Employee Surveys

The True Challenge


An employee feedback survey is a productivity measurement tool, but unlike most other management measurements it usually emphasizes the relationship between management and employees, the so called soft issues.  These factors are often overlooked when the pressure is on for improved profits.  Ironically, this is the time when relationships may be most critical to an organization's success.

It is perfectly understandable that management typically focuses on "hard" measures such as head count reduction as a solution to performance issues.  Improving management-employee relationships in an organization takes time, energy and resources which may be at a premium.

One of the strongest obstacles my be readiness to change on the part of both managers and employees.  Survey feedback only works when the conditions are right. 

Individual Readiness to Change

Current research indicates that there are five stages of change in which individuals cycle and often recycle in order to achieve successful and enduring behavior change.

DenialThere is not a problem; feedback has very little value.  People in the denial stage are least likely to benefit because they are not aware that they have a problem and may not be motivated to correct it simply based on survey feedback. 

Contemplation: Awareness of a problem; modest motivation toward improvement.  It is in the contemplation stage that people are most helped by consciousness-raising activities such as survey-based feedback.

PreparationIntention to change; orientation to action.  Managers in the preparation state profit most because they know they have a problem and feedback tends to clarify their perceptions.

Action: Positive actions, measurable results.  People at the action stage have probably been taking serious steps to modify their behavior and are helped to change through the supportive relationships and availability of processes that add clarity and direction to their initiatives. 

Maintenance: Continuous orientation toward growth.  A manager in the maintenance mode strives to maintain his or her competitive edge through effective self-management skills along with nearly any other growth vehicle that is presented.


Is the Organization Ready to Change?

A managerís motivation to change is highly influence by factors within the organizationóthe culture and systems in which the individual receives feedback. A model for change that looks only at the individual and fails to address the context for change greatly diminishes the potential success of feedback for the individual. Support and emphasis from senior management along with an expression of urgency are therefore key ingredients in any program. If there is inadequate support, motivation is seriously diluted.

The values that support an organizationís culture may also make change difficult. If a managerís vision for change is at cross-purposes with long and deeply held values, change may not be easily maintained once the urgency for change is relaxed. For example, if an organization has long embraced a command and control leadership way of thinking, then improved interpersonal skills may not receive the endorsement and support necessary to sustain and grow this type of behavior.

Looking at the feedback process, it should be readily apparent that it is not a quick fix proposition. The conditions need to be right and the motivation strong at both the participant and organizational levels. Like most worthwhile projects, a solid action plan will require, structure, discipline, and hard work in order to be successful.


Critical Elements of Successful Action Planning

The focus for the manager needs to be identification of activities that will help him or her to acquire new skills that will lead to improved leadership effectiveness. This means the acquisition of information from the feedback report that guides the participant toward action planning opportunities. This is often called a gap analysisówhere are you now and where do you want to be?

Readiness: Personal and organizational support for the process.  Participants at all levels are included in the development of an action-planning model that is clearly understood. The action-planning model typically assumes approximately 80% learning on the job, and 20% through focused experiences in which participants review their action planning ideas with their manager and feedback group. In this part of the process the participantís manager needs to be actively involved, preferably as a mentor.

Evaluation: Define the purpose, process and payoff.  After participants have identified the appropriate and relevant skills/behaviors for development the ownership of the process is entirely in their hands with cooperation and support from his or her manager. Commitment to the process makes the experience and return on invested time and energy more worthwhile. At this point a "draft" action plan highlighting potential improvement opportunities is developed.

Mentoring, Coaching and Feedback: Using feedback from stakeholders is the engine that drives successful action-planning.  During the feedback process, the "draft" action plan is being amended, to reflect additional input. There are three different ways to gather feedback. A participant can use any one of these options or can combine all three.

Mentoring and coaching from the participantís manager can be enhanced through the use of learning aids. Many organizations, for example use custom Coaching Reports to facilitate action planning. These are comprehensive documents that highlight the key strengths and weaknesses of each participant along with guidelines for improvement. The reports contain specific guidelines for action planning tied to the three lowest scores. For example, if listening skills appears as a priority, the Coaching Report will provide several pointers for the participant on how to improve in that area. While not intended to replace the action plan, this information can be invaluable in helping both the mentor and participant explore problems and opportunities in much greater depth than might be achieved in normal discussions.

There are several ways in which the participant can gather feedback from stakeholders.

  ∑  A written response that summarizes the survey results and asks clarification questions. Respondents can anonymously respond to this request, and the participant can factor his or her responses into the action plan.
  One-on-one discussions to share survey results and gather input. The participant asks for time during a break, over lunch, or after work to discuss his or her report. He or she prepares for the meeting just as one would prepare for the written response. This means summarizing the key areas of the survey report, and preparing clarification questions.

A meeting with survey respondents. Just as in the one-on-one discussions, the participant will want to share information and ask questions to get clarification and suggestions for change.



Achieving Results

Application: Define and communicate the role of manager/mentor and prepare to meet frequently to monitor results and make changes.  As the participantís manager works with him or her in a mentor role, they form a partnership build on trust and commitment to progress. The ideas expressed in the Coaching Report may be refined and included into the action plan, or new ideas introduced. The goal of this review is to sign off on the key developmental opportunities, devise a strategy, and determining the expected results.

Results: Implement a fully developed action plan along with follow-up.  Identify your learning goal. Be SMART Ė Specific, Measurable, Acton-oriented, Realistic, and Time-focused. The goal should be stated in positive and personal terms and should be challenging but realistic.

Duration: Make a long-term commitment to personal growth.   By continually reviewing his or her learning goal and practicing the actions to support it, the participant reinforces the change and closes the gap between the value-added goal and the actual result. A post measurement of the results will provide feedback from the original response group showing before and after results. These results will not only reveal the difference between the goal and the final results, but will help him or her to determine what further steps are required, if any.