The importance of an employee's impact on the bottom line cannot be overestimated.  Engaged employees get thing done, provide higher levels of problem solving, provide better customer service, and help create higher revenues.  Unhappy employees are angry, irritable, unpleasant, or obnoxious ... or even just bland.  They tend to drive up costs associated with dealing with low levels of productivity and recruiting.

“Customer satisfaction is rooted in employee satisfaction and retention, more than anything else.”
- L. Schlesinger and Hames Heskett, Harvard Business Review 10/91.

Employee surveys can highlight issues and trends that can be managed, leading to increased
levels of employee engagement.

Benefits of Measuring Employee Satisfaction

Measuring employee satisfaction demonstrates to the employees an “I care” attitude on behalf of
management.  This, by itself, improves employee engagement through the famous
Hawthorne Effect.”  At the same time, the feedback gathered from the survey usually identifies
areas for attention.  Sometimes changes are needed - in process, procedure or management
approach - while at other times what is needed is change in employee perception.  In any case,
ideas for improved internal service quality are collected.  Better performance results from more
engaged and capable employees.  Customer satisfaction increases, as well, leading to better
customer loyalty and the potential for increased profit (see the Service-Profit Chain developed by
​L. Schlesinger and H. Heskett, in their book The Service Profit Chain - How Leading Companies Link Profit and Growth to Loyalty, Satisfaction and Value, graphically illustrated to the right).

The Process

There are four primary steps to conducting an effective employee survey.  First, the purpose and design of the survey is developed.  Second, employees are told about the survey, encouraged to fill it out when it is published, and provided a confidential avenue that allows them to be very open and honest. Third, lessons learned are derived from the data analysis, and fourth, action plans are carried out in a reasonable time frame.

Not all findings lead to actions, but they should lead to communications.  Where action can be taken, it should be.  Demonstration of management support is an important part of creating employee satisfaction.  

Each step is explored below, followed by answers to frequently asked questions.

Step 1.  Identifying the purpose and developing the design of the survey requires evaluation of what is needed by the organization.  The survey can have open-ended questions and closed-ended questions.  Too many of either leads to fatigue.  All questions should be carefully selected to provide information that can be acted on.

I have an inventory of hundreds of questions that are often used to help clients design their survey.  However, I prefer to hold a few focus groups with employees and meet with management with the results of the focus groups before designing the survey.  The focus groups nearly always identify critical themes that should be included in the survey - some of which are surprising even to really good managers.

It is also important to carefully determine what demographics to collect.  Typically, demographics include what department the respondent works in, how long they have been employed, and perhaps if they supervise others.  Enough demographic information is needed to help identify where problems are, but too much detail could lead to employees believing they will be exposed if they complete the survey.  This could inhibit their participation.

Once the themes of the survey are determined, the design of the survey is generally pretty easy.  A strong survey purpose usually makes it relatively easy to develop appropriate questions and format.

Step 2.  The ability to achieve high levels of participation in the survey is dependent on employee trust that their responses will be confidential and of value.  Letting employees know how the survey will be designed and used, and how they will be protected from any potential of retribution is critical.  A letter from the president, use of an external survey engine managed by an external firm, and a clear explanation of how the information collected will and will not be used can go a long way.

Once the survey is launched, it is helpful for management to track how many employees (not by person but by overall demographic statistics, such as department) have completed the survey and to periodically send out reminders if needed.  I make participation information by demographic available to management in real time, allowing them to use it as they feel would be best.

Step 3.  Analysis of the survey results requires expert knowledge of statistics and an understanding of what management needs in order to digest and make best use of the information.  Questions such as the following are important to consider, based on the initial design and projected use of the survey results:

  • Should the survey questions be reported in topics, such as communications and company direction, or reported strictly as individual question responses?
  • Should questions be compared with each other to show strengths and weaknesses, perhaps through the use of a Pareto diagram?
  • What demographic profiles should be analyzed as individual reports (e.g. department results)?
  • Should current responses be compared to historical responses to reveal trends over time?
  • How should open-ended questions be handled?
  • Should reports be primarily tabular, graphical, or a combination?
  • Should reports be prepared for presentation or for reading, or both?

