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The Employee Experience Platform | Culture Amp
Jason McPherson, founding scientist at Culture Amp

Jason McPherson

Founding Scientist, Culture Amp

Employee feedback surveys have been around for a long time, and with good reason. With advances in technology, we believe that surveys will become even more relevant, not less. Even in organisations with multiple sources of people data, recent research suggests that surveys remain a crucial way of measuring engagement.

The pace of change in employee feedback continues to accelerate. Surveys can be put together quickly and the resulting data analyzed even faster, and this trend is likely to continue over the next 10 years.

As a result I think that it’s likely we will see two trends emerge over the medium term:

  • First, surveys will become more disaggregated. They will focus on very specific areas, rather than the organization as a whole, and yield richer data more quickly.
  • Secondly, survey findings will disseminate further down into the organization. That means that not only HR departments, but also managers and individuals will be able to benefit from the results.

Will surveys maintain their value for employee feedback?

Technology now allows us to collect data in a range of ways. Email and other electronic communication data can be collected so that we can see how people are connected and how they relate to each other in different mediums. Fitbit and other wearables help us track people’s physical movement, health and even happiness. We can also look at how people interact with one another, or use other sensors to track mood.

But often, the best predictor of someone’s behavior is to ask them. We’ve proved a number of times that if we want to know whether someone is going to leave an organization, it’s best to ask them directly “Where do you see yourself in two years time?”

Surveys are really quite simple - we ask someone to rate something on a scale - but the amount of data surveys can generate is huge. You might have 30 or 40 questions and also have 10 or more different organizational demographics. Combine these with the comments that exist alongside the quantitative data and you have data that is both specific and rich, but often also overwhelming.

Exploring faster, disaggregated surveys

As we’ve moved to machine learning to collect and analyze data, that analysis has become much quicker. That’s opened the door to more frequent surveys that are shorter and more targeted.

Surveys used to be big monolithic things that people did once a year. Weeks or months would be spent sifting through the data that was generated. Because surveys were so difficult to do and so hard to organize, every stakeholder in the organization would include questions and we’d end up with a 200 question survey that took forever to complete.

Now we intersperse 40-50 question surveys with shorter surveys of about five or 10 questions which is far less onerous on everyone involved and changes the dynamics of the conversation.

Shorter surveys can also include more qualitative data because machine learning can now help us get more structure from textual data. We can also analyze the data as we go - if the analysis indicates that there’s a particular issue in the organization we add more questions to dig deeper. Machine based analytics allow that level of dynamism because of the sheer speed in sorting and analyzing data.

As a result by 2025, I predict that we’ll be taking more surveys, not fewer. They’ll be shorter, have a regular cadence, and be delivered in a number of ways. They’ll increasingly be delivered via applications like Slack, be sent to your mobile phone or presented as you experience something or complete an action. Taking them will become part of the rhythm of your working day.

That said, surveys can become too frequent. At Culture Amp we’ve explored and tested the idea of continuous or pulsing surveys that are short and really frequent. While the idea of weekly data is seductive, the reality is tiresome for the people who are responding, particularly when you ask the same questions every week. Our research found that participation rates went down and people switched off. You can read more about our recommended best practices for using employee pulse surveys on our blog.

Disseminating employee feedback throughout the organization

Modern platforms now allow us to disaggregate data so each group can simply work on their own measures and metrics. Rather than everyone putting questions into a large survey, each area can collect their own meaningful data. As we develop more intelligent analytics systems, they’re starting to guide us in how we can disaggregate data further and focus attention.

This means that managers will be able to conduct their own surveys without having to coordinate everything centrally. Team effectiveness surveys or management surveys are likely to be popular in this space.

It will also allow businesses to reframe questions so that they’re mutually beneficial to their people and perhaps even overcome ‘survey fatigue.’ For example, people could be asked to spend a few moments each day reflecting on how they feel about their leadership or their own emotional health. This can help people self-monitor, and track whether they’re feeling demotivated or burnt out. This becomes a two-way communication, which will give us richer data and perhaps even become a longitudinal study.

Historically, surveys were for the organization as a whole or for the HR department, but not necessarily for its individual parts. More dynamic surveys will allow people and managers to take pulse checks, track moods and feelings and be directly empowered. Although surveys appear to be low tech, they’re a powerful tool that are becoming more sophisticated each day. This is likely to see them endure and evolve as an integral tool in employee feedback.

The specific challenges of pulse surveys

Many people are talking about more frequent ‘pulse’ surveys. At Culture Amp we’ve ran many of these over the last 5 years. To many executives used to tracking data for customer satisfaction or sales data, the idea of getting monthly, weekly or even daily people data seems natural.

However, the reality is often very different because we are often asking the same people to repeatedly respond (even when we are just sampling). This is because we just don’t have the same number of employees as we have customers or sales prospects.

Very often organizations find it difficult to respond to the data and our respondents then lose track of the purpose for submitting their feedback. The end result is an ongoing battle to retain response rates at high enough levels to provide a realistic and reliable measure of things.

The below chart shows a typical response rate decline for a company running weekly pulsing - you can see the battle being slowly lost. The spikes show upticks in responses after communications initiatives to boost participation. Although, some companies make a success of these programmes it generally takes considerable ongoing effort and the advantages over less frequent pulsing are often called into question. Many companies have far greater success with quarterly measurement.

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