Is now the right time to survey your employees?
Originally published on Forbes.
It’s one of the most common questions we’ve had from our customers and partners in the past two weeks - and yes, it might feel trivial to ask right now - but, is now the right time to formally ask employees for feedback?
March and April are popular months for organizations to run their annual employee census surveys. With the disruption from COVID-19, many teams are wondering whether to continue with their plan. In other cases, organizations are looking at this as a time of uncertainty, concern, and business disruption which leads to a more general question - “is this an appropriate time to ask for employee feedback? If so, about what?”
I engaged several colleagues, clients and research experts in a discussion about this seemingly simple question.
I purposely sought out a diversity of perspectives but amazingly, the answer from everyone was abundantly clear - organizations should ask employees for feedback right now. However, the content and tone should be adapted to reflect the current environment.
Here is a summary of our discussion along with practical guidance from this group of experts..
For organizations that normally run their engagement surveys in Spring, should they move forward?
The consensus - yes, but not necessarily in the same way or with the same content as in years past. As Dr. David Landman, Head of Talent Assessment at Goldman Sachs put it, “staying closely connected to your employees is always important, but in these uncertain times, it is critical.”
Dr. Autumn Krauss, Principal Scientist at SAP SuccessFactors, likened this situation to her past experiences consulting organizations after major safety incidents and the question arising - “is this the right time to get employee feedback?”. Like David and myself, she believes that this is precisely the time that organizations need to seek out feedback from employees!
Indeed, the results from our latest EX trends report clearly indicated that employees want to be surveyed during times of major organizational change. And more importantly, employees whose organizations ask them for feedback during these times are significantly more engaged than those whose do not.
Will our year-over-year score comparisons be impacted by what’s going on with COVID-19 and disruptions at work?
This was perhaps the most controversial of the topics we discussed. This topic immediately led to the fact that some organizational leaders don’t want to run surveys due to concerns that the circumstances could make survey scores drop.
One external consultant forcefully fired back with - “frankly, who cares what happens to scores year-over-year!? If scores drop because of what’s going on right now, then that is exactly what leaders need to know so that they can respond, now!”. A poignant statement...and one that I completely agree with!
Nevertheless, this is an important question to consider and the consensus was that survey scores could indeed be impacted. It’s not clear, however, if scores would uniformly increase or decrease. One external researcher speculated that scores could very well fluctuate either way, for example, items around communications or trust in senior leadership could actually increase if the organization has handled these well recently.
The overall conclusion here was that year-over-year comparisons will likely be difficult to interpret and that is OK! Prepare leaders ahead of time and redirect the focus away from historical comparisons to how employee feedback can be effectively leveraged right now.
What should a survey, right now, be focused on?
Not surprisingly, the experts agreed that while surveying during this time is important, that does not mean that the survey or surveys should include business-as-usual themes and items. For example, Dr. Marina Pearce, Head of Talent Analytics at Ford, mentioned that the company may run daily or weekly employee check-in surveys in addition to their upcoming census.
Other practitioners mentioned that they would run census surveys as scheduled but significantly adjust the questions/ items to focus on what’s important now.
In fact, several practitioners pointed out that simply rolling out the same survey content and items could be perceived as insensitive and the organization appearing “tone deaf” to employees. I thought this was a great point and consistent with one of my favorite principles of EX Management programs - “employee centrality”. In other words, focus on what is salient and important to employees right now!
But what topics, specifically, should organizations ask about in these surveys? We all recognized that there is no way to create an exhaustive list of survey questions for the universe of issues employees may be concerned about or challenged with right now.
However, there were some that we converged on:
- Personal safety and employee well-being
- Roadblocks to getting work done
- Ways that the organization can support employees better
- Frequency and quality of communications about process and policy changes
- Concerns meetings customer needs
- Perceptions of senior leadership and their communications
Another practical suggestion from the group was to introduce different types of employee listening - open ended questions and always-on channels, for example. These are solutions that, at Qualtrics, we've actually implemented internally for our own employees moving from the office to their homes.
Next steps: Listen, Adapt + Act
Organizations need employee listening more than ever. Surveys are a powerful tool to scale business continuity planning efforts. Employee feedback is always important but it is even more important in times of uncertainty and crisis. Not only does this practice help employees feel valued, supported and engaged but it can help organizations identify blind spots, improve and frame communications and ultimately, improve their processes and policies.
We’re in unprecedented times here, and the situation is changing every day. Speaking with the experts only reinforced my belief that these are precisely the times organizations should listen to and act on employee feedback, and ultimately come out the other end in a better place!
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