6 ways to get honest, measurable results from your employee survey

Build trust with employees by sharing the “what,” “why,” “how” and “when.”

Organizations – and their communicators – love surveys. There’s nothing like raw data to prove a point, dispel a myth and make an argument for change.

But while your survey might be great, getting employees to take it should be approached with the passion of a political campaign.

Here are six ways to build trust and engagement before, during and after your survey:

1. Get an executive sponsor. Be sure to get your CEO, chief communications officer or another executive leader involved. If employees receive an email message or hear their CEO at a town hall extolling the virtues of taking the survey, they will take heed. Be sure your leader explains the “what” and “why” of the survey in a way employees can understand. No corporate speak! Get to the “what’s in it for me” as quick as you can.

Quick tip: Make it personal. In your survey email, your CEO should ask for employees’ help to improve internal communications.

2. Market your survey campaign. The executive announcement is the first step in marketing your efforts. Next, you need to share the “how” and “when.” Let employees know how the survey will be delivered to them and how long it should take to complete it. You might even share a sample question or two so they know what to expect. Tell them how long the survey will be open and what will happen after it closes.

Quick tip: To boost participation, offer incentives, like a prize drawing or a free lunch for the department the produces the highest survey returns.

3. Assure anonymity. Emphasize in your messages that the survey will be anonymous. We recommend ending the survey with a few demographic questions that will help you analyze potential differences without compromising anonymity (length of service, in a range; headquarters and remote locations; or job categories, such as manager, executive leadership, administrative, etc.) If your audience is small, don’t ask any demographic questions that could reveal the identity of the survey takers.

Quick tip: Anonymity is such an important issue, especially in organizations that have been battered by change. At minimum, allow an independent agency collect your survey results and then give you the raw data.

4. Ask only what you can control. Don’t ask people if they’d like a raise (they would), when it’s not in your power to grant one. Similarly, don’t offer solutions you may not be able to deliver. Instead, collect data that will help you make an argument for change.

Quick tip: For example, instead of asking employees if they want a mobile app, you might instead gather information about how they use their smartphones. That data could set in motion a business case for a mobile app budget in your long-term plan.

5. Be transparent with the results. Share the high-level results with employees no later than one month after you close the survey. Consider reporting back in categories like “Surprises,” “Unanimous Findings,” and “Needs Improvement.” Don’t be afraid to add a few verbatim answers to open-ended questions when relevant. Later, make all the data and results available for anyone who wants to take a deeper dive.

Quick tip: Share the results in various ways. You could publish a story highlighting the most relevant findings, or ask your leaders to share them in a Town Hall or other employee forum. Hold a session with managers to give them more specifics they can use in meetings with their direct reports.

6. Follow up. A survey is just one piece of your communications audit. Once you’ve analyzed your survey data, focus group results and leadership interviews – and benchmarked them against your content and channels, you’re ready to make some recommendations. Organize your recommendations into three buckets of short-, moderate- and long-term changes. Run a pulse survey, online poll or a quick focus group to get feedback on the change.

Quick tip: When you make a change or improvement, don’t forget to remind employees that their feedback had a lot to do with it. That tells them that their voice matters.

Rebecca Shaffer is managing partner of Ragan Consulting Group. She specializes in internal communications consulting.

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