I was recently speaking with a senior HR professional, someone I have a lot of respect for, who was brave enough to admit that modern HR is interesting, exciting and confusing all at the same time. We discussed the tsunami of daily articles and blogs about a myriad of topics that seem to have diametrically opposed suggestions on what constitutes ‘best practice’. We both admitted to being fascinated with the unintended consequences rising from previously claimed best practices. Performance reviews, open-planned offices, and rewards programs are just a few examples.
Another is the good old employee survey. Depending on your experience and job title, online employee surveys might be described as anything from convenient, to time-consuming, to frustrating, to a complete waste of time.
1. They are convenient
If you are responsible for gathering employee feedback, do-it-yourself online surveys are highly convenient. Imagine how much time it would take to go and ask those questions to every employee personally? Instead, all that is required is to familiarise oneself with an online survey tool, collate the email addresses, and send out the questions. At the end of the survey period, you have somewhat of an instantaneous result. Brilliant.
2. They are time-consuming
Of course, conducting a successful employee survey is a bit more involved than that. One needs to check, plan, and double-check, not to mention the effort it takes to get sign-off on questions from the senior leadership team. And then the real work starts. Producing charts and powerpoint presentations for Leaders, and feeding back the information to various parts of the company is often time-consuming and can take weeks. With the modern employee survey now becoming a quarterly pulse survey, the already-full plate is now heaped quite high for most HR professionals.
3. They are frustrating
If you are an employee, the problem with do-it-yourself survey tools is that they are convenient for the person conducting the survey (see point 1). Thus, they tend to be used for every feedback situation. Culture, Engagement, Safety, Onboarding, Climate…the list can be quite a long one. If you are an employee, this can be frustrating due to the never-ending requests for opinions without ever really discovering whether the contribution was valuable in any way. One-way conversations are not necessarily pleasant.
4. They are a complete waste of time
What sort of information do surveys really collect? To answer this, we need to consider the true nature of online surveys:
In other words, online surveys alone produce incomplete data.
So what should be done?
As someone who has been involved in online surveys for a long time now, I find it interesting when I read about the use of employee surveys. They are good, bad, and everything in between - a debate which sort of misses the point. The player (a survey) is getting the blame when in fact it is being forced to play the wrong game (create a feedback loop for the betterment of the entire company).
Surveys are just one tool in the toolbox, and should never (ever) be used exclusively. They are great for pointing in the direction of problems and opportunities, and should always co-exist with other forms of data to form an overall program of feedback and communication.
Put yourself in the best position to add value
As an HR professional, perhaps consider giving the do-it-yourself product a miss and instead focus energy on the highest value tasks that will make the biggest difference to the Company (if this sounds appealing check out www.engaugesurveys.com). Online employee surveys are not evil, but they have the potential to waste both time and resources. They can also be highly useful when used appropriately.
Jason Buchanan is General Manager Insight & Innovation at Optimum Consulting Group, and has recently assisted in the launch of Engauge Surveys (www.engaugesurveys.com) in Australia.
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