How Good Surveys Go Wrong. Choosing the Right Employee Survey for Your Business.

 

So, you want to know more about your employees.  Why not just run a simple employee survey, right?!  Unfortunately, this is the haphazard approach has been adopted by many companies and is why 78% of companies using employee surveys fails to see improvement.  Any survey produces data, but quality data comes when you use employee surveys strategically.  So, before asking your employees to take a survey, consider the problem you intend to solve using survey results.  Comparing five of the most popular types of employee surveys used today, which one best serves your company’s needs?

1.  Onboarding (New Hire) Survey

Purpose:  Onboarding surveys are designed to examine an employee’s experience from the time they apply for a position through the time the employee completes the “new hire” phase which is different for every company.  Often surveys are done at various integrals following their first day with the company such as weekly, or monthly.

Types of companies that can benefit from this survey:  Generally, companies are most interested in surveying their new hire process when they are scaling rapidly, seeing a significant drop in engagement amongst new hires, or new hires are turning over at a higher-than-normal rate.  By effectively using an onboarding survey, companies gain insight to what they are doing right and wrong when hiring and onboarding employees.

Tip:  A company will typically use survey results to answer the following, “are we hiring the wrong people OR are we hiring the right people yet failing to meet new hire expectations as their employer?”.  While more often than not, the answer is “both” – through analyzing survey data they can identify what side of the equation they are struggling with most, hiring or onboarding.

2.  360 Degree Survey

Purpose:  The 360-degree feedback survey is designed to solicit anonymous feedback regarding an employee’s performance from all levels within the company (supervisor, peer, and subordinate).

Types of companies that can benefit from this survey:  360-degree surveys are generally best suited for larger companies as launching and managing this type of survey is complex.  When conducted successfully, results from this survey can provide a holistic view of an employee’s performance.  360-degree surveys place an equal level of importance on lateral, subordinate and supervisor feedback whereas traditional reviews tend to view an employee’s performance with a top-down approach, taking only the supervisor’s perception into consideration.  Therefore, a company that places importance on working collaboratively at all levels within the organization will likely feel 360-degree surveys are of great value to their success.

Tip:  If you wish to launch a 360-degree survey, consider engaging an expert.  Feedback from 360-degree surveys has been criticized as unactionable and irrelevant to improving a company’s productivity.  Quality questions (proving to be valid and reliable), random sampling, and strategic coaching are key to using this tool effectively.

3.  Pulse Survey

Purpose:  The pulse survey is a simple and relatively short survey designed to get insight to the overall health of a company, often conducted more regularly than other surveys (so as to identify fluctuations in employee satisfaction or perceptions on aspects of the company).

Types of companies that can benefit from this survey:  Companies looking to gain quick and valuable insight into employee perceptions for the purpose of implementing strategic changes will benefit from this type of survey.  Because identifying trends is key to this process however, only those companies willing to share survey results with employees (to some extent), committed to addressing workplace issues (as identified in survey results), and conducting surveys on an ongoing basis should engage in this type of survey.

Tip:  Prior to announcing or launching a pulse survey in the workplace, leadership must determine their commitment to addressing workplace issued identified by the survey, how they will share the results with employees, and the frequency they will conduct pulse surveys.  While employee morale will typically improve immediately following a pulse survey’s launch, they just as quickly deteriorate (or even worsen) if the company fails to engage employees in the action plan following the survey.  Keep in mind, survey trends are more important than any one set of survey results when it comes to pulse surveys.

4.  Employee Engagement Survey

Purpose:  Employee engagement surveys are designed to assess the level of which employees understand and care about their work as it relates to the company’s success.

Types of companies that can benefit from this survey:  A trending concept since the 1990s, employee engagement is believed by many companies and scholars to be key to creating and sustaining a high-performing business.  Employee engagement is especially critical to companies with a relatively flat organizational structure, comprised of a large Millennial population, and/or are in highly competitive industries.

