Sunday, December 4, 2011

How often should you survey employees?

People often ask me how frequently to conduct employee surveys. The most popular debate seems to be between doing it on an annual basis or every other year. As our friends at Saturday Night Live would say,


Think about it. Imagine telling your CEO that from now on the management team will only look at the financial data every 2 years. Your argument would be something like:

* It takes so much time to review financials; we should stop looking at them so much and just do it every other year.

* I mean, if we can't make a big impact on the financials from week to week or month to month, then why look at the data?

* Managers don't have time to look at financial data; they are busy doing other things.

Yes, these arguments sound ridiculous. And my guess is that many years from now, when word gets out that inviting employee feedback and reviewing data quarterly, monthly, or even weekly has the SAME EXACT EFFECT ON BOTTOM-LINE PERFORMANCE as reviewing financial, sales, productivity and quality data then looking back at yearly and every-other year processes will make us all laugh.

Today, the enlightened companies that do realize their employee data are important enough to use for overall decision making are indeed laughing - because these "new-age" companies are leaping way ahead of their competition.

You ask how often to survey employees? The answer is how often do you survey other types of data, such as sales, financial or productivity data? I could argue that employee data are actually even more important than these other types of data because people drive sales, productivity, quality and financial output.

Below is the eePulse tip sheet -to help clients think about survey frequently. To learn more, visit

Definition: Pulse dialogue = eePulse's term for short, frequent pulse surveys

The eePulse process requires frequent data collection (weekly, every other week, or monthly are common frequencies). If the frequency is any less than monthly, variation cannot be studied well, and in most organizations, the data cannot be part of the overall internal business metrics system (which reports monthly or more often).

Overall, eePulse’s research and work with clients shows the following:

First, clients can alter the frequency during an implementation. In general, it is better to start out with more frequent dialogues and then “dial down” to a less frequent process. This is preferable to starting out less frequently then “dialing up.” The reason for this is that with more frequent pulse dialogues, everyone learns faster, and it also builds high trust in the process. Thus, when an organization moves to less frequent data collection, the data are high quality and managers know how to use the data. People also get into the habit of responding with a higher frequency start-up process, and it gives them time to learn to trust the process (e.g. it’s confidential).

Second, separate data collection from data analysis. Just because a company collects data weekly does not mean managers have to respond weekly. Consider how often most firms collect data on sales, productivity, and quality. They collect data frequently so that when they sit down to do a thorough analysis they are responding to trend data vs. point-in-time data.

Third, the frequency should fit the following:

Rate of change – the higher the rate of change, the more frequent the process.

Metrics strategy – as a client has more managers asking their own questions, the more frequent the process is preferred because each dialogue still can be short.

Culture, climate and habits – the pulse dialogue is not just a “data gathering” device; it provides clients with an intervention that makes employees feel more valued. When employees are asked to express ideas and opinions, they feel appreciated. The pulse dialogues are a listening device; it’s about interactive dialogues or give and take.

Fourth, clients do best when they do not fixate on response rates. Clients let employees know that the pulse dialogues will be there every week, every other week, etc., and it is ok to not respond all the time. Employees should be encouraged to try to participate in the pulse dialogue process (and encourage them to fill out the quantitative data at least if they have time) but not worry about comments every week. Because variance predicts performance, the more frequent process gives you better predictive data; however, a 100% response rate is not required.
A representative response is the goal.
Learn more about transforming surveys into leadership tools at Presentations at my slideshare account available via the link in this post.

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