Employee Surveys – from once a year to a continuous process.

Employee Surveys – from once a year to a continuous process
You get ten employees in a room, and you get fifteen opinions. That might be the case, however, many companies use once a year employee surveys, mainly to help the management in its decision making to check the current situation in the organization. Then create a blueprint to improve the overall work climate in and across the organization both in range and depth. As stated by John H. McConnell, (2003) “Management’s primary objective for a survey is usually: To discover employee perceptions regarding satisfaction with conditions of employment.”

Paper-Pencil Surveys was the most commonly used format for many years. Then we had Interactive Telephone Surveys - using touch-tone response. These days we see Email Surveys, Web-based Surveys, and even Mobile App used for the quick response. No doubt, that using survey is a pragmatic way to handle issues by taking decisions based on facts & data rather than gut feel. As rightly pointed out by Sharkey & Eccher (2011), when we base our decision on data we take the guesswork out of what really matters especially for creating positive business results. More so, when, an organization can successfully use employee surveys to create a better, more engaged workplace that leads to improved retention, recognition, and results.

Over the years, we have seen developments in the field of technology, which has influenced the day-to-day life of employees and HR processes within organizations. The arrival of ‘People Analytics' has brought different methods and processes, which are unconventional. However, we cannot avoid them if we really want to be competitive in the market. The main reason for their growing importance, as suggested by Josh Bersin is that "these Cloud-based HR systems leverage modern user experiences, rich employee profiles, and are made to support employees, not just HR.” In fact, the important factor that makes them more appealing to the employees is their ‘ease of use’.

As we have moved from ‘click’ to ‘tap’ in the recent past most of the trends predict that all HR systems will be moving from ‘Systems’ to ‘Apps’ in the near future. In fact, Josh Bersin argues that "this new digital focus for HR is not simply about technology; it changes the way we serve and support employees. Digital is the world our employees live in." He further says, "One of the biggest new trends in business is creating an open world for feedback, something that further breaks down the barriers between employees and their managers." 

As suggested in the Deloitte report [“Global Human Capital Trends 2015”]  the annual employee surveys are becoming thing of the past, and new tools are arriving in the market for real-time measurement of employee feedback and sentiments. These tools help organizations to monitor employee sentiment with the same level of rigor and speed as they measure customer sentiments. The report on “Predictions for 2016” [pdf] by Josh Bersin, suggest that following are the type of tools available to HR professionals for this purpose:
  • Pulse Survey Tools
  • Feedback Apps
  • Performance Feedback Systems
  • Social Recognition tools
Today we have following vendors providing these tools CultureAmpCultureIQ,GlintKanjoya, and TinyPulse.  Josh says that in 2016, we will see a rapid growth in this marketplace with most companies experimenting and implementing these new feedback systems.

As argued by Silzer and Dowell, “when talent management decisions are based on data collected on past events, the results capture the past, not the future.” This has created a need to capture and analyze data in real time and take decisions immediately rather than waiting for months for completing the survey and getting the results. Armen Berjikly, (CEO & Founder, Kanjoya) says that they are using ‘Natural language processing’ (NLP) coupled with ‘Machine Learning’ embedded in their software. (NLP help us quickly to make sense of large amounts of open-ended feedback and with machine learning, we get ‘retention prediction’ and sentiment analysis that can tell us who is a flight risk among other analysis.)

These tools are available with FEATURES like:
  • Simple, Easy to use, frequent pulsing - Weekly, Monthly or Quarterly Survey.
  • Built-in questions and templates based on proven drivers of engagement.
  • We can create custom surveys to collect feedback about initiatives and single-question pulse surveys to get a continuous feel for employee sentiment.
  • Custom pulses to find out more insights from onboarding to exit.
  • All surveys are fully mobile and tablet compatible, so our traveling employees can take the survey on the go.
  • Pulse surveys are completely confidential to encourage unfiltered employee feedback.
  • Smart alerts, insights, and a reminder to employees.
  • Using ‘anonymous-messaging-tool’, we can probe deeper for additional information.
  • Filter, group, tag, and bookmark comments for quick reference and easy sharing.

  • Automatically analyze employee data and deliver results in real time using interactive dashboards.
  • Easily monitor the overall health of our organization.
  • Visualize large data sets and quickly identify trends and problem areas. Create visualizations with engagement heat maps.
  • Slice and dice results by any combination of employee attribute, demographics in real time
  • ‘Executive reports’ and ‘Line Manager Dashboards’ with robust options, for permission to access reports for different levels of management.
  • Share results within the platform or export reports to the spreadsheet, PDF, or presentation slides for better communication and collaboration.
  • Option to use customized benchmarking.