Tip:  Keep in mind that changing employee beliefs and notions about work is a very robust and complex process.  While a good employee survey will provide insight into an employee’s understanding of how his/her work matters to the overall company’s success, your plan to change the employee-company relationship needs to recognize the manner in which your company informs, supports, and recognizes employees of their importance.  It is fair to assume your employees had some ideas and expectations of work before coming to your company.  Since hiring them however, you’ve either perpetuated or defied these ideas – both of which have different pros and cons, depending on their preconceived notions.  You can have a mission statement, vision statement, values, handbook, policies and procedures, but all of these are just words on paper until you act on them which will ultimately dictate the level of which your employees feel engaged in their work.  Review each way you, as a company, interact with employees and look to make it as meaningful of interaction as possible.

5.  Exit Interview Survey

Purpose:  Perhaps one of the most commonly used and widely recognized surveys used in the workplace, exit interview surveys are used to identify company turnover trends – why people are leaving the company.

Types of companies that can benefit from this survey:  Because the cost of turnover is considered to be so expensive (a study estimates 1.5-2x an employee’s annual salary), it is recommended that most companies conduct exit interviews when an employee leaves the company (voluntarily).  Exit interviews are even more critical for companies in industries where there is a labor shortage (regionally such as teaching or nationally such as skilled trades or truck drivers), or when companies have a high turnover rate (for the company as a whole OR within one group such as department, tenure set, or demographic).  Understanding why people choose to leave your company will help you hire, train, develop, and ultimately retain better.  Conducting exit interviews is a company’s first step in the process.

Tip:  While use of exit interviews is a common practice, most companies fail to do this well one reason – a lack of discussion.  The number one response people give in an exit interview to the question (or some derivative of the question), “why did you choose to resign from the company is “more money”.  Realize however that is a reason to accept a new job, not leave a job – for the sake of your company’s needs .  Were they looking for a job?  What prompted them to look?  Or if they were not on the job hunt, and instead were actively recruited by the new company, why did they take or return the recruiter’s call?  In most cases, candidates are unaware what the new job pays until they interview.  If these questions don’t work and the person insists he/she was not actively looking for a new job, don’t hesitate to ask the hypothetical question – what if your company was willing to match their new compensation, would they stay?  This question can work magic.  This one question has allowed companies to retain some of their best employees for a fraction of what it costs to recruit, hire, and train a new employee.  If you are unable (or unwilling) to match their new offer, it still gives you amazing insight into the other reasons they wish to leave.  These are likely the reasons that played into their decision to leave your company.  The position offer more money merely presented a manner of carrying out their decision to leave.  Don’t be surprised though if these conversations take some by surprise.  Quality exit interviews can be uncomfortable for the resigning employee and the company representative.  Because of this a neutral party such as HR is generally the best person to conduct exit interviews, or engage a reputable third-party to perform exit interviews for the company.  With valuable data collected from interactive, dialog heavy exit interviews, you start to see employee departures as learning opportunities – a mindset common among the best employers.

Regardless of what survey you intend to use, keep in mind these three tips:

  • Don’t ask unless you plan to act. Asking an employee to share his/her opinion does two things – it engages them in the solution (holding them him/her accountable) and implies that you and/or the company value feedback as part of the continuous improvement process.  When you fail to act, employees will often feel betrayed or as their opinions are unimportant, causing them to underperform and in some cases even act out against the employer.  So, when you ask, make sure you’re asking with intentions to improve – not because it’s a “to-do” item on your list.
  • Who is asking is often equally as important to what you are asking. Many leaders fail to realize how fearful employees are in giving honest, open feedback to company leadership.  Unfortunately, retaliation is not as uncommon as we’d like in some workplaces.  So, if you are new to the surveying process or recognize employees may be uncomfortable sharing their feelings or insights with the company directly, engage a third party.  We all wish employees trusted us more, but trust is something that is earned.  Being sensitive to employee feelings by providing them an extra layer of anonymity is not only a great step in earning their trust, but also the only way to ensure that the data you collect is true and useful.  A censored survey only serves to inflate egos and ultimately serves no person or company for much else.
  • How you ask can make a difference. Are your employees comfortable taking an online survey, OR is it better to use a paper survey.  Do all employees have access to the same communication tools (ie Slack, email, intranet)?  By failing to recognize what level employees are comfortable with technology, you may inadvertently be censoring your survey results.  Have a communication plan for launching your survey – informing employees of when the survey is available, when it ends, how information will be used, where they can access/get their survey, whether or not the survey is anonymous, and information about the third-party administering the survey if you choose to engage a separate company.  You will need to remind people to participate.  Depending on the type of survey and reasoning behind the survey, you may even wish to partner with your marketing team to develop inspiring communications that will motivate employees to participate in the survey process.

