How to design a survey that actually drives change

Emma Bridger

24 Sept 2023
Employee Engagement
Employee Experience
Employee Voice
Surveys remain one of the most used tools in the employee research kitbag, but they’re often poorly designed, badly executed and fail to translate insight into action. We recently ran a webinar for EX Space members with Nick Court and Rob Robson from the People Experience Hub, where we explored practical ways to ensure you get the most value from your survey process. You can catch up on the webinar here
We covered loads of ground including how to get your survey design right, ways to achieve maximum participation, ensuring your survey is inclusive, the best ways to analyse and share results and how to ensure your insights drive action.

We spent quite a bit of time talking about how to make sure you ask the right questions. This is the most critical foundation for getting the most out of your survey and an area that is often ignored. It’s all too easy to accept the question set given to you by your survey provider, or to come up with some well-intentioned survey questions within your team. But how do you know these are the right questions to ask?

There is no universal reliable and valid definition of employee engagement or employee experience. Which means there is no single or correct way to measure these things. What constitutes a great experience in one organisation may be completely different to another organisation. For example, some surveys ask if you have a best friend at work. Now for some people this might be critical to how they feel at work, whether they’re having a great experience or if they are engaged – but for others it might not feature at all.
The starting point for any survey should be the careful design of your question set. We recommend using our Best Experience tool to find out what good looks like for your employees. You can find this tool in the knowledge bank, under the tools tab. And once you have had some best experience conversations, the questions you need to ask within your survey will become much clearer. Only then will you have a survey which you can be confident is measuring and tracking the right things.

But one of the major issues with the survey approach is the lack of any real, sustainable change in response to the findings. All too often the survey is run, the low scoring areas are picked off to work with, regardless of whether they are the right areas of focus, actions are captured, dutifully ticked off and then everyone forgets about the survey until the next time. We refer to this approach as ‘transactional engagement’. 

What we need to do is to help organisations move to a more transformational approach. This is where the survey is just seen as one piece of the jigsaw, as employee views are regularly sought, harnessed and acted upon. If you want to see where your current approach sits check out our diagnostic tool here. Improving the way it feels to work in your organisation needs to be and ongoing endeavour, not something that only happens in response to your survey.

At its heart, moving from insights to action relies on behaviour change. If things are going to change we need people to take action, whatever that might be. It could involve managers having more conversations with their teams about how it feels to work here. Maybe it involves employees taking more accountability for their career development. Or perhaps it needs subject matter experts to redesign a process that isn’t working such as performance management.

In the webinar we touched on the COM-B model of behaviour change which is well worth a look. In summary, the model proposes that for behaviour (B) to change we need capability (C), opportunity (O) and motivation (M):

  • Capability involves having the knowledge, skills and abilities required to engage in a specific behaviour.
  • Opportunity refers to the external factors which help to translate intentions into action
  • Motivation relates to internal processes which influence our intention to engage in a specific behaviour.
It’s a simple but powerful model and understanding where your employees are at with each of the components can help to facilitate behaviour change and translate insights into action.
Big thanks to Nick and Rob for sharing their expertise with us. Make sure you give the webinar a watch and let us know if you have any questions or come along to an EX clinic if there is anything you’d like to explore further. 

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