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Action Planning - A Critical Component of Successful Employee Surveys

Both extensive research and Insightlink's own experience with clients have demonstrated that, after an employee survey has been conducted, employees are much more interested in seeing action taken than they are in seeing the results of the employee survey. In fact, employee surveys have little or no value if nothing is done to make improvements at the organization.

This is why successful action planning is a critical component of successful employee surveys. Insightlink is committed to providing our clients with the tools and help they need to create effective Action Plans that are customized for their organizations specifically. All our 4Cs Employee Survey clients receive a copy of this Action Planning Workbook along with our analysis.

employee survey action planning workbook

The Steps to Successful Post Employee Survey Action Planning

As summarized in the Workbook, the key steps to take following any employee survey are to:
  1. Review your Insightlink 4Cs survey results yourself and together with senior management in order to understand the main themes from your employee survey, identify the key strengths of your organization and recognize your primary opportunities for improvement.
  2. Share a highlight summary of the results with your employees, both to give them a "heads up" that their voices have been heard and to prepare them for the action planning to follow. We believe that all employees should attend some from of Employee Survey Feedback Session, so make sure that you hold enough sessions to accommodate for different schedules, locations, etc.
  3. Name a coordinator (usually someone in HR) who is responsible for the Action Planning process, in addition to naming sponsors and/or Task Forces for each of the major issues addressed in your Insightlink 4Cs report.
  4. Set clear and specific goals for improvement at your organization. Depending on the size of your organization, you may need to set goals both at the corporate level as well as at individual department, site or functional unit level.
  5. Create an effective and workable Action Plan to achieve those goals, including establishing a concrete time frame for implementation. If your organization is large enough, your organization should develop both a Corporate plan and separate department/site/functional unit plans.
  6. Communicate the applicable Action Plans to your employees, which not only prepares them for the changes that will be taking place but also establishes accountability within the Action Planning process.
  7. Monitor and measure progress at achieving the goals in the Action Plans on a regular basis and celebrate successes and accomplishments as they occur.
  8. Conduct regular follow-up employee surveys in order to evaluate the overall success of your Action Plans and to establish additional opportunities for improvement.
Implementing each of these steps in turn will help make your action planning more manageable and effective.

Guidelines for Data Analysis

All Insightlink 4Cs reports include "quantitative" results, which are the numerical responses to all of the rating scales (such as "extremely satisfied," "very satisfied," "somewhat satisfied," "not very satisfied" or "not at all satisfied") in your employee survey, and "qualitative" or "open-ended" results, which are the written comments made by your employees on questions such as what they like best and like least about working at your organization.

Here are some simple guidelines for analyzing your 4Cs quantitative results:

  • A good starting point is to review the overall level of job satisfaction at your organization - this single score will have an impact on many of the other measures in your employee survey. Our experience with employee surveys is that organizations should target having an overall "top two box" satisfaction score of 65% because this is the point at which organizations really start seeing the benefits of an engaged and committed workforce.
  • Once you are comfortable with your overall job satisfaction, look for the general patterns and trends in your results and take note of the consistencies or ideas that come up again and again, since these can reflect either positive or negative themes within your organization (i.e., are the top 5 issues raised in the open-ended comments also corroborated in your quantitative results?)
  • Remain objective when reviewing your results and avoid analyzing them "defensively." Don't try to "explain" the negative findings away or tie them exclusively to particular circumstances at the time of the study or to events outside of your organization. Keep in mind that employees as a group tend to be very consistent rather than "changeable" in their attitudes toward their jobs. Rather, it is critical to work to understand what is driving those negative results as this understanding will open up possibilities for effective solutions.
  • Use the Insightlink industry and national norms judiciously. Remember that benchmark norms are simply "averages," not guidelines, and are useful primarily for giving context to findings. For example, if the overall job satisfaction at your organization is 62%, it is useful to also know that your industry benchmark is 55% and the national average is 56%. This means that you're doing better than many competitive organizations but that you definitely still have room for improvement.
  • Record both the strengths and the weaknesses at your organization or, if applicable, within your own department, site or functional unit. In addition to addressing the weaknesses, you also need to acknowledge, celebrate and maintain the strengths.

