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Employee Surveys: Avoid the Old London Bus Syndrome

Unfortunately, like an old London Routemaster bus, the door to survey content is open and not well guarded; there are six steps that will help clean up and pare down your survey

London Routemaster Bus

London Routemaster Bus, pictured on the Strand en-route to the Royal Albert Hall, London, UK.
Photograph: Canley (Licensed under Creative Commons)

CEB measures what works well in organizations, and shares that insight with our members and clients. Lately we’ve been harnessing this rich source of knowledge in our Workforce Surveys & Analytics group by using a client’s own business priorities as a starting point for survey programs.

Our new ClearAdvantage framework starts with just a few key elements (engagement, alignment, and agility) and then adds on only those topics which are strategically important, and actionable, for that client. We do that by using questions informed by years of CEB research; behavioural-based questions that we know get to the essence of those business priorities.

Unfortunately, employee surveys are often treated as a convenient way to measure things–anything that is vaguely organizational in nature–and it’s often difficult to convince key stakeholders that their personal topic area isn’t necessarily something that is going to effectively measure and thus affect business performance if acted upon.

Like an old Routemaster London bus, the door to survey content is open and often not very well guarded, meaning people can easily jump on board. Sometimes, those people go unchecked; sometimes, they’re VIPs. This can result in a survey questionnaire that becomes very long indeed, and full of content that may not be relevant to many people.

When clients work with us, they use that engagement, as an opportunity to trim the questionnaire of all those ‘nice-to-have’ questions that have been clinging on for dear life for many years.

Managing the Ever-Growing Snowball of Survey Content

From our work with clients over the years, we recommend six steps in particular to ensure workforce surveys remain aligned with company strategy and are designed to achieve meaningful change.

  1. Be clear from the outset what your employee survey is designed to achieve: Is it just a way of measuring things in the hope that it will cause a change in employee behavior, or is it a way of assessing the stated goals and priorities for your business?
  2. Engagement of CxOs is key: If you can achieve a focus on business priorities, you’ll find your leadership are much more interested in keeping things focused. We recommend starting with the outputs of the survey to get their attention.
  3. Get real leadership backing: Once you have it, you’ll be able to restrict content insisted upon by ‘survey stowaways’ to only those that are critical to the business.
  4. Communicate early: Tell managers and survey participants as early as possible that the survey is being shortened (if that’s the case) and why. You’ll find that explaining to managers that they’ll find it easier to prioritise and action plan will quickly outweigh any negative sentiments.
  5. Be prepared for pushback: Managers are surprisingly change-averse when it comes to surveys. Make sure key indices are retained if required for KPIs, but be ready to stand firm with people who have a strong stance but little substance.
  6. Just say ‘no’: Sometimes, a hard-line approach is the only one that will work. You may not be everyone’s favourite colleague for a while (this makes point 2 even more important), but most people will have forgotten about the transition once results are out and they see the benefits.

Ultimately, standing one’s ground is essential to success, but having the right backup prepared in terms of research, rationale and reasoning is absolutely critical. You might need it.

Learn more about our Workforce Surveys & Analytics group and ClearAdvantage approach by visiting our website and downloading our white paper.

2 Responses

  • The Crown says:

    Second sentence reads {Lately we been harnessing this rich source of knowledge}

    You be from the West country do he?

    • Tim Stafford says:

      Thank you for the spot! It has now been corrected. This was actually written by a British contributor so maybe it was a regional slip of the finger. I presume you’re referring to Somerset rather than Utah or Wyoming?


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