Employee Surveys – Good Tool or Corporate Noise? Depends on the Questions and Follow Up…

Kris Dunn Culture, Engagement and Satisfaction, Kris Dunn

In my HR career, I’ve been in organizations that did an employee survey every year, and in organizations that never used the traditional employee survey.  Along the way, I’ve heard compelling arguments on both sides of the divide.  I’ve also been in great companies/units that never surveyed employees.

The pro-survey crowd is usually focused on the assumption “we need to ask employees what they thinkEmployee_survey_2 and how they feel”.  Hard to argue with that on the surface.  The logic is strong and as American as apple pie, baseball and Toyota Chevrolet.

It’s the factions of the pro-survey crowd that do a survey because “it is the right thing to do” that hurt the cause.  Too often, the item writing for the survey is lacking, with the focus on breakrooms, parking, and perks employees would find valuable if the company could afford them.  Additionally, the employee survey as an “event of the month” without rigorous follow-up and action plans on the manager level, provides an easy target for those who don’t see the value.  After all, you have to have the stomach for the journey and be willful and transparent in your follow-up, if you are going to ask employees what they think via a survey.

Jack Welch (formerly of GE and now riffing at Business Week) recently listed four issues he thinks must be included if you decide to do an employee survey.  Among the areas Jack deems critical are the following:

1.  Do employees truly buy into the company mission?

2.  Do managers at the company “walk the walk” related to organizational values?

3.  Do employees feel the company is performing in areas like technology, innovation and other areas that drive customer acquisition, satisfaction and retention?

4.  Does the company create a culture where top performers are rewarded and valued?

That’s a pretty good list, even if it doesn’t include whether animal crackers are offered in the snack machines.  To hear more, download the podcast to your iPod here.

I’ll end this post with this.  Regardless if you are a Fortune 500 or a 20-person startup, surveys can be a good tool,  But don’t do a survey until you are positive you are ready to take the time to probe as an organization.  There are things worse than not asking – including letting the data sit on the shelf after you’ve asked your talent what they think….