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Survey Your People

Think about the last time your company did an engagement survey. The world looked pretty different, didn’t it? Your employees’ relationship to the organization has changed, whether your organization has been thriving or hasn’t taken a revenue hit or you’ve had to furlough and fight for survival.

That standard engagement survey has its moment, but this isn’t one of them. It’s not going to get you what you need this year. Engagement is important, but the focus right now needs to be on determining your readiness to move forward. You need different questions and different perspectives – particularly if you’ve been greatly impacted.

So, if you put your standard engagement survey in the drawer for a while, what should you do instead?

You can’t just skip it. And you can’t just survey.

You might be thinking, “I have my finger on the pulse, and this is all temporary anyway, so why bother?” or “We need to move fast and be decisive – there’s no time for feedback!” That might be what you are thinking, but what your people are likely thinking is that they are being cut out of the conversation.

I hear from leaders all the time that they are worried about over-surveying their employees. But I’m going to call BS on that one. Find me a person who hates giving their opinion on relevant issues and seeing their opinion reflected in the actions their organization takes. There isn’t one!

Everyone wants to be asked for feedback. They just want it to be about things that matter right now. And they want to see leaders make adjustments based on that feedback. Which means you can’t just collect data; it needs to be reflected in your go-forward approach.

You need to move fast – but you also need to ask more than 5 questions.

Pulse surveys are an excellent way to keep track of important metrics once a baseline is established. They deploy quickly and provide the company with great feedback. But honestly, we’ve blown our current baseline to bits at this point and the short pulse isn’t going to give you enough of the story.

Instead, consider using a smaller sample. For example, I would recommend an assessment that focuses on frontline managers – the most influential group of employees you have. But ask more questions to ensure you are getting the full picture of what’s happening. And don’t just survey – get people talking, too. Data points are just one small part of the story. Through focus groups or interviews, really dig into why people are feeling the way they are and what they believe are the best actions to take. Get the story behind the story.

You need to ask the right questions – your standard set is going to sound tone deaf.

Putting out a standard set of questions is very much akin to not acknowledging what’s happening in the world today. Rather than looking at the organization in the same way and comparing the results to last year, we need to understand how our people are reacting to this moment of uncertainty.

Specifically, you want a framework that considers an employee’s perception of the current state, capabilities, future state, and leadership. When collecting feedback in today’s environment, you need to consider aspects of the employee experience like:

  • Their perception of the organization’s COVID-19 response. Has there been a loss of trust due to the response? An increase? Are they aligned on how appropriate the response was? Have they felt they can safely voice opinions about it?
  • The stress they are experiencing. Do they think COVID is overblown or not taken seriously enough? Are they feeling pressure daily? How concerned are they about what the future will bring?
  • How well equipped they feel. Do they know what’s expected of them? Do they have the tools and training they need for this moment in time?

Once you have this insight, you can use it to determine areas that need support, identifying opportunities to shift communication and change management strategies to accelerate strategic shifts.

Engagement surveys or organizational “health” surveys have a place and time. This is not the place and not the time. But don’t take that to mean that your people’s input isn’t important. It’s probably more critical to your organization than even before. What you need right now are insights that will guide organizational shifts so you can move fast and get results fast.

June 10, 2020


I want to hear how you can help my organization align on and activate our strategy. Call me, today.

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