At Insightlink, we use "top two box" scores on many of the scale measures as a useful and effective method for summarizing substantial amounts of employee survey data. Here is a useful framework for interpreting "top two box" results:

90% or more = A highly meaningful favorable response
75% - 89% = A very meaningful favorable response
65% - 74% = A somewhat favorable response
35% - 64% = A result that requires further study and context
25% - 34% = A somewhat unfavorable response
10% - 24% = A very meaningful unfavorable response
Less than 10% = A highly meaningful unfavorable response

This framework is for guidance only. When reviewing your own Insightlink 4Cs employee survey findings, you also need to compare your results with the relevant industry benchmarks. For example, you may not be surprised to learn that overall satisfaction with pay among all employees is much lower than overall satisfaction with their jobs! This is what we mean by analysing your results in context, not in isolation.

Analysis of Qualitative/Open-Ended Responses from your Survey

While open-ended questions provide an opportunity for self-expression, the analysis of such questions can be difficult and is somewhat risky. At the same time, though, your open-ended responses can really help you understand your quantitative Insightlink 4Cs employee survey results.

When reading through the comments made by your employees, it is important to look for the main themes by paying attention to the ideas and comments that are repeated, rather than focusing or getting caught up on the outrageous "extremes" or "outliers." Also, watch for good suggestions and specific explanations for why things are they way they are, because these will help you better understand your opportunities for improvement. We also cannot stress enough to never try to guess the author of a comment or use comments for reprisals. It is essential that all employee comments are and must remain anonymous.

Effective Goal Setting

Goal setting is critical to successful action planning, since effective Action Plans cannot be established without knowing the end result you want to achieve. In deciding what goals to set for your organization and/or your own department, site or functional unit, ask yourself:

  • Which issues are in your organization's or your group's control to change?
  • What resources do you and/or your organization have available in order to resolve the issue?
  • How long will it take to correct the issue?
  • How will implementation of the proposed solution provide value to your employees?
  • Can this value be translated into an advantage for the organization as a whole (such as improved customer satisfaction or less employee turnover)?

All goals established for Action Plans should be divided into three categories:

  • Short-term "quick fixes" that can be implemented immediately.
  • Medium-term objectives that can be achieved in 2-3 months.
  • Longer-term goals that are more ambitious and likely require 6 months to a year to achieve.

Also, you should record the goals that cannot realistically be handled at the site level or cannot be tackled at this time. You need to let your employees know what these goals are and why they cannot be addressed now. Recording them will serve as a reminder that they are still outstanding and should be re-examined again in the future.

Goal Setting Prioritization

Each goal set should be analyzed via S.M.A.R.T. before it can be incorporated into an Action Plan:

  • SPECIFIC - For each goal you set, you need to answer: Who? What? Where? When? Which? Why?
  • MEASURABLE - You must set concrete criteria for measuring your progress toward the attainment of each goal.
  • ATTAINABLE/AGREED-UPON - You are unlikely to meet goals that are too far out of your reach but, at the same time, a goal needs to stretch you, your organization and/or your site so you feel you are committed to achieving it.
  • REALISTIC - All goals must represent an objective toward which you (and your organization) are both willing and able to achieve.
  • TIME DEFINED - All goals must be linked to a specific time frame or they will not be achieved.

Establishing a Target for Overall Job Satisfaction

One of the key goals of any action plan should be to increase overall job satisfaction, since the impact of higher job satisfaction extends beyond employee attitudes to affect such factors as lower employee turnover, greater operational efficiency, higher customer satisfaction and even improved financial performance.

Projecting the impact of your Action Plan(s) on overall job satisfaction needs careful consideration. Setting too low a target may diminish the potential returns, while an unrealistically high goal can lack credibility and affect confidence in the survey process.

Based on Insightlink's experience, overall job satisfaction increases an average of 7 percentage points between surveys. This result can be used as the basis for establishing your own anticipated increase. Remember, though, that the more committed you are to taking action, the more effective that action will be!

Tips for Successful Action Planning

Action Planning refers to the steps, tasks and processes involved in implementing sustained change at an organization based on employee survey results. Action planning should occur after (1) an employee survey has been conducted at an organization and (2) the employee survey data has been collected, analyzed and summarized. You need the survey results to act as the foundation for your planning.

