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A Guide To Successful Employee Survey Research

Employee Surveys: A Key Tool For Organizational Improvement

employee feedbackEmployee surveys have evolved significantly over the past few years to become a critical component of effective HR management, regardless of what type of employee survey is used.

In the past, many organizations viewed employee surveys as simply a human-resource driven initiative that gave their employees the opportunity to "let off steam" but had little strategic value. As a result, the results were often not regarded highly enough outside of HR for any positive action to be taken. It's quite a different situation today, with employee surveys now being seen by many large and small organizations as a major business improvement tool.

These organizations understand that one of the main ways of gaining a major competitive edge is by increasing employees' capability and willingness to provide world-class customer service. But why is this the case?

These days, both consumers and business customers have a much greater range of choices than in the past and, due to the widespread use of online search and rating tools, they are becoming increasingly better informed and more discerning in their buying habits than ever before. Having access to many more sources of information than in the past translates into extremely high expectations for the products and services they use and, if they feel they are being "short changed" in any way, they'll easily take the initiative and switch their allegiance.

This reduction in consumer loyalty creates difficulties for organizations not only in retaining existing customers but also means that they must increase the time and effort spent on recruiting new customers and, not surprisingly, leads to a even greater importance on retaining both new and existing customers. Since customers and employees frequently interact with each other, this increased emphasis on customer retention also increases the need to fully understand how engaged employees are in their work and how enthusiastically they are going about their jobs. All in all, these recent market changes have boosted the need for effectively-designed employee surveys as primary tool for assessing employee attitudes and opinions.

While access to many more choices has brought greater competitiveness to the market, it has also become more difficult for organizations to differentiate themselves from their competition in terms of the range of products and services offered, the level of quality of those products and services and the prices that can be charged. As a result, the main differentiator for organizations is frequently the quality of service that the customer receives.

Think about the last time you went out to a nice restaurant for a special meal. Regardless of the quality of the food and the ambiance of the restaurant, if the service was poor, you quickly forget how good the food was and will probably not visit that restaurant again. Following on this same principle, there is a significant amount of research demonstrating that employees have the greatest single impact on quality of customer service provided. In the eyes of all customers, the employees they deal with directly are "the face" of that organization and heavily influence how they feel about the organization.

It is essential for these interactions to be positive and mutually beneficial, not just for customers, but for employees as well. When customers are happy, they spend more money with those organizations and often become much more loyal and willing to recommend them to others. This increased spending and customer commitment naturally improves the organization's overall business performance. Likewise, as customer satisfaction and business performance increase, employee satisfaction can improve because of the additional pride and motivation that come from working for a successful organization.

Employee Engagement is Vital to Organizational Success

Both our own employee survey research and numerous external studies have shown that the most successful and valuable organizations have the highest proportions of engaged, satisfied, motivated, flexible, committed and well-trained employees. These employees truly believe that they can personally contribute to the success of the organization and are fully aligned with the organization's mission, strategy, products/services and corporate goals. These organizations achieve the most value from their employees because they consider them to be "their greatest asset" and are prepared to invest in them in the same way as they invest in technology, product/brand development and customer segmentation research.

macleod report on employee engagement
Macleod Report on Employee Engagement      
A comprehensive examination of employee engagement conducted for the UK government was summarized in a report known formally as "Engaging for Success: Enhancing Performance Through Employee Engagement" and informally as "The MacLeod Report." This report concluded that it should be blindingly obvious - but is often overlooked - that how effectively employees perform determines to a large extent whether organizations succeed and that that encouraging all employees to perform at their best should be at the heart of all business strategy. They also found, though, that commitment and action to maximize employee engagement is not nearly as high as they should be in the face of increased market competition. Their final conclusion is that the only effective approach for increasing employee engagement is through deliberate and sustained culture change.

In essence, part of this culture change is to not only recognize the critical influence that employees have over the quality of customer service provided, but to also treat employees as a key stakeholder group that is just as important as customers, shareholders and other corporate "investments." This realization, in turn, leads to a critical need to fully understand the attitudes, feelings, thoughts and opinions of employees and to effectively manage the impact that any organizational change will have on them, since this is key to protecting the investment made in employees.

One approach to protecting this critical investment is to proactively use employee surveys to understand what the key motivators and dissatisfiers are for employees within an organization overall and among its major subgroups (such as divisions, business units or departments). An effectively-designed employee survey can help any organization - whether for profit or not-for-profit - learn what most excites their employees and what turns them off. Employee surveys can highlight where an organization performs well and where it falls short of employee expectations. Why is this information so important? Because of the direct impact that committed and loyal employees have on an organization's success, performance and profitability.

The Primary Benefits of Employee Surveys

A systematic program of employee surveys can give organizations a number of important benefits, including:
  • Demonstrating to employees that you are taking a genuine interest in them, their views and ideas. This benefit assumes, though, the organization is committed to taking action on the results. In our experience, conducting an employee survey and "burying" the findings is actually worse than not surveying employees at all. If no action is taken, employees can become very cynical about the exercise and doubt whether senior management is truly sincere in their intentions.

  • Identifying strengths and weaknesses in management performance and organizational policies, procedures and technology which will improve operational efficiency and reduce costs, as well as improving employee satisfaction. The anticipated outcomes from employee surveys should be clear improvement in many different aspects of organizational performance and not just be limited to HR alone.

  • Improving employee retention, which will in turn reduce the costs of recruiting and retraining replacement staff and make your company a more attractive employment proposition,

  • Improving the environment in which employees work, such as genuinely acknowledging their commitment to the organisation, helping them achieve a better balance between their work and home lives or giving them a clear path to career advancement. These kinds of changes can provide important and real "paybacks" by reducing staff absenteeism and voluntary turnover.

  • Determining key contributors and barriers to delivering excellent customer service and soliciting invaluable improvement ideas from employees who deal with customers on a daily basis. Many organizations fail to realize that their employees represent an invaluable - and inexpensive! - source of innovations that can be tapped by simply asking them how they would improve existing procedures.

  • Assessing both the positive and negative repercussions that may arise from changes in current policies or programs so that they can be managed in a proactive rather than a reactive way. In some cases, employees may resist change - such as a recent reorganization - simply because it is a change but, in many cases, organizations are not as successful as describing the changes and explaining the reasons behind them as they may think they are.

  • Helping HR Directors get key employee issues and concerns to the forefront of the organization's management agenda. Although HR typically leads the change process that results from an employee survey, senior leadership must be on board and fully committed to these changes if they are to be successful.

Now that we've summarized a bit of the history of employee surveys and examined some of the major reasons for conducting an employee survey, let's now start putting some of these ideas into practice. In the next part of this Employee Survey Guide, we're review the importance of setting clear objectives and expectations from an employee survey program.

Part 2: Employee Survey Research Objectives


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