Paul’s your guy… unless you fervently bow down to Maslow. Check out his personal blog at "What Is Paul Thinking?" when you're tired of his FOT rants.


  1. William says:

    Don’t forget the basics too:
    1 – Asking for anonymous responses… When they know “who”, that influences response too (I can direct to whitepapers that discuss, if you’d like)
    2 – Make the survey bearable. I just answered a 30, multi-part question survey… just too long

  2. Paul Hebert says:

    Great points! Anonymity (say that five time fast) is a good point. The survey length is a biggie too. I’ve had many clients who want the survey to go on and on. They figure – “heck if I got them let’s at least ask this question.”
    I always take the survey myself and time it. More than about 10 minutes and you’re toast.

  3. Wally Bock says:

    Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.
    Wally Bock

  4. How to get the truth from lying employees

    Reference: Paul Hebert, Fist Full of Talent. No one is honest when there is a punishment for honesty. Ask an employee if the incentive program drives her performance and she’ll say no. Why? Because she doesn’t want to admit (or believe) that she is inf…

  5. take surveys says:

    employees definitely lie to you. Not all of them but at least half of them.
    Take Surveys Online Get Paid

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