As I discussed in my last post, employee surveys can be an effective, low cost tool for discerning employee problems, thoughts, and perceptions.  In this post, I’ll provide a guide to help you get started and ensure that you create an effective tool that meets your needs.

Let’s Start at the Very Beginning
Before you even begin the process, make sure you have buy-in from the leadership of your organization.  Without it, and their willingness to promote the survey, your chances for success are substantially diminished.

What Kind of Questions Should We Include?
First consider what information you are trying to obtain.  Perhaps there is an issue such as high employee turnover that has left you asking “Why are so many people leaving us?”  Or, maybe you’ve noticed a decrease in employee engagement and you would like to know, “What has changed that’s lowered engagement?”

Keep your objectives in mind and create questions around the information you are trying to gather; avoid straying off into other areas.

What Tool Should I Use?
For simple, straightforward surveys,  online providers such as SurveyMonkey or SurveyGizzmo can be very effective.  They offer a cost-effective method for gathering data quickly and easily.  They also provide anonymity to employees, a factor that is an essential  in getting honest survey results.

Most survey packages provide simple reports that summarize the answers to each question, and many allow you to download the information into an Excel or PDF file.  There are also various packages available, ranging from free for a simple or informal survey to $900 per year or more for a more advanced version.  Do some research to determine what tool will best suit your needs.  Take advantage of the free versions or trials, and talk to the vendor or online support to make an informed decision.

If the survey you are conducting is on a larger scale and requires marketing and feedback analysis, more advanced survey packages are available.  Remember, the more complex and the greater the size of the survey, the more expensive it will be to deploy and the more difficult the software will be to use without prior training or experience.  The more advanced packages, however, do offer more question formats, survey logic, and data analysis and are significantly more powerful tools.

Survey Structure – Follow the “Goldilocks and the 3 Bears” Principal
When choosing the number of questions keep these things in mind:

  • Too Short – A shorter survey may not give you the information you need.  It can fail to identify problem areas and leave you with more questions than answers.
  • Too Long – A longer survey with more than 90 questions can lead to a lower completion rate because respondents get tired of answering.
  • Just Right – You’ll want to make the survey just the right length.  What does that mean?  Make it comprehensive enough to gather the information you need, but not too long, not too short.  Shoot for 50 to 75 questions.

Additionally, to get your employee’s opinions, include a few short answer questions that can best be answered in written form.  I think this enhances the information you gather and gives the respondent some freedom of expression.

Scaling the Survey
While open-ended questions can be insightful, the majority of your survey should consist of scaled questions.  Surveys can be scaled many different ways and there is no shortage of information on the right way to number your answer range.   I could write a blog on scaling alone!  For simplicities sake, and to get you started, I’ll refer to what I do – I stick with the 5 point model.  This would include the following examples:

Very Satisfied Extremely Happy
Somewhat Satisfied Very Happy
Neither Satisfied or Dissatisfied OR Somewhat Happy
Somewhat Dissatisfied Slightly Happy
Very Dissatisfied Not at all Happy

You can go up to seven points on a scale, but more than seven points is overwhelming for your users.  Studies indicate that people are not able to place a point of view on scales greater than seven; the mind can only embrace a certain amount of information at a given time.  What’s the perfect number?  Studies aren’t conclusive, but 3, 4, and 5 point scales are most common.

The Survey is Set Up, What Next?
Before sending out the survey, communicate with your employees.  Let everyone know why you have chosen to conduct a survey and what you hope to accomplish.  Clearly state that the information obtained in the survey process is anonymous and confidential, and encourage everyone to offer their honest feedback.

Employees won’t participate if they feel that their responses mean nothing.  Let them know you will take the information they provide seriously and the results aren’t going to be ignored and filed away.  Assure them that you will communicate the results.  One of the worst things an organization can do is to conduct a survey and not disclose the results or use the information that is obtained.

Timing Counts
Once you have the survey ready, don’t blow it with poor timing.  SurveyMonkey, an online survey site, has researched the best time to launch a survey.  They found that response rates were the highest for surveys sent out on Monday, and lowest for invitations sent out on Friday.  On average, research indicated that surveys that went out on Mondays received 10% more responses than average and surveys sent out on Fridays received 13% fewer responses than average.

Also, give employees adequate time to complete the survey.  Don’t expect immediate turnaround, but don’t give them so much time that they forget about it.  We are back to the 3 Bear Principal yet again!  You want thoughtful responses, not off-the-cuff remarks.  Every organization has slow and busy times; don’t sabotage yourself by deploying the survey during a busy or stressful time.

I’ve Got the Answers, Now What?
Once the information is collected, compile and analyze the results. Are there themes that emerge? Are there sub-themes that emerge?

In light of the responses, determine what changes should be made.  There may be clear answers with logical conclusions and there may be other cases where the information provided was not enough to draw a conclusion.  In these cases, you will need to probe further.

Get the information out to the employees.  Tell them what you’ve learned and what action you plan to take to address the issues that were brought to light.  Maybe you will form a committee to brainstorm solutions or offer training where needed.  Most employees understand that change takes time, but it is important that the results of the survey are disclosed as soon as possible.

Developing an employee survey may sound overwhelming, but before you know it, you’ll become an expert.  Don’t let the steps scare you off, as the information you can attain can be invaluable.