5 Tips for Building Your Employee Survey the Right Way

Many organi­zations are still not articulating the potential opportunity to drive business outcomes via the employee survey and instead continue to only focus on ill-defined outcomes such as engagement. By making the employee survey process business-focused, HR leaders can better demonstrate the value of surveying employees and ensure the sustainability of survey initiatives. The key steps in the business-focused approach are as follows. And for even more info on how to build employee surveys — from start to finish — click here for our newly published ultimate employee survey guide, which is packed full of valuable resources.

1. Use a Valid, Reliable Survey Instrument

Rather than go into a lengthy discussion about assessing the reliability and valid­ity of your survey instrument — we will just hit the high notes. Assessing the reli­ability of the survey is vital, and many statistical approaches to doing this are available, but the most effective is called “internal reliability.” This assessment is measured with “coefficient alpha,” which is represented on a scale from 0 to 1.0. The key piece of information you need to know (or have your vendor show you) is that for your entire survey, and for the survey subcategories that you are measuring, the coefficient alpha must be at least 0.70. A coefficient alpha of 0.70 helps ensure that your results are reli­able (i.e., useful for take-away assessment). Validity pertains directly to the question, “Do the items on my survey predict anything meaningful to my business?” To assess validity, you can use statistics to connect the survey subcategories or items to a rel­evant business outcome. If using an external vendor, require that it provide you with the validity studies for its survey instrument. Many significant decisions will be made using the survey data, so the survey tool you use must be both reliable and valid.

2. Conduct the Survey Annually

In our experience, conducting the survey annually is the optimum frequency to maximize effectiveness. Attitudes take time to change, and initiatives take time to build, launch, and take hold, so surveying more frequently than every 12 months can place tremendous stress on the organization. Quite frankly, you will end up spending more time administering surveys than taking action on the results. However, shorter “pulse” surveys or a six-month survey cycle can be appropriate in certain situations.

3. Communicate the Survey’s Purpose

This seems like a simple step, but do not underestimate its value. Senior leaders must actively communicate why the survey and the process are relevant to the organization and its employees. Com­munication cannot simply be “lip service.” We recommend that the most senior leader, such as the CEO or president, communicate the launch of the survey. All employees need to understand that their feedback is valued and that leadership is committed to taking action based on their feedback.

4. Ensure the Survey Results/Goals Are Tracked on the Organization’s Balanced Scorecard

To get the focus of all leaders across the organization, the employee survey’s quantitative outcome score (for example, level of commitment or satisfaction) should be tracked on the balanced scorecard. This approach has both pros and cons to consider. The arguments in favor of adding survey results to the balanced scorecard follow:

  • Leaders in the organization will focus on the treatment of people, and it will be on their agenda every day of the week.
  • Employees will realize that creating a strong work environment is an organi­zational priority and will take the annual survey and follow-up actions more seriously.

The argument opposing inclusion on the balanced scorecard is that the orga­nization can become too focused on the acceptable “number.” This emphasis can drive inappropriate behavior such as bribing employees with survey doughnuts and survey pizza, threatening employees with consequences if scores are not high in the department, or even attempting to keep less-than-happy employees from participat­ing in the survey. We have seen it all, but these few arguments do not overcome the need for employee attitudes to be measured and tracked by the organization. Ap­plied research we have conducted shows consistently that organizations that include their survey scores on a scorecard and that hold people accountable for those results have lower turnover and higher scores in the long run.

5. Link the Survey Items to Critical Business Outcomes and/or Important Attitudes

To make your employee survey business-focused and a strategic tool vs. an engagement barometer, link the data you collect to desirable business results (for example, employee or workgroup performance and turnover). The key questions to ask at each step in the Business Partner Roadmap™ are listed below:

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This process is straightforward, and it quickly allows you to align the results of the employee survey with business outcomes and demonstrate an impact on the or­ganization’s bottom line (use employee surveys to transform your company and become the company’s HR all-star!). This process is very time-sensitive, as organizations need to turn the survey data into meaningful action within a few weeks to two months (at a maximum) of the survey closing. The first three steps of this six-step process need to happen before the survey is even launched. Pulling together key stakeholder and key data is a time- and labor-intensive process and must be ready to go when the survey data are available. Step 4 (Analyze) should only take one to two weeks at a maximum, with communication of the analysis happening shortly thereafter. Step 5 (Building Programs) should be based purely on the analysis of the data and be completed within one to two months of the analysis (depending on the size and complexity of the pro­gram and initiatives needed).

Don't forget to check out our new employee survey guide which covers the process from start to finish, with valuable tips and resources which can be found here.