The Advantages of Hiring a Professional for Your Employee Survey

The advent of low-cost, easy-to-use measurement tools such as Zoomerang, Survey Monkey and Hosted Survey has opened the door to communicators eager to assess their employee communications efforts.  These tools offer templates, sample questions and instant reporting features, along with the ability to customize the look and feel of the survey to match the company’s branding.

I encourage my clients to take advantage of these types of online survey tools, and work with them to set up post-event surveys, as well as ongoing employee polls to gather information on employee issues and morale concerns.

But when it comes to a more complex survey, such as an annual employee opinion survey, I advise them to bring in the big guns and hire a professional research firm to conduct the assessment.

A professional survey provider brings to the table a number of advantages that communications generalists can’t offer, such as:

  • Knowledge of best practices – how to drive responses, how to report results effectively, and how your company stacks up against others of similar size and type
  • Understanding of the latest survey technology and knowledge of the best product for your circumstances
  • Survey design expertise – not just the look and feel of the survey, but also the development of the questions themselves
  • Assessment and analysis – advice on how to interpret the data and how to report it to senior management and back to the employees

Probably the biggest advantage that a professional survey provider offers is that of being an outsider.  They come to the table free of any internal bias that might slant the survey questions or even color the results.  That “outsider” status often results in more candid responses from employees, since they know their comments can’t be traced back to their user ID.  Plus, senior management will likely take less offense at critical verbatim comments when delivered by “the survey guys” instead of the employee communications manager.

Employee surveys are a valuable tool, and in the hands of an expert, can help identify the company’s core strengths, as well as areas of concern.

Susan C. Rink is principal of Rink Strategic Communications, which helps clients take their employee communications to the next level.  Email her at rinkcomms@verizon.net.

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Handling Tough Questions From Employees

During a town hall meeting a few years ago, I witnessed, first-hand, the worst possible response to a tough employee question.

The employees at this location, about 800 of them, were primarily hourly workers at the local call center. Up to this point, most of the questions from the floor centered on the overall industry, competition and new product releases. Pretty standard fare for this type of session, and the executives on the panel handled themselves with their characteristic poise and candor.

That all changed when a women, about five months pregnant, stood to ask her question.

She told the panel that she rode the bus to work and that the only affordable option for daycare was near her home, about an hour’s ride and two transfers away from the job site. She mentioned that many of her co-workers were also having difficulty juggling child care with shift hours. And she asked, “Will we ever get a daycare center onsite?”

The executive’s answer: “No.”

No expression of empathy. No acknowledgement of her struggles. Just “no.”

The audience was, to say the least, not pleased with the way that question was answered. In fact, the mood of the room deteriorated rapidly, and we’re lucky we made it out in one piece.

So what would have been a better response?

Well, for starters, it would have been good to show some genuine appreciation for the employee and her coworkers who dealt with work-life balance issues on a daily basis, yet still managed to put up impressive customer satisfaction scores.

And maybe the executive could have talked about fact that daycare was far outside the company’s core offerings, and that anything as precious as a child should be cared for by highly-skilled professionals.

At the very least, the executive could have thanked the employee for her question, and requested that he be allowed time to give such an important decision the thought it deserved. Later, after engaging local management in a fact-finding and discussion, he could follow up with that location to explain the company’s decision not to offer onsite daycare.

But he didn’t.

Moral of the story – before answering a tough question from employee, take a minute to think about what motivated the question. In many instances, the employee isn’t looking for an immediate solution – just an acknowledgement that his/her concerns are valid and that the company cares.

Susan C. Rink is principal of Rink Strategic Communications, which helps clients take their employee communications to the next level.  Email her at rinkcomms@verizon.net.

Bridging the Credibility Gap with Employee Communications

Susan_Rink-portrait-forwebA few years ago, a friend of mine was hired to conduct employee focus groups to gauge reactions to a new, and rather expensive, employee awareness campaign.  When she asked for comments about the company’s communications vehicles, one participant pointed to the Exit sign over the door and said, “That’s the only sign in this place that I trust.  The rest are all bulls___.”

Now, that’s a credibility gap!

Many companies suffer from a disconnect between what they say and what they do.  One classic example is the company that trumpets, “Our people are our greatest asset!” while they establish employee policies that restrict creativity and entrepreneurial thinking.  Or their executives talk about “work-life balance,” but employees feel pressured to check email and call in for staff meetings while on vacation.  No surprise that these companies suffer from higher than average turnover and low productivity.

Companies that truly value their employees demonstrate their high regard by treating their employees like adults, like valued business partners.

These organizations foster an environment of open discussion and respectful conflict, encouraging employees to take ownership of issues and voice their suggestions for improvements.  And when it comes time to be recognized, the employees’ contributions to the company’s success are rewarded.

So how can employee communicators bridge the credibility gap?  Well, if your company is in the midst of a crisis of confidence, it won’t be easy.  But it can be done.

First, you must establish a culture of open dialogue, one where employees are comfortable voicing dissenting opinions without fear of reprisal.  That can be accomplished by publishing contrarian points of view in your newsletter and on your intranet.  Managers can reinforce this new culture by inviting employees to voice their objections, and listen without becoming defensive.

Next, you must ensure that your company recognition programs, both formal and informal, reward behaviors that reflect your desired culture. Don’t restrict recognition to tenure.  If the one of the company values is innovation, then employees who think differently and challenge traditional processes should be recognized.

Finally, the best way to bridge the credibility gap is with timely, transparent employee communications.  Executives, managers –and the internal communications team — must commit to addressing real business issues and providing honest progress updates that are free of spin and “corporate speak.”

Otherwise, once the economy turns your employees will be looking for that Exit sign.

Susan C. Rink is principal of Rink Strategic Communications, which helps clients take their employee communications to the next level.  Email her at rinkcomms@verizon.net.