That blessed survey! What’s the point?

Posted on January 17, 2011

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For ages I’ve been banging on in my agency about how outdated I feel the employee survey is. After all, with is this technological wizardry out there and people constantly using email, Twitter, yammer, glassdoor etc. there must be a way of tracking what people are actually saying on a day to day basis to get a finger on the pulse of what people feel and think.

Since then I’ve shared this thought with a couple of clients and had a big yes. My view – money is wasted on big annual surveys which are just glorious excuses for leaders to look at the weather. Instead money should be spent on day to day tools that can act as real time barometers of what people think and feel about just a couple of indicators and the rest of the time leaders should be focused on the business of working with employees to keep them focused and motivated. The trouble is, what is the answer? I think it is this. Just focus on 5 people indicators and measure it daily. Drop the 49 odd questions in the employee survey, the answers to which just beg more questions, and keep your idea on 5 only. What might they be? I know where we are headed; I know what my role is as part of this; I feel I am free to play a part in reaching our goals; I feel rewarded for what I do; I believe the vision is right.

Ok, the wording on these isn’t right, but vision, belief, focus, freedom, reward – everything else fits under this and when the indicator falls low then it’s the job of leaders to know from their day to day experience where the fixes need to be made.

A couple of months back Lucy Kellaway wrote a piece in the FT about the despair attached to the appraisal process, and how little value it added to the feelings of an employee or meeting the needs of a business: you may as well leave promotions and rewards to chance was the conclusion such is the weakness of the appraisal process. That weakness is down to the subjectivity of the appraiser and the lack of willingness to be really honest in appraisal. And it’s this subjectivity that makes so many employee survey questions null and void. For example, look at this statement in a survey…. “I feel leaders here are inspirational.” maybe the participant is thinking “Er no, but that’s because they don’t have time to be inspirational and not because they aren’t inspirational in the core business of what we do, they are, it’s more about the guidance required to get the task done, and anyway I don’t think inspirational is what we want it’s more a case of being disciplined…now where is the box for that?” such a complex answer, and it’ll be thrown into the open question at the end of the survey – and let’s face it, who really reads all those answers properly? Hands up?

And lastly, all this happens all in one day at one point in the year, after which two or three months of analysis time passes and then nothing gets actioned as the data is old. Not time efficient. Far better to get you head around the data on a daily basis and guide thinking in a more organic fashion.

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