Managing Up for Survey Success: How to Engage Senior Leadership in Employee Surveys

Article excerpt

How many chief executives would authorize their companies to spend thousands each year to survey their customers, and then not monitor the process? Or take appropriate action on the findings? Or ask whether the investment is generating a valuable return for the company?

Probably not many. But substitute "employees" for "customers" and the picture is likely to be quite different in many organizations. More than 70 percent of all U.S. employers regularly conduct employee surveys, sometimes spending thousands or even hundreds of thousands annually. But too often, top executives take a "hands-off" approach to employee surveys. They delegate responsibility down the line--most often to corporate communication or human resource professionals--and have little involvement in the process.

This lack of leadership interest can be costly. Most obviously, an ineffective survey can waste organizational resources--the time, effort and money that go into conducting an employee survey. But perhaps more important, an ineffective survey can damage the all-important relationship between the organization and its employees, and it can hamper the organization in improving its performance.

Employee surveys are more effective and productive when senior management leads the process and is fully engaged, The challenge, for the people responsible for conducting these surveys, is conveying this important message to senior executives and winning their engagement in the survey process.

GETTING MANAGEMENT'S ATTENTION

Communicators must present a compelling business case to capture the attention of senior management and convince them that involvement in the survey process is worth their time. Following are some arguments to help make your case:

* Executives may not know that the science of employee surveys has changed dramatically over the past decade. The traditional employee satisfaction survey, largely a barometer of employee happiness with pay, benefits, job security and working conditions--the "Me" issues--has been replaced by the human capital survey, a valuable diagnostic tool that can drive business results. This new generation of surveys measures employee and management perceptions of company issues such as business strategy, operating efficiency, innovation, leadership, cross-group collaboration, career development and employee commitment--the "We" issues, Human capital surveys allow the organization to link reliable information directly to organizational goals and important business objectives, such as employee retention, customer satisfaction and business performance, as the following research proves.

* Mercer's "What's Working" survey--conducted in both the U.S. and U.K. during the past year--shows that employee satisfaction, employee commitment and intention to stay or leave are related to organizational communication, including whether an organization conducts employee surveys and, if so, what it does with the results (see chart for some compelling evidence).

* The same Mercer study confirms what many people already suspect: workers' trust in management is low. Poor communication contributes significantly to this problem. Only 34 percent of U.S. workers agree that "I can trust management in my organization always to communicate honestly." For U,K. workers, the number is 39 percent, A well-designed and well-conducted survey can go a long way toward addressing employee trust issues.

* Senior management involvement helps to maximize the investment a company makes in employee research. Large companies can spend upwards of US$500,000 on a comprehensive, global employee survey. Senior management involvement helps achieve the best return on this major investment by bringing a more strategic perspective to the survey effort and by focusing organizational attention and resources on using the survey results. Top leadership support also positively influences the response rate. …