Organizations are continuously evolving—more so than ever before. Not only the organization itself but also the structure of the team is changing. Traditionally, teams existed in rigid, hierarchical structures. Now, they’re transforming into agile networks, and the traditional role of executives and management is changing.
Effectively navigating this transformation starts with regularly asking your employees for feedback. One of the most common ways to do that is by sending out employee surveys at some predetermined interval. For many organizations, that’s usually once a year.
But ask yourself, does the employee survey still work at organizations that aren’t classically organized? If you still want to use surveys to collect feedback, what do you need to consider in this new era of agile organizations? Is it about time to start rethinking beyond the employee survey, if you’re interested in building a feedback engine that enables you to keep your fingers on the pulse of employee sentiment?
Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions.
The Power of Employee Dialogue
Successful businesses need standardized processes. At the same time, they need to remain agile and flexible, ready to adapt at a moment’s notice. To handle this potential conflict, businesses need to facilitate a steady exchange of ideas and sentiments throughout the organization. To do this, they need to encourage open dialogue from the top-down to the bottom-up. And, for the best results, a combination of feedback tools is required.
Employee Surveys: The Starting Point
For many companies, feedback comes from one source: the classic employee survey.
It’s a holistic tool, as all employees are asked about all kinds of topics at the same time. As such, surveys reflect employee sentiment at a specific snapshot in time. But because surveys involve asking all employees many questions, they tend to be massive undertakings that require a lot of resources to manage. What’s more, the topics included in the survey usually involve several different departments. Strategic, holistic topics are mixed with deep dives, which are mostly of interest for specific departments like human resources or local entities. As a result, complexity increases, and the responsibilities for action can become muddled.
For an employee survey to deliver lasting results, it Is Important to take action based on the data. If employees spend a few hours filling out a survey, and nothing happens after it, what good does it do?
Organizations need to make sure that someone is in charge of administering the survey and implementing desired actions afterward. Arguably, one of the biggest motivators in the workplace is when employees see their feedback has been taken seriously—to the point it results in changes!
In this light, an employee survey should never be the ‘end’ result. Instead, it’s a starting point for follow-up employee dialogue —a launching pad onto which executives and management can build a continuous listening strategy.
Before administering a survey, organizations need to understand why they are getting feedback in the first place. Then, once the results are in, determine the essential data points and start strategizing the best way forward.
Meeting an Organization’s needs with the Best Feedback Instruments
A definition of the subject areas and why feedback is planned to be collected in the first place, answers the question of which survey processes must be used to serve them. For feedback to be a starting point for dialogue, organizations must be able to easily collect insights and begin the process of discovering more from there.
An easy way to do this is by embedding the traditional employee survey into a broader feedback landscape, which includes a targeted group, occasion, or topic-related feedback instruments. Each tool should have clearly defined objectives —which in turn imply clear responsibilities. Such an approach should reduce the overall process overhead —making feedback more flexible and dynamic.
For example, it might be useful to exclude leadership evaluation of the employee survey to set up an individual or stand-alone process. You may also want to consider whether these surveys can be managed decentralized by the leaders their selves.
As you begin developing your feedback strategy, here are some key questions to ask:
- Which areas do we need to learn more about?
- What next steps can we take after feedback is collected?
- What is the ideal process that increases the quality of feedback?
- What is the best survey format, and which tools should we use to deliver it?
What Does a Feedback Landscape Look Like?
Depending on the size of your organization, a feedback landscape doesn’t need to be enormous. You can create a solid feedback strategy using several survey formats (e.g., an annual employee survey or weekly pulse surveys).
However, you can’t just implement surveys and expect great results. It’s important to think about the questions you need to ask to get the data your organization needs to thrive. Once you figure out the topics to explore, you can then determine which tools will help you accomplish your objectives. At this point, the challenge is figuring out how to bring several tools together so that a cohesive landscape emerges. Such a landscape enables you to collect data from different sources and analyze it all.
The easiest way to create a feedback landscape that delivers value is by making sure the various feedback tools work well together (content-wise and from a timing point of view). This is most important when data collection is decentralized, with many different stakeholders collecting feedback insights simultaneously.
Making Feedback Work: The Power of Employee Buy-In
Making sure that various feedback tools in your organization work well together is critical to the success of your initiative. Equally, it’s important is that employees feel as though their ideas and needs are considered, too.
As you begin developing your feedback landscape, it is therefore critical to invite your employees to participate