Step 4.  The survey information is only valuable if it leads to improvement.  Management often immediately finds areas where simple action can be taken.  They also might find areas where process improvement through employee participation or changes in employee perceptions through focused communications over time is appropriate.  In any case, helping the employees become aware of the findings and establishing action plans to apply the survey results is critical.  We often are asked to make presentations of the findings to management and later to employees to continue the third-party independence.  We also often lead targeted improvement sessions comprised of both management and employees.

Immediate improvements are common, followed by efforts that take a longer time to complete.  We can help management stay consistent with action items they have chosen to complete, essentially reminding them periodically and helping remove obstacles and roadblocks through creative recommendations and spirited discussions.

There are often requests from employees that are surfaced in the survey that management chooses not to implement, or simply cannot implement for some reason.  We have found it valuable for management to tell the employees as much.  Most employees will accept that feedback as positive.  They know their interests were heard, even if their requests cannot be met.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does this cost?  Our survey service typically ranges between $10,000 and $20,000, depending on the size of the company, the number of open ended questions included, the number of focus groups and presentations requested, and the depth of analysis to be completed (e.g. historical comparisons, industry comparisons).

How long does it take to complete a survey project? Survey engagements can typically be completed in 60 days, depending on availability of the steering committee and the number of holidays that fall during the engagement time frame.

Who should be included in the survey?  I recommend that all employees including managers and executives be included in the survey.  The more participation, the more complete the feedback.

When should we conduct a survey?  A survey can be useful at any time to improve communications within the organization and to discover current issues, opinions, and perceptions.  Many organizations conduct a comprehensive survey every twelve to eighteen months in order to track trends and changes over time.  Surveys conducted on such a schedule provide an expected “voice” for all employees, while not becoming too routine.  A “spot” survey may also be particularly valuable if the organization has experienced significant changes such as result from a merger, acquisition, reorganization, or large change in employee population.  Issues that need to be addressed can be discovered and attended to before damage is significant.

How important are norms for comparing results?  I believe comparing results between organizations (such as to an “industry norm”) is very dangerous.  There are usually too many differences between the structure, direction, history, and personalities of comparison organizations to make valid conclusions.  However, this is a common practice and we have industry statistics that can be used.  The best comparisons are with results from previous surveys conducted within the same organization.  Knowledge about changes between time frames is known, and thus the context for evaluating cause and effect exists.

What participation rate can I expect?  Responses are normally high and can approach 80% to 90% if employees trust and value the process and management, and the survey is administered via Internet with reminders delivered from senior officers of the organization periodically during the time the survey is live.

What if not all of my employees can get to a computer to take an on line survey?  We can produce and process paper surveys.  Accuracy and participation usually go down, however, and costs go up.

How is respondent confidentiality maintained?  No names are used in surveys and data from the surveys are placed in a database without connection to source computer or paper.  No one in the client organization is allowed to see the raw text data.  Small groups of respondent demographics are combined with other small groups in data reporting to ensure that no demographic report can be traced to a specific individual.

Why should I use Olympic Performance, Inc. for my survey?  We provide independent results of high quality.  Our clients are genuinely pleased with their results.  We are specialists in surveys and have, through nearly 30 years of experience, learned how to conduct the surveys and provide the results in ways that maximize value.  We are flexible in providing just the services you need, thereby minimizing cost and time.  Our fees are very competitive due to our efficient survey tools, experience, and streamlined methodology. 

What do we get from Olympic Performance, Inc.?  I can help you plan for, design, and conduct the survey, plus we can analyze the results and help you present the findings.  I can also help you identify improvement opportunities and track implementation of changes.  I can help you define the purpose and goals for the survey, select the right questions and develop an effective survey format.  I can conduct all face-to-face or focus group interviews in preparation of the survey questions, and provide preliminary findings from those sessions.  We can host the survey and process the results, providing you with presentation ready findings supported with recommendations for improvement.  I can also show you how to use prior survey results to increase the understanding you gain from the current survey.  Finally, I can help facilitate improvement sessions throughout the organization if you want a collaborative, high involvement approach.

Does your participation require that you come to our facility?  Typically, I visit our clients at the beginning of the project to help design the survey and again at the end of the project to present the results.  In most cases, I facilitate focus groups to develop the survey questions toward the early part of the engagement and support the presentation of results to management and employees at the later part of the engagement, usually requiring additional visits.  We do support several clients entirely remote, however, using video technology.

Next Steps

If you want to proceed, please contact me.  I will work with you to prepare a cost and timing proposal based on your needs.

© 2020 Olympic Performance, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.

Employee Surveys