Equipped with a purpose, relevant data, and the genuine intention to improve as an employer, surveys will be your key to shifting from a reactive, chaotic place of work, to a thoughtful, collaborative, proactive culture.  What survey is standing between you and a better workplace?

Can a sucky interview be your key to success?

Prior to finding my career in HR and company culture, I tried out a lot of jobs.  A LOT.  One job I really liked was working as a matchmaker.  Setting people up on blind dates that is….not manufacturing matches to light a fire (you’d be surprised how often I had to clarify this point).  This was before internet dating and apps were popular and the company I worked for appealed to “busy professionals”.  Single clients completed a basic profile application, answering a variety of questions about themselves and their preferences, including hobbies and interests.  It didn’t take long for me to realize most people overstate their interests, activities, and hobbies in this process.  Hiking, rowing, sailing….it seemed that almost every client and potential client had the most active lifestyle on paper but in discussion would admit they rarely (if ever) engaged in these activities.  I found this so confusing.  Why would someone misrepresent their interests?  Later in life as my career progressed I found this behavior to also hold true and be equally as destructive in hiring.  In any type of interview environment, or when asked to describe ourselves objectively, we tend to describe the person we want to be rather than the person we are.  Both companies and job-seekers will often describe the workplace or person they aspire to be rather than who they actually are.  It’s then not a surprise that studies show 89% of turnover in the first 18 months of employment is typically due to a poor culture fit.  Turnover is estimated to cost companies 50%-150% of the position’s annual salary.  So, if you lost 10 employees this year with annual salaries averaging $40K each, your true turnover costs are likely somewhere between $200,000 and $600,000!  Anywhere from $178,000 to $534,000 of this cost is because in the hiring process you either failed to accurately represent your company’s culture, or candidates were disingenuous (and you’re failing to recognize it).  Neither applicants nor companies win when culture misconceptions happen.  Fortunately, both sides of the interview process can stop this cycle of dysfunction.  Here, are some tips that work!

 Steps for employers:

 1.  Define your culture.

What is your company culture?  If you’ve not gone through this process, it’s important to first understand what “company culture” means.  It’s not about looks, age, gender, or anything that your workplace might represent physically but instead, what underlying core values, characteristics, and motivations does your team share.  A good place to start if you’ve not defined your culture is having an informal chat with your most valuable employees to understand what matters most to them about their jobs.  What benefits or perks of the job do they most appreciate?  What keeps them motivated to show up everyday and kick butt?  How do they describe the workplace to friends and family?  What things do they most appreciate about their coworkers?  What do they dislike about the job or workplace?  There are great workshops and structured activities that can help you in this critical process, but don’t use that as a reason to delay.  Truthfully, you should have these discussions regularly within your company – at various levels.  Your culture isn’t something that just appears.  It’s what is created each day by every decision, change, hire, policy, and conversation.  It’s an experience, not a uniform.  An employee’s perspective both creates and is created by a company’s culture which is why it’s important to make them a part of this culture-defining process.  Leaders may guide and support culture, but all employees create it – so ask them about it rather than just assuming.

