Imagine that you're an HR business partner who just sat down to review the 2000 comments left by employees on your most recent engagement survey. You're excited to get some concrete feedback on how to improve leadership at your organization. Imagine that these were the first two comments you read…
"The leaders here are totally incompetent. They are disrespectful, unethical, and don’t care about how their decisions impact the staff."
"Our leaders are good people, but the systems are not working. The technology and processes here are broken and in need of a total overhaul."
A quick glance shows 50 more just like these. How many comments would you read before giving up your search for something helpful?
The pros and cons of open-ended survey comments
Open-ended survey comments can be a mixed blessing. On the one hand, both employees and leaders benefit when comments are well written. Employees get a clearer voice on how the organization functions potentially making their work and careers more successful. Leaders get specific guidance on ways they can better inspire and direct employees to achieve organizational goals and address the unintentional side effects of their decisions.
However, comments often vary wildly in their usefulness. Comment writing is not a skill taught in any classroom. As a result, employees often write comments that express their frustration and overstate valid criticisms without providing the information leaders need to act. In turn, leaders, especially middle managers, tend to read comments with an eye towards defending against accusations of ill intent or incompetence. As a result, even though employees are eager to share their stories and leaders hunger for more narrative feedback, many comments fail to deliver on their potential for improvement.
In the Culture Amp platform, employee comments are directly linked to specific questions making it clear which issues they are discussing. In addition, our text analytics and keyword search tools help you identify comments relevant to the issues you are considering.
This blog will help you write more constructive comments that should gain more traction with leaders and help change your workplace for the better.
The three I’s of Constructive Comments
The Issue is the challenge or opportunity you want to identify to leaders. It can be a problem you experience or a chance to improve operations. You always want to state the issue clearly and early in a comment to:
- Make it easier to pick out your comment as relevant to the issues under consideration
- Keep the context clear if it is used in a report separate from your other comments or the original question
The Impact explains how the issue affects you, other employees, the organization, customers, or the larger community. Your impact statement illustrates how the issue impedes or advances success for the affected parties and why the organization should change its behaviors. Your impact statement should provide as many details as possible without making you identifiable.
The Intervention offers a concrete suggestion of how employees, leaders, or the organization should act differently to resolve the issue and better impact its stakeholders. Again, detail is very helpful here as it allows leaders to quickly assess if and how the intervention should be implemented.
Constructive comment Mad Libs
You can follow the guidelines above to draft comments using your own voice, or use the Mad Libs outline below for a more structured approach.
ISSUE: I have noticed that _______________ (situationor behavior) that I believe (helps/harms) our ability to be successful with___________________ (goal).
IMPACT: Due to this issue I have seen___________________________(situation or outcome) causing _____________(missedgoal). For example,___________________(specific illustration of the issue you have witnessed).
INTERVENTION: I believe that___________________(suggestion) would be valuable. If this is done, I expect _____________________(improvedimpact) and be able to _____________________( achieved goal).
Example of a constructive comment
I have noticed a lack of central leadership in our office that I believe harms our ability to be successful with meeting client deadlines.
Due to this issue, I have noticed that no one is empowered to make big decisions that involve multiple practices causing us to miss client deadlines. For example, the Alpha project was three weeks late because no one in the office had the authority to approve shifting team members between high and low priority projects.
I believe that hiring a dedicated market leader would be helpful. If this is done, I expect we would allocate staff more efficiently and be able to meet client deadlines more consistently.
Embracing employee survey comments
For companies using the Culture Amp platform, all employee engagement questions, even those asked on a rating scale, also collect comments from employees. Share this article before your next survey to encourage participation and help those people who want to give their feedback to provide it with clarity. If you're in charge of employee survey analysis at your company, see our article on Employee survey comments: How to interpret and take action for more insight on making the most of employee feedback.