11 tactics for getting the most out of staff surveys

Employees want a voice in how your organization runs, but bombarding them with scores of questions—especially if no action comes of it—will prove tedious and off-putting.

Here’s the key to staff surveys: You can act only on those matters you ask about.

When people understand your questions, it’s easier for them to answer openly and honestly, giving you better feedback to analyze about onboarding, engagement and beyond.

Remember these tips for writing meaningful employee survey questions.

1. Have one key person overseeing the questions.

This person understands the survey strategy and purpose and is responsible for collecting feedback on the queries posed by relevant people within your company. Having one decision-maker in charge of understanding the purpose behind each question keeps the process concise.

2. Start with objectives.

It’s tempting to dive into writing questions right away, but each question must have a purpose defined by objectives. Look at what systems and initiatives you have in place, and take into account what you are planning for the future.

3. Consider your company culture.

Ask, “What has been critical to our success?” If you’re using a template and find that some questions aren’t relevant to you, rewrite them so they become useful. Your organization is unique, and your questions should reflect that. That can be as simple as changing the language in questions from “manager” to “coach” if that’s how your workplace functions.

4. Understand the cognitive model of question response.

Understand how someone responding to a given statement might process it mentally.

We’ll walk through it with the example: “I receive appropriate recognition for my work”

Step One: Understand the intent of the statement. “I understand what recognition is”
Step Two: Search memory for information. “When was the last time I felt recognized?”
Step Three: Integrate information into judgment. “Yes, I do receive appropriate recognition.”
Step Four: Translate judgment onto response options. “I would rate this favorably.”

5. Familiarize yourself with “bi-directional” questions.

Each question sends a signal. If the assertion to be rated is, “My manager gives me feedback once a week,” it sends a signal that weekly feedback is the norm. Understanding this idea ensures that you are sending the right signals on company norms.

6. Have the right scale.

Always include a midpoint in your Likert scale, because it accounts for people who do feel neutral on a question. If you exclude a midpoint, your “favorable” sentiment becomes inflated as people tend to acquiesce to the “yes” or “positive” side of the scale rather than answering how they truly feel.

7. Include benchmark questions.

If the platform you’re using offers benchmarks, include those important questions, so you can compare your survey results against the rest of your industry.

8. Don’t ask questions you aren’t ready to discuss.

Survey respondents are going to expect that if you ask about compensation, for example, you’re willing to converse about or change something regarding that policy.

9. In general, don’t make questions mandatory.

Requiring a reply can be frustrating and annoying for people who honestly can’t answer the question. Participation should be voluntary, and mandatory questions defy that notion.

10. Each question should serve a purpose.

You should understand the “why” behind each question, but not every question has to be immediately actionable. You’re looking for questions that diagnose a problem, not to necessarily solve it on an individual basis.

11. Put yourself in the mindset of the survey taker.

Fatigue can affect results. If your 200-question survey covers every aspect of your company, participants will get tired. Keep them interested and focused by limiting the scope and number of questions. Take the survey yourself to estimate the time it will take to complete it.

Alexis Croswell is senior content marketing manager at Culture Amp. A version of this post first appeared on the Culture Amp blog.

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