#smallbusinessweek Employee Feedback

By Carley Childress

Considering that engagement is still relatively low—only 34% of all employees are engaged—organizations can benefit from employee feedback that pinpoints key areas for improvement. Employee surveys are valuable tools for gaining insight into employee work experience, and they also aid in the development of a road map for improving engagement. However, an employee survey is only as good as the platform on which it’s delivered, the quality and relevance of the questions asked, and the follow-up to the survey.

Asking for direct feedback requires careful preparation and a survey design that elicits the clearest, most actionable responses. Here are nine ways to ensure you receive the most useful feedback from your next employee survey:

Use the Right Technology

Conducting employee surveys is about more than asking questions and collecting responses. An effective employee survey platform offers a seamless way of soliciting employee feedback, analyzing results, and displaying trends. When the best of technology and talent management come together to form a dynamic employee survey solution, there’s an opportunity to better measure and act on employee feedback. And eliciting great feedback isn’t solely an HR responsibility. According to research by Gartner, by 2020, 20% of organizations will include employee engagement improvement as a shared performance objective for HR and IT groups, including annual surveys, pulse surveys, and other digital feedback mechanisms.

Employee survey software offers a secure way to hear and measure the voice of the employee, and it delivers the following benefits:

  • Allows for specific questions to go to certain employee groups—for example, asking managers and individual contributors different sets of questions
  • Can be designed to deliver employee surveys on a preset schedule
  • Offers employees more assurances of anonymity
  • Includes dashboards and reports that boil down multiple data points, making the feedback easy to understand
  • Allows employees to access cloud-based surveys from anywhere

Make Questions Direct

Confusing, vague questions will yield confusing, vague feedback. Questions that ask more than one thing at a time or use terminology that employees don’t understand will also limit your opportunities to get direct feedback. Each survey question should always ask one thing, clearly, and without the risk for misinterpretation. That way, when you receive the feedback, it’s easier to understand and measure. Some good ideas for asking direct questions include:

  • Keep questions short and to the point. If the question gets to be a paragraph long, trim it down or break it up into multiple questions.
  • Use simple language to ask questions.
  • Avoid abbreviations, acronyms, and jargon.

Make Questions Objective

Employee surveys are most effective when questions are objective and steer away from making assumptions about employees’ views or experiences. Survey questions should be neutral and refrain from leading employees to a certain response. For example, instead of asking, “How much do you like our new wellness benefits?” you’ll get more direct and honest feedback by asking, “How would you rate your experience with our new wellness benefits?” The point of feedback isn’t to get the answers you want- it’s to get the answers you need. When given objective questions, employees are more likely to give honest responses that promote meaningful action.

Don’t Ask Yes/No Questions

Just as in a job interview, open-ended questions reveal more direct and detailed feedback than yes/no questions. Open-ended questions give employees an opportunity to speak about what matters to them most, instead of limiting them to only two opposing responses. For example, asking, “What does it take to be successful here?” will elicit more useful feedback than, “Does your manager always position you for success?”

A good rule of thumb is to avoid using terms such as “always,” “never,” or “every” and replace those terms with descriptors such as “how much” or “how often.”

Survey at the Right Frequency

Employee surveys should be conducted often enough to capture important shifts in the organization, but not so often that they become burdensome to employees. To find the right frequency, start by reminding yourself the point of the survey, which is to understand and help your employees. You will help your employees by taking action. If you have the organizational agility to act on feedback on a daily basis, then pulse surveys, which survey on a daily basis, can be powerful agents of change. But don’t assume higher frequency leads to higher value. To maximize the employee survey at your company, your employees need to see the survey as a tool for enacting meaningful change. Consider your organization’s structure and agility and set a survey frequency that will mirror your ability to take action. When your employees see meaningful action resulting from the survey, they will be more inclined to provide actionable feedback, regardless of the frequency.

Keep the Survey Short

No one wants to answer dozens of long survey questions, so, ironically, the more questions you ask, the fewer high-quality responses you will get. While there’s no magic number of questions to ensure a good response rate, employees are certainly more likely to answer 10 or 20 direct questions than 100+. To elicit useful feedback from employees, you have to make sure the survey process is efficient. Otherwise, you’ll be penalizing your employees for providing feedback by consuming copious amounts of their time.

Ensure Anonymity

Anonymity is critical to any employee survey. Without it, employees cannot provide honest feedback. When employees know their responses are anonymous, they’re more likely to be honest, particularly when the feedback is about their manager or another person of authority. Anonymity allows employees to tell the full story of their experience without having to hold back. Anonymity in multi-rater feedback is particularly valuable, because the individuals receiving the feedback have the benefit of hearing exactly what others are experiencing in working with them, rather than a message that has been filtered through a coworker or manager.

Cover Important, Relevant Topics

An employee survey is too important a tool to waste on questions or topics that are irrelevant or can be addressed in some other way. Survey questions should stay on the intended topic, and not veer off into an unrelated area. For example, questions about menu items in the office cafeteria might be fun (and the answers might be useful), but they’re not particularly relevant in a survey aimed at understanding employees’ relationships with the company. A good way to ensure the relevance of survey questions is to carefully consider potential topics, prioritize them, and group them in a way that will keep the survey focused on those desired areas.

Share Feedback and Strategy

Instead of having their feedback disappear into a black hole, employees should have opportunities to see consolidated feedback. Sharing survey feedback not only supports a culture of transparency, but it also acts as a useful guide to the follow-up actions that employees can expect in the future. The follow-up should also be timely. If too much time passes between the survey and the follow-up, employees may begin to believe that the company is not serious about listening to employees. When employees see timely, well-thought-out actions coming out of survey results, they’re more likely to provide honest, useful feedback in future surveys.

Employee surveys are invaluable tools for eliciting meaningful feedback, especially when special care is taken to craft meaningful, relevant questions that get people talking about their experiences with their work, manager, and coworkers. With the right employee survey software, you can elicit useful feedback, provide employees with necessary follow-up, and achieve improved employee engagement in the workplace.

Carley Childress is the founder and CEO of Macorva, Inc.

Employee feedback stock photo by wutzkohphoto/Shutterstock