2.  Identify ways to test the culture-fit factor in job-seekers.

Now that you have identified some commonalities shared by your team, look for ways to test whether or not a job-seeker shares those values.  Here’s where you can get creative.  For example, Google, a company known to value out-of-the-box thinking (often to solve for complex problems) asks questions like “If you were a platypus stuck in a dumpster and your feet were made out of butter, how would escape?”.  There is no way to really fake creativity in this answer.  There is also no real “right” or “wrong” answer, although an answer lacking imagination is obviously wrong for Google.  Southwest Airlines calls on employees to have a “fun-LUVing attitude” and will sometimes asked flight attendant applicants “how do you keep the workplace fun?”.  Both are great examples of not just asking job seekers to describe themselves or traits consistent with your culture, but demonstrate them.  These questions give insight to the candidate’s mindset in an unexpected way that cannot be practiced or rehearsed.  Look for ways you can do the same in your interview process.

3.  Create a candidate experience that resembles your employee experience.

A few weeks ago I was talking with one of the original leaders to join Tuft & Needle, a Phoenix-based mattress company that has disrupted the industry.  I asked him about hiring during their intense growth, going from 80 employees to 140 employees in just one year.  He said it was at first an all-hands-on-deck, chaotic approach – lacking any structure, consistency, or strategy.  When I asked him about the culture during this phase, he described it similarly.  In this sense, T&N’s candidate experience was a success because it accurately resembled the culture that existed for employees (at that time).  If you’ve been part of a startup, you know it takes a certain type of grit to do well in such an environment, and perhaps a glutton for punishment to love it.  A person in a startup needs to be passionate and intensely focused on goals, yet extremely willing to switch gears when priorities change as they often do in such an environment.  So, if your company is going through a transitional period, does it make sense for the candidate-experience to be smooth and seamless?  Are you hiring for the company you are becoming or the company you are today?  Chances are, you need fill some critical positions today, so save candidates the frustration of feeling they’ve been victim to a bait-and-switch job offer and start exposing them to the experience as it actually is.  Is your workplace highly-competitive?  Then so should be the process you use to hire new employees.  If your company lacks structure, then so should your hiring process.  Companies will often gently guide candidates through the hiring and onboarding process, then dump this same person into an autonomous , sink-or-swim company culture, confused as-to why yesterday’s stellar job-seeker is today’s under-performing employee.  Keep in mind, as an employer, your goal is not simply to find applicants with the best skill sets and experience.  Your goal is to find the applicants that will transform into your best employees.  To find these gems, you need to observe them in the right environment that resembles your workplace.

Steps for job-seekers:

 1.  Research the culture before interviewing (or even applying).

Before you buy something, you likely research the online reviews.  Because most purchases will not impact us or demand as much from our lives as our jobs, it only makes sense we put as much, if not more, energy into learning about a company we may work for.  There are several places you can learn about a company’s culture.  Two of the most popular websites are Glassdoor and Indeed.com.  On Glassdoor, in addition to current and former employee reviews about working for the company, you can also learn from candidates about the company’s interview process.  Look not only at the company’s rating, but also the reviews.  What matters to one person may not be what matters to you, so keep an open mind.  Pay specific attention to trends.  Like most review systems, the unhappy customers (in this case, employees and candidates) are often the first to submit reviews.  If you aren’t able to get what you need from these job sites, try using LinkedIn to connect with existing or former company employees.  Many people are eager to talk about their experience.  In this approach, contrary to the feedback you’ll likely get from the job sites, you’ll tend to hear back from employees with a positive employee experience.