To ensure successful Action Planning, you should:

  • Identify the key employee concerns that need attention and set goals to address these concerns. Some of the questions to ask at this stage are: What are the potential causes of the problems at your organization? What are your organization's leading opportunities for improvement? What changes can you implement immediately? What are your medium- and longer-term goals?
  • Establish a series of individual action items as the solutions to those issues and concerns. What specific action steps will you put in place to achieve each of your goals? What is your plan of action?
  • Communicate the plan to your employees. How will you let employees know what your plan is? How will you tell them that the plan came about after listening to their input? When should they expect to see some of these changes come to fruition?
  • Implement the Action Plan and institute regular follow ups. How will you put your plan in place? How will you know if it is effective? How will success be defined?

While the planning stage is important, the real key to make action planning successful is ACTION. Implementing your Action Plans is essential if you want to see improvements in the overall results at your organization.

Action Planning should be conducted in a timely manner. On the one hand, you should not react so quickly when you get your employee survey results that you cannot give careful consideration to the planning process but, at the same time, you need to avoid taking so much time as to lose momentum. Do not let your employees believe that their participation in the survey process was in vain.

Furthermore, the best organizations broadcast their progress and successes to all employees at every step of the process. Not only does this step ensure that Action Plans get implemented - because they have been made "public" - but employees can also see that the actions taken link directly back to the results of the employee survey. This approach helps to ensure that employees clearly recognize the value of participating in an employee survey.

When preparing your Action Plan(s), you need to decide the following for each action item you select:
  • Decide on the steps to take, target dates and metrics for determining success.
  • Identify potential team members who could help with the development and implementation of your action plan.
  • Obtain buy-in from other key stakeholders.
  • Manage employee expectations by setting boundaries on what can and cannot be done at your organization or within your department, site or function unit - say "no" when necessary but provide a reasonable rationale for the negative response.
  • Share your Action Plan with all employees at your organization or within your department, site or functional unit.
  • Describe why and how the solutions should improve the work environment.
  • Model the behavior you are working to improve.

Employee Focus Groups

Employee focus groups are one of the tools available to help get additional input and feedback from employees, including additional explanations for the findings (such as "What is wrong with our employee recognition program?") as well as meaningful recommendations for change (like "What would an effective recognition program include?"). Focus groups, however, should only be used for collecting information and ideas from employees and should not be used to provide information to them, because it would be unrealistic to get all of your employees into a focus group!

The primary benefits of employee focus groups are that they can help you:
  • Get additional clarity to your survey results.
  • Understand the root causes of underlying problems.
  • Hear suggestions for improvements from those who live with the key issues day-to-day.
  • Determine and prioritize the opportunities, especially in terms of deciding what changes are likely to have the most impact on employees themselves.

Preparing Action Plans

Since no individual can be responsible for all aspects of the Action Planning process, we strongly recommend recruiting individual Task Forces for each of your organization's major opportunities for improvement. Task Forces can be a very effective method for both designing and implementing Action Plans.

The goal is for Task Force members to work together as a team over a few months to:

  1. Create an Action Plan, including specific action items designed to address the key opportunities,
  2. Share the plan with all employees at either at the organization as a whole or at their department/site/functional unit,
  3. Work to implement each of the action items, including monitoring the progress on each item, and
  4. Help to assess success for each action item at the end of the process.

The anticipated time commitment from Task Force members is generally about 5 hours per month over a 3-6 month period. Ideally, look for Task Force team members who:
  • Are able to devote the necessary time to the process.
  • Possess the skills needed to assist in developing solutions, especially those with special expertise in the areas of concern.
  • Are highly creative/articulate individuals, who are more likely to come up with "out-of-the-box" solutions.
  • Are people with high energy and enthusiasm, who tend to get things done and keep others excited.
  • Have good teamwork skills.
  • Are able and willing to implement the necessary corrective actions.

