The shopping list of staff surveys…Part Two

Gary Cattermole is a Director at leading staff survey provider and employee engagement specialists, The Survey Initiative. Here he offers advice on the most effective and value-for-money solutions to running a survey, and why sometimes it’s best to get face-to-face.…

In our last blog we discussed the surveys on offer in the HR, training and health and safety arenas; we discussed the options available to glean information on rates of employee engagement, accidents in the workplace, or training course feedback etc. Here we shall look in more depth at the costs of running a survey, and what methods prove most valuable…

Running a survey the costs…

Organising, implementing and evaluating a staff survey does not necessarily have to be expensive. A survey can be undertaken quickly and cheaply, but this will really depend on the complexity, style and demographic of your workforce. For many SMEs it’s a waste of time to bring in an external consultant, or to run an online or printed questionnaire – the general rule being if you’re small it’s often easier to talk face-to-face and get a real insight into the hearts and minds of your employees than an impersonal survey. However, if you employ hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of people in multiple locations, and they all speak different languages, then this really is not going to be practical or economical.

Pros and Cons of outsourcing

In budget strapped times it’s often easy to understand why some HR, training and health and safety practitioners consider uploading a series of questions on to Survey Monkey or a similar provider and await the results. The biggest problem of running a survey yourself is that employees tend to be sceptical of any staff survey. Anonymity is vital to gaining real results, feedback that staff would honestly say, not just say to keep their manager happy. If you’re looking to gain a real insight into what’s going on trust must be inherent.

An external specialist can guide you through the process, which can be a big help if this is a new survey, or something a professional has only just become responsible for.

Template or bespoke?

Some external consultants will offer template software solutions that you can top and tail to suit your employees. However, this approach, may be ideal for a simple staff survey but it is rarely bespoke enough to analyse anything more challenging, such as company restructure, redundancies, new management team, merger… Software providers will allow you to personalise your questions, but if there’s a real issue you need to get to grips with this method is probably not the best way forward.

Bespoke surveys, naturally will focus on the issues directly effecting your workplace. A bespoke survey will be more expensive but prices will vary dramatically so it’s worth shopping around to find the best fit.

Software surveys are focused more on gaining quantitative data, which is ideal for picking up general trends in the workplace, but unless there are more open-ended questions it’s unlikely you’ll find the reasons why something is happening. Often it is good value for money to run a quantitative survey first then follow-up with more face-to-face, focus groups or telephone interviews to grab more detailed information on why these trends are occurring. Again a general pattern will form, but it is very difficult to get this detailed data unless employees are given the chance to explain in detail their thoughts and ideas.

Understanding the results

This may sound simple. But for many interrogating a set of statistics can be very difficult and if you can’t drill down to the heart of the matter, you’ll still not understand what is going on in the office environment.

By working alongside a survey specialist they can help you identify what is going on and help you present data to teams, management and the board in a clear and concise fashion.

What to do next?

 You may be left with a set of statistics that show, for example:

  • Employee engagement is 15% down on last year.
  • Confidence in the Leadership team is at 65%.
  • Communication has hit an all-time low of 54%.

So what should you do?

There may be various reasons why your statistics could change over the year, takeover, redundancies, restructure etc. However, it is vital that the feedback from your staff is acted upon; otherwise it will simply breed hostility to the management team. Qualitative data collection, such as face-to-face chats with smaller groups, or telephone interviews are ideal at this stage as they will help you pinpoint the reasons behind why there has been a change or low figure in a specific sector. For example: communication is at an all-time low – perhaps after discussions with staff you discover that the Monday morning team meeting has been stopped due to managers being too busy, and that the internal newsletter has been cut due to budget restrictions. This is all essential feedback that cannot be gleaned from a tick box approach to data collection.

By encouraging a dialogue at this stage too, rather than just looking at stats from a software package, it will also help you formulate a plan for the way ahead. By listening to ideas from the workforce, new ways of doing things simply and more effectively can be created. For example: if exploring the low confidence rate in the leadership of the organisation, it may transpire that staff feel that they don’t know the CEO, they haven’t bothered to visit their department etc – this is all very insightful information that can be acted upon quickly.

In general terms quantitative or qualitative methods are not better or worse than any other, they should be applied at the right time to suit the right situation. Remember if you’re in a small organisation face-to-face group meetings are ideal, but if you manage a more complex organisation quantitative research is ideal for picking up trends and qualitative methods are great at getting to the heart of why those trends are occurring.

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