2.  Identify your goal for the interview.

An interview should be a get-to-know you, fact-finding mission.  It is not a process designed to help you overcome any professional insecurities you may have by “winning” a job.  All too often job-seekers fail to recognize that they too have a responsibility to choose a job in which they believe they can be successful and happy.  To decide whether or not you will do a job well and will be successful with a company, you need to first learn about that company. Ultimately, if the person conducting your interview is uncomfortable with your directness, perceiving you as “entitled” or challenging their authority, it’s likely not the job for you.  I still remember one of the first times I was challenged in an interview to be honest in a way that I feared may take me out of the running for the position (and I REALLY wanted this job).  The CFO asked me, “if I were to ask your current boss what feedback she’s received on you that you need to work on, what would she say?”.  In that moment I thought to myself, I could lie and give a fake, safe answer like “don’t be such a perfectionist” or “stop working such long hours”.  On the other hand, I could instead give her my honest answer, that I need to work on being abrupt with people because it gives them the impression that I don’t care.  My manager recently gave me this exact feedback and accurately pointed out that I put too much value in solving the employee’s problems and not enough value in listening to employee concerns.  The feedback was ugly and unflattering, but it was true.  Sweating and clenching my fists, afraid that I was kissing my dream job goodbye, I responded with the truth.  About a year later over drinks, because I did get that job, the CFO and I laughed about my answer.  She shared with me that she too struggled with a similar problem and felt it wasn’t a big deal so long as I was aware of it and working on it.  By being honest and genuine I was able to test the company’s willingness to develop and support employees.  It was a win for us both.

3.  Be authentic.

Recently we were contacted by the Huffington Post to give insight on their upcoming article “The First Thing You Should Do After You Walk Out of That Job Interview. Within the article, they discuss the effectiveness of post-job-interview follow-up, asking whether or not candidates following a job-interview should send a thank you note and how to do so without coming off as a kiss-up.  My advice was to be authentic.  Once you’ve researched and interviewed with a company, you should have enough information to decide if you and the company are a good match to move forward.  If you are the type of person to follow-up with a thank you note, send a thank you note.  If you are not however, or perhaps the company is not the type to appreciate such a gesture, perhaps it’s better to skip the sentiment.  You will be happiest and successful in the jobs that compliment you, and that’s not every job out there.  So, be genuine in your interactions with the company so that the interactions are uniquely “you”.  Although my advice to be authentic is not meant to encourage you, the job-seeker, to act as you do with friends at happy hour, you should be your genuine professional self.  I was never meant for a stuffy overly corporate job.  While an HR person at heart, my approach has always been non-traditional and direct.  Not everyone loves these qualities in their HR department so it was important that I found companies that valued these traits, allowing me to be happy and successful in my jobs.  The same goes for clients we support today as any productive, effective relationship ultimately comes down to a good culture fit.  A good company should reveal to applicants the true culture of the workplace (both good and bad).  Companies as well as candidates can make themselves out to be flawless during the interview process.  While this is highly unlikely, really consider what it means when a company or person sees themselves as without flaws.  Do you value perfection?  If this is not your thing, best to seek out a company and job where continuous improvement is valued, and imperfections are seen as opportunities for development.

The 4th and final step for both employers and job-seekers is to be relentless.  Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, an online clothing and shoe retailer known equally for their great customer service as they are a rewarding company culture, tells a story of having their core values tested.  Be humble is one of their 10 core values.  Years ago, they would often include the shuttle driver, responsible for shuttling traveling applicants to and from the airport and headquarter location, in their interview process.  They would ask the driver how the candidate treated him/her.  Hsieh recalls having to pass on some exceptionally smart, talented, experienced executive candidates because they failed to “be humble” in their interactions with the driver.  While they could’ve likely advanced the company at the time, Zappos and Hsieh were unwilling to compromise on their culture to do so.  Considering Amazon purchased Zappos for $847 million in 2009, their decision to preserve their culture above all else while challenging at times, proved to be the right decision.  If you are looking for a job or you are an employer looking for the right candidate, focus on the experience.  Mahatma Gandhi said, “action expresses priorities”.  A person may describe and even see himself a certain way, but how he responds to your hiring process is more telling.  Similarly, a company may have an impressive purpose, mission, vision and values statement, but how you feel when employed by them or interviewing with them is more indicative of their company culture than anything on paper.

 

Teresa Marzolph image

Teresa Marzolph is the Founder and Head People Strategist for Culture Engineered believing valued employees produce valuable results.   In her HR and culture career she’s helped both small businesses and large corporations attract, develop, and retain top industry talent.