Each Task Force should hold regular Action Planning meetings, which should focus on setting goals and deciding on viable action items. Some useful tools and tips for effective goal setting are:
  • Brainstorming: Encourage diverse ideas and don't censor any suggestions. Record all the ideas provided and potential solutions offered, since even the strangest suggestion may represent the "germ" of a worthwhile solution. "Good" ideas are the end product of a process of evolution that usually starts with ideas that are flawed ... often seriously. (Idea Generation)
  • Strategizing: Take the opportunity to "grow" flawed ideas by identifying the positives, including 1 or 2 advantages that are not immediately obvious. At this stage, both wishes and concerns are powerful sources for raising the ceiling on ideas. (Appraisal that Adds Value)
  • Removing Barriers: Start to tailor and transform the idea to keep the positives while eliminating the flaws. (Tailoring and Transforming)

Each Task Force needs to be responsible for producing a written Action Plan that specifically outlines what specific action items will be implement to address the goals agreed to by the Task Force. For this step, each action item needs to include the following:
  • Completion Target Date - Target dates are dependent upon your best estimate of when the action steps will be completed. They can range from almost immediate for the "quick hits" to very lengthy for more serious issues. Be careful, though, not to stretch your time lines out too far.
  • Responsibility - Every action plan should have an "owner," who is accountable for the outcomes and the final results.
  • Updating - It is essential to regularly update your Action Plans, so that you, your stakeholders and your employees can see the progress being made. Recognize, though, that circumstances may require you to change your time line because of new discoveries or unidentified barriers. The process should not become so inflexible that failing to meet deadlines prevents any action from taking place.
  • Share Best Practices - Learn from your colleagues on what has worked well or not so well with their Action Plans. Document thses so they can become part of your "institutional knowledge."

Tips for Successful Action Plan Implementation

Once Action Plans have been prepared and approved, the implementation process needs to be carefully monitored and assessed. Here are some helpful thoughts to consider when implementing Action Plans:

  • Do not simply delegate the implementation to others and disengage from the process. The key stakeholders must be involved in every step of the way.
  • Hold "update" meetings throughout the year to report on progress to your employees and to help keep the lines of communications open.
  • Show your continuous commitment to improving employee satisfaction but recognize that changes do not happen overnight. Let your employees know that you are listening to them and acting on their feedback.
  • Whenever possible, link the specific actions that are taken back to the findings of the survey.

Communicating Action Plans

Accountability is one of the most crucial ingredients when implementing Action Plans. Without accountability for implementing each Action Plan, little or no organizational change will occur. Employees often experience a sense of chaos and uncertainty when their organization begins to make changes to its current systems and practices, even when those changes are meant to improve the overall work environment. As a result, you need to develop a communications strategy in conjunction with your Action Plan and to assign someone responsibility for implementing the communications plan.

Once an Action Plan is set, the plan sponsor and/or the applicable Task Force should host meetings with the qualified employees to present and discuss the Action Plan. These meetings should focus on three simple topics:
  • The actions to be taken immediately and by whom.
  • The actions to be taken in the medium- and longer-term, and the parties responsible for these actions.
  • Employee recommendations or expectations that cannot be implemented (at least over the short term) and the reasons why the organization cannot meet these expectations at this time.

As the implementation process unfolds, it is also important to send periodic updates to employees regarding the status of each major Action Plan item. This communication will lend additional credibility to the survey process by reminding employees that the ideas, suggestions and concerns they expressed were clearly heard and are being acted upon. Just as important, this periodic communication will increase the accountability of those responsible for carrying out the Action Plan.

Encourage your employees to recognize the value of their participation in the survey process by regularly seeing both improvements and progress reports. Remember to share successes so that organization-wide communications can reinforce everyone's efforts and contributions to the process.

Measuring Results and Celebrating Successes

You can monitor and quantify the progress and success of your Action Plan by measuring employee perceptions of the changes within the organization. Typically, this is conducted through a follow-up, "post wave" employee survey, instituted between 12 and 24 months following the previous survey. At the same time, be sure to publicly acknowledge the achievement of Action Planning milestones as they occur. Regularly recognize the effort and good work that people put in to make change happen. Celebrate results not only in employee communications but also by acknowledging achievements publicly, such as hosting a pizza party with the Task Force or by finding ways to incorporate these achievements within your organization's Employee Recognition Program.

Closing the Loop

In our experience, the most effective employee survey Action Plans are those that are "home grown" rather than developed externally. Plans that are created by an organization are much more likely to be embraced by that organization. This is not to suggest, though, that organizations shouldn't look for assistance with this planning, which is the impetus behind our 4Cs Action Planning Workbook. We also conduct planning seminars or webinars to help those responsible for Action Planning become more comfortable and proficient with the guidelines and processes we recommend.

For more information about Employee Survey Action Planning or to learn more about Insightlink's 4Cs Action Planning Workbook, please call us at 866-802-8095 ext. 705 or email today.

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