BENEFITS of using these tools:

  • With few questions, short and regular surveys are better for both employees and employers.
  • The limited number of questions allows employees to be more thoughtful and leads to higher response rates.
  • Fewer questions prevent employer analysis: they can more easily absorb feedback and pinpoint trouble areas.
  • Effortlessly measures the key drivers of employee engagement and automatically deliver actionable insights in real time so leaders and managers can quickly go ahead and take action to remove the hurdle.
  • With specific insights, we know where to focus our efforts, time, and money.
  • It helps organizations more frequently measure the key drivers of employee engagement.
  • Instead of taking the survey during the festive season, if we take surveys at a regular interval, we would get more consistent and accurate results.
  • When a particular issue crops up in repetitive surveys management would pay more attention to it, which otherwise goes unnoticed.
  • We can create more effective employee surveys that lead to improved employee retention, morale, and performance.
  • We can prominently display employee survey scores on the company portal for attracting potential candidates as part of the employment branding initiative.
  • According to the Journal of Business Ethics research, employees who felt listened to were better team players and provided input more frequently. 
  • TinyPulse research suggests that there is a high correlation between 'employees self-reported happiness' and 'management transparency'.
  • Warren Bennis (2005) suggest that the top 27 companies, which considered ‘most transparent’, beat the S&P 500 by 11.3 percent.
  • With the help of surveys, we can show that we are a flexible and transparent organization that values employee sentiment.
  • Benchmark our own performance over a period and track the trends, and compare them with other organizations.


I think the pulse survey tools can supplement the existing annual surveys for effectively monitoring satisfaction, engagement on a regular basis. Both types of surveys have their own merits and demerits. Hence, we need to take an appropriate decision based on the communication culture, beliefs, values, and norms prevailing within the organization. We cannot compare both types since earlier we used to ask more questions and analyze more data which was the main reason for the time taken for getting results. However, now using these tools we ask fewer questions and get instant results.

The instrument / form is the most important part of the survey process and hence, its validity and reliability is the cornerstone of success for any survey initiative. We have to be cautious while choosing survey questions since the success of survey process depends on the accuracy of these questions. Again the number of question covered in each Pulse survey is limited (4-7), (I have seen opinion surveys with 159 questions), and hence our analysis would be restricted to very few variables. That would also limit the dimensions / elements covered in the particular survey.  

As correctly stated by W. Edwards Deming "You can't manage what you can't measure." When we have a limited number of questions available, we might be calculating few variables and dimensions. That may not be enough for carrying out in-depth analysis for finding out correlation and causation among different variables. Although there is ‘anonymous-messaging-tool' available to probe deeper for additional information, I doubt how far they assist compared to the traditional use of a focus group. 

Bersin research shows that two-thirds of our employees are ‘overwhelmed' and hence they may not be interested in responding to surveys at regular intervals. In any case, the response rate is always an issue for many organizations, more so, where the top management does not take an active interest in the HR initiatives. Hence, it is important to involve top management in the survey process for getting maximum output from our initiative. 

As per HR Zone report, the initiatives that are supported by company leaders are twice more successful than those which are not introduced by them. However, they suggest that the main reason for not securing buy-in is the inability of HR professionals to explain the link between improving employee engagement and achievement of the organizational objectives. Hence, we have to effectively communicate the benefits to them and take their buy-in to conduct the survey or, alternatively involve them by conveying results and taking actions based on their feedback. 

Plan for taking action on issues expressed by employees still remains the main concern. After completion of the survey process, no one takes action on the issues raised by employees. If we want to see visible improvements in our organization we need to take concrete actions on the concerns raised by employees. Most important part of all is to communicate effectively about those initiatives to the employees. 

The following quote from Peter Drucker covers the point very well. "Employees will only complain or make suggestions three times on the average without a response. After that, they conclude that if they don't keep quiet they will be thought to be troublemakers or that management doesn't care." 

BlessingWhite found that nearly a third of all employees become disengaged when employers ask for feedback but do nothing about it. As argued by Turner & Kalman, “The availability of big data per se will not be enough and it is the application of insight to the data that will make the difference.” In fact, Josh Bersin says that "People do not want to look at dashboards; they want their computers to "tell them" or "recommend" what to do—based on data." He further says, “You need to figure out what to do with the results you find—and this may be the hardest part of all.” 

I think culture prevailing within the organization with respect to communication practices is responsible for a frank and straight response from employees. 

We must circulate the report among employees upon completion of the survey process. The message given to employees is that we are going to use the information gathered during the survey to improve work climate. This way we can involve everyone in the process of implementing solutions while keeping them informed about the developments. In fact, Shane McCauley (Director, People Systems and analytics, Twitter) says that they do share survey responses with everyone to make sure each and every member of their team has a vested interest in fostering a positive, collaborative culture. 


The positive news is that HR professional’s image is improving and HR is becoming more important to the business. I think it is because we are now communicating with them in their language. As stated by Josh Bersin, “HR teams are now becoming very data-driven and the world of analytics is sweeping forward.” He further says, "Analytics is picking up steam, and the role of HR business partners is truly becoming more strategic and embedded in the business.” Employment surveys are going to become crucial for engaging employees and improving work climate and culture of the organization.  

The actual work begins only after completion of the survey initiatives. Merely completing the survey is not enough and we have to take immediate actions on the issues raised by employees and communicate them effectively. “Organizations need more than data. They need insight about their people to be competitive in world markets. This is because people are often the only source of competitive advantage.” - Turner & Kalman. 

The HR Professionals have to decide which tools are more suitable for their organization and then use them for delivering result and achieve their strategic objectives. As Jim Collins put it, “Preserve the Core - Stimulate Progress.” The external environment will always keep on changing and we have to adapt and change accordingly, however, our core ideology must remain intact. 

Finally, Josh Bersin says, “Real-time feedback, culture assessment tools, and other ways to capture and measure employee feedback will become a major new discipline within HR and business.”


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