Why do many organisations still fail in following up on surveys?

In our latest Ipsos LEAD blog, Kimmo Parkki asks why the most challenging part of an employee survey process has been the follow-up action planning.

Why do many organisations still fail in following up on surveys?

The author(s)

  • Kimmo Parkki Ipsos LEAD, UK
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From the dawn of time, the most challenging part of an employee survey process has been action planning. And it still is. We frequently hear comments like ‘why bother completing the survey, nothing will happen anyway’, ‘we’ve mentioned about these issues to our manager multiple times but nothing has changed’ etc. Why is that? Shouldn’t it be in everybody’s, both managers’ and employees’, best interest to improve the working experience for everybody? What or who is blocking it?

In order to be able to answer these questions, we need first to take a step backwards and go back to the ultimate question, what is the purpose of the survey and, as a follow up, who is it for?

Most organisations define the objectives of the survey as two-fold:

  • To measure the level of a key indicator (e.g. engagement, wellbeing, satisfaction, high performance)
  • To identify areas for improvement and to act on them

Typically, a survey has also two distinctive target audiences:

  • Employees, allowing them to voice their opinions and concerns about their job experience
  • Managers and leaders, informing them about specific issues employees face and prompting for corrective actions.

In addition, many organisations create intricate action planning processes to help and support managers in their task to move from insight to action. So far so good. All is set for a successful survey process! Let’s go back to my original question, why do many organisations still fail in following up on surveys?

Potential Blockers For Survey Follow-up

  1. There is more focus on creating an action plan than on acting on survey results. Even though the intentions of detailed action planning processes and tools are good, they may also limit action planning to a form filling exercise. Submission of action plans to survey champions or inclusion of actions into an online action planning tool allow the survey process owners (HR/Internal Comms etc) to report back to business leaders the level of post-survey activities, but does it genuinely support managers in their follow-up? I do fear that very elaborate action planning processes take the focus away from the ‘action’ and emphases more the ‘plan’. Do we really need survey action plans? Shouldn’t we focus more on up-skilling managers to listen to employees (not just via employee surveys, but in daily interaction) and to use that insight continuously in decision-making and not just once a year?
  2. Survey follow-up becomes a number chasing game. Most surveys produce quantitative results and quite often the results are presented in comparison with trend and internal/external benchmark data. As managers have multiple numeric KPIs to chase, it is far too easy to condense the survey results into a couple of numeric targets that we ask managers to focus on. ‘You need to improve your engagement score with 5% points’, does it sound familiar? Chasing a target (that even may impact the manager’s remuneration) doesn’t necessarily increase employee confidence in the follow-up process as the focus for actions is on organisational/managerial targets instead of employee concerns. Again, the emphasis should be in educating managers to appreciate survey results as one source of feedback in a continuous listening process.
  3. Managers take results too personally. When reviewing results for small teams, results can easily be perceived as direct feedback on the individual team leader. Do we train managers to cope with negative feedback? Do they know how to use the feedback constructively as a part of their own personal development? This of course applies to all interaction between manager and his/her direct reports, employees should feel free to provide their manager with constructive feedback anytime without fear of reprisals.
  4. Why wait for the survey results until acting? In most cases, if not in all, a survey doesn’t reveal anything new that the manager wouldn’t already be aware of. In other words, the reasons for inaction are not in the survey itself but in manager’s inability to tackle the issue that they are already aware of. Do we have a culture in place where managers who struggle can reach out for support and help? Do people managers to line managers check in on a regular basis with their direct reports if they need additional support or training?

As a conclusion, we need to upskill managers to listen to (and communicate with) their employees effectively and help managers realise that an employee survey is just one part of the listening process. Even though action planning processes are well-intended, they may focus managers’ attention on ‘planning’ instead of ‘acting’ and hinder managers to do what is best for their own teams. In other words, we need to assess if the processes in place really support the objectives of the survey or if the processes are mainly set up as a steering mechanism for the process owners.

Never confuse activity with accomplishment

- John Wooden

  • Join us on Wednesday 21st March for our next Ipsos LEAD Employee Engagement round-table where EDF Energy will share how they have approached post-survey follow-up.

The author(s)

  • Kimmo Parkki Ipsos LEAD, UK