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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Employee Surveys: Don't Bury Your Head in The Sand

Many business professionals who use online surveys focus their efforts on customers or prospects, and while that's certainly a very valuable type of research there's an interesting opportunity that’s often overlooked. Why not survey the organization's employees as well?  Employees can be a great source of insight, and not just because of their insider view. Just as we want our customers to be loyal and enthusiastic about our company, we want that same energy from our employees. What better way to engender loyalty than to show them we’re listening to their ideas, wants and concerns, and applying what we learn in a meaningful way?

The Data:
What sort of information might we find out by surveying employees? The possibilities are boundless! Employee surveys can be designed to tackle topics such as:
  • How satisfied are they with the company’s IT and phone systems?
  • Do they have any ideas or suggestions for improving the company’s facilities?
  • Have they thought of new products or services the company should be offering?
  • Have they found easier, innovative ways to accomplish their work?
  • How satisfied are they with their jobs?

In one recent example, the human resources department of a mid-size company conducted a survey of its employees to understand what kind of training programs they would like. The HR folks were quite surprised by some of the responses. Some items they expected to rate highly didn’t, and some that they thought were real long shots actually turned out to be quite popular. As I’ve cautioned here before, survey results are only valuable if you analyze them without expectational bias. I won't give away the results, but by casting a wide net, this company collected opinions on training topics as disparate as computer programs, conflict resolution, leadership training and sales skills—all neatly handled by an online survey.

The Risks:
If you do decide to do employee surveys, there is one critical caveat: You must follow up. There are few things more demoralizing to employees than to feel that they’re not listened to, but one of them is to be asked their opinion, but never see any results of that query. Really, it’s better to have never asked in the first place. If you do an employee survey be sure to put some of the results in an employee newsletter or discuss them at a company meeting. Get upper-level buy-in by having an executive talk about the results and what's going to be done with them—and then make sure to live up to those promises.


Employees often have great insights about internal and customer-related topics, and online surveys can be a very effective tool for tapping that source. Staff can contribute to a company’s success by being given the opportunity to offer input, but the technique is only effective if the information is used in a meaningful way. You might even consider making the surveys anonymous. Not everybody is willing to put their name on their ideas, especially if they have feedback that is less than positive, and that feedback might well be the most valuable you receive.


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