The employee survey is dead. Long live the employee survey.

Posted on September 26, 2012

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Some while back I wrote a blog piece about the outdated employee survey. I still stand by it, and I’m still waiting to see companies move away from the adherence to old school surveying. That wait might now be over.

A colleague of mine recently returned from a meeting at Unilever clutching a report in his hand on the Social Media Garden. Together with Silverman, Unilever had embarked upon an open access research project that sought to highlight the barriers facing businesses seeking to adopt social media. Put simply, they were using social technology to explore social technologies. In itself, this was a new step and a welcome one.

What struck me was a line in the report from Michael Silverman. He wrote:

“The motivation for this approach comes from a personal loathing of surveys (especially the employee type): they’re boring, they typically disregard text data, they ignore the all important interconnectivity between people and, despite what you might think, they do not give people a ‘voice’.”

I loved this line. I’d go further. I’d say that the employee survey is an exercise in box ticking, it is invariably out of date, and it’s results only ever lead to more questions rather than clear direction.

What the Social Media Garden demonstrates is the value of social technologies in enabling crowds to identify problems and surface answers quickly. It is still early days, but the move to text analytics surely can’t be far off for the employee survey. This will enable employees to put to one side the laborious 30-page survey and start to engage with one another in sharing ideas and rating opinions about how their businesses can improve.

We know that ensuring that employee opinions are seen to count is one of the key drivers for retention and performance. Organisations like Gallup have long documented this. Employee surveys now need to do more than just measure quantitative results – they need to measure qualitative thinking in a quantitative manner. They need to allow employees to seed their thinking and allow this to be rated by peers. The technology is there to do this, but as with all social technology we are moving into new territory and it will take a huge dollop of faith to move there.  Nevertheless, they can do this now – we can reinvent the employee survey.

The employee survey is dead. Long live the employee survey.

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