Improving Your Employee Surveys: You Need a Clear Plan – and Purpose

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Apr 29, 2013

Here’s how to improve the impact of your employee surveys by 10 times, 100 times or even 1000 times!

We love surveys, but employee survey efforts often fall short of their potential for three primary reasons:

  1. There’s no clear focus on a clear and meaningful purpose. How will the results inform decision making and action that will support the most critical priorities and strategies for the future? Employees want to be part of meaningful efforts; therefore the significance of the survey must be crystal clear.
  2. There’s no clear survey plan implemented with passion and confidence. The communication plan, survey design, timing, and results roll-out plan are all critical, but it can’t end there. It should be clear from the start how the results will inform your unique culture and performance alignment framework (see reason No. 3 below).
  3. There’s no clear framework to integrate survey follow-up actions with current strategies, plans and processes. There should be no question about the approach for translating survey results into actions. The framework for this work should be clear before the survey is ever conducted.

Communicate a clear and meaningful purpose

Congress mandated the requirement for all federal agencies to conduct surveys of their employees. Last year, the Office of Personnel Management asked 1.6 million Federal employees to “provide their perspective on the business of government.” A less than impressive 46 percent of employees answered the call.

What’s the solution to response rates for surveys that often miss the feedback of 10-50 percent of employees?

The key is to start by clarifying a clear and meaningful performance priority. Reverse the norm and don’t lead communication with the factors the survey measures (culture, engagement, employee satisfaction, etc.). Lead all communications with a clear purpose that starts with, ideally, a current performance priority.

Think about current strategies or goals. Is your No. 1 priority about improving or growing revenue, innovation, profitability, customer service, or some other area? This is where organizations should start.

Roll-out a clear plan with passion and confidence

A great survey plan has the impact of a feather hitting the ground if it’s not implemented with passion, confidence, and a clear connection to post-survey actions. Too many survey plans end with rolling out results or an ambiguous “action planning” step. While there may be total clarity around the kick-off, survey process, analysis of results and roll-out to the organization, that is where the clarity often ends.

What process will drive results by identifying the specific improvements that need managed to execute on the performance priority?

The survey should highlight a few areas for improvement, but the key is determining how the organization will be re-engaged after the survey. It’s far better to re-engage employees in company meetings, sub-group meetings or other forums so they participate in prioritizing substantial improvements instead of having management determine or even “approve” most follow-up actions.

Leaders must passionately and confidently communicate the plan and their personal commitment to it. The top leader should start the communication of a solid survey plan with their personal commitment and a convincing story about how they care for their team.

Unfortunately, it’s common for employees to believe their top leaders don’t care for their well-being. A Global Workforce Study by Towers Watson highlighted that only 46 percent of employees believed “senior leadership has sincere interest in employees’ well-being.” Employees will walk through walls for leaders that are both competent and clearly show they care for their well-being.

Leverage your unique culture & performance

The final and most significant area to improve the impact of your employee survey goes far beyond the survey. Survey follow-up actions should leverage the organization’s unique culture and performance framework in order to drive improvement with clarity and speed.

Any organization may leverage this framework in response to a survey or as part of a well-aligned culture. It includes three phases: Define, Align & Manage.


  • Clarify your initial vision – You completed your survey and now you see the results. You might have issues with engagement, innovation, leadership or some other areas. What is going to be the overall focus of your change efforts? It requires leadership to clarify this initial vision and how it is connected to your top performance priorities. It is NOT management defining all of the plans and actions to react to the survey.
  • Clarify values and expected behaviors – Here’s where most organizations go astray. If a connection is made to values and behaviors at all, it’s typically only in reference to stated company values. These values on the wall or web site do not take into account how people are hard-wired from an individual values standpoint. It’s important to clearly identify a shift of only 1-3 values or behaviors that are necessary to support the initial change vision. What did the survey tell you about shortcomings in behavior. The behavior focus may range from collaboration to creativity, discipline, accountability, or many other areas.


  • Clarify strategic priorities – What strategic priorities will be the focus of your improvement efforts and how are they connected to the performance priority highlighted in the Define phase?
  • Engage teams in defining and translating SMART goals – What are the SMART goals that support each of the strategic priorities you highlighted in the last step? The organization needs to be re-engaged post survey to identify the new or revised goals that will have the most significant impact in supporting your change vision.
  • Clarify and track key measures – Clear measures should be defined for each new or revised goal. Measures provide a clear and quantifiable approach to tracking progress toward goals.


  • Maintain a management system for priorities and goals – Most organizations have a system to track priorities or goals in some form. It starts with clear goals and measures from the areas we covered in the Define and a regularly schedule progress review to remove barriers, adjust plans and recognize proper behavior from the Define phase and results.
  • Manage communication habits and routines – A regular communication habit must cover progress updates on top follow-up actions from the survey. Two-way communication is critical to answer questions, reduce drama and identify adjustments to plans going forward.
  • Build motivation throughout the process – Feedback and recognition are critical to the process at the organization, team and individual levels. Share and celebrate progress in a transparent manner as part of your communication habits and routines.

The Define, Align and Manage approach may be applied to just one major performance improvement priority, or “One Big Thing,” in order to build momentum and make substantial progress after or survey or any other feedback approach. The organization will learn new approaches to apply to other performance priorities over time.

This aspect of organizational learning is critical to building a high-performance culture. It’s for this reason that it IS possible to improve the impact of employee surveys by 10, 100 or even 1000 times!

What other ideas do you have to dramatically improve the impact of employee surveys?

Obtain the full whitepaper: Improve the Impact of Your Employee Surveys by 10X, 100X or even 1000X. Content is based on the free eBook Building a Performance Culture, A Guide for Leaders.

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