Written by Jeremiah Martin
Published: 30 September 2019
So, you have gone through the survey process, carefully reviewed the results, and decided on how to respond to the results. Now you are left with the most important part of all, deciding on the questions that you will need to answer going forward. Put another way, how do we ensure that our next survey process leverages what we have learned, builds on what we plan to do, and answers the questions that are central to the organization?
Step 3: Develop Key Questions for Follow-up Surveys
Central to the entire engagement survey process is the ability to address questions that are important to the business. The best time to prepare for the next engagement survey is shortly after you have completed the contextualization and response evaluation phases of the previous survey. This way you have a clear and present understanding of the questions that will be most relevant to your business the next time you go through the survey process. This is especially true when considering the organizational responses that you have decided upon (see the 2nd article in this series).
To decide on your follow-up survey process, you have to answer 3 key questions:
- What do I need to learn from this future survey process?
- When should I survey again to observe these differences?
- How do I ensure that I am getting good information?
Deciding on what you need to learn from this future survey process depends on what you learned during the contextualization process and the responses you have decided upon.
For example, if you learned from previous survey results that the employees of a certain department do not have the appropriate resources to complete their work effectively, a follow-up survey that asks more questions about these shortages will help clarify what exactly is lacking. Similarly, if employees in another division report that they do not have enough voice in deciding how to accomplish their work goals, a few additional targeted questions on the aspects of their work that they would like to have more say in would make sense. The principle here is that your conclusions about the previous round of evaluation should serve as a curiosity pump for future questions.
Likewise, if you decided to implement any interventions following the previous survey results, you can add even more value to the process by evaluating the effects of these responses. As an example, if you implemented a leader training process to address the issues present in the previous survey results, you would want to survey the subordinates of the trained leaders to see if there was any change in employee perceptions of their leaders. Doing so will provide you a clear understanding of what kinds of solutions are actually having an appreciable, positive impact on the experience of employees in your organization.
Considerations of what you are interested in learning in the upcoming survey will help you narrow down an answer to your second key question. Namely, when do you expect for your engagement metrics to change? Although most engagement surveys are run on an annual schedule, employees have new experiences every day they show up for work. This is particularly true if you have implemented some change to their day-to-day experiences following the previous survey process. This is where using pulse surveys can play a key role. A pulse survey is a shorter version of your overall engagement survey that gives you feedback from employees in a shorter timeframe. Generally, they only involve a few key constructs (e.g. Employee Voice or Team Relations) and may only involve employees or business units who are likely to be impacted by your topic of interest.
A pulse survey run shortly after a targeted intervention, such as leadership training, can tell you a lot about its effectiveness. In a case like this, we would want to see if the training had any effect. Now, we could wait up to a year to find this information out in the next round of surveys, but at that point we may have lost valuable time and resources pursuing a course of action that could be ineffective. Similarly, within that amount of time, the effects of our interventions may have washed out by larger changes in the broader organization, like a merger or major restructuring of the organization. This is why it is valuable to measure the effects of an intervention via a series of short pulse surveys for the employees who you planned for the intervention to affect.
Additionally, your organization may be so dynamic, that a yearly survey cannot really capture how key parts of you employees’ experience shift over time. Generally, the annual survey serves as indicator of the general status of your employees. However, if you have a high growth organization, or one where the work of the employees changes greatly based on season, a quarterly pulse survey for the engagement drivers you are most interested in can help you cut through the noise that is created by an ever-changing work environment.
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Central to all of these questions is the desire to ensure that you are learning something relevant to key questions about your business. Given this, it is critical that you do your best to ensure that the questions and methods you use as part of your next survey process give you information you can count on enough to confidently make recommendations to key stakeholders within the organization.
The way that you can achieve this is by keeping two principles in mind. They are: simplicity in the new questions you write, and contrasts for the differences you would like to see. By keeping it simple and looking for differences, you can answer the questions you are most interested in with clarity and confidence.
Often, when dealing with complicated problems, we think that our questions should be similarly complicated. This is exactly the opposite of the approach you should take. The best survey questions are those that are written so that least grammatically sophisticated member of your organization can answer them. You don’t want to lose or receive bad responses because your respondents do not understand the question you are asking. Similarly, you also want to ensure that your questions take ideas one at a time. As an example, if your survey found that employees felt that leaders were not taking the time to listen to and acknowledge their contributions, you may be tempted to ask about both in a single question. Instead, it’s best to break these into multiple questions, one covering whether their leader takes time to listen, and one concerning the degree that leaders are acknowledging employee contributions. By doing so, you get an understanding of how much of an effect each aspect of the reported problem is having on the employee experience.
If simple questions help us ensure that we get the responses we need from employees, clear contrasts help us understand how these responses differ, either across time or between different groups of employees. The most basic contrast can be seen in comparisons of the overall results of annual surveys. In this case, you are contrasting last year’s results to this year’s and seeing where the differences are. Where deciding on contrasts can be tricky however, is in deciding on comparisons within the same time frame. Turning back to the leadership training example discussed in the previous section, we might be tempted to only compare the effected employees to their previous scores. However, other factors may have had a part in changing the scores between then and now. Another approach then, would be to look for another meaningful contrast to evaluate whether there has been an appreciable change. In this case, we might consider a short pulse survey sent out to employees that were not directly impacted by the training alongside those who were. This way we can compare the two sets of workers against each other to see if the differences we observed were likely to be caused by the leadership training, or if it appears the results are consequence of different factors. This can be further supported by a robust analytics platform that helps you quickly arrange and compare different groups of employees.
By using simplicity and contrasts, we can cut engagement issues down to a size small enough for us to understand and address effectively.
Now that you have completed your first survey process, you should take a little time to congratulate yourself. Once the celebrations are over, you will have to contextualize the results to your organization, decide on how you are going to respond to issues surveyed by the results, and finally decide on key questions to be addressed in a follow-up survey. Doing so will not only help turn the results of the current survey process into a win for your team, they will also help you sustainably drive engagement within your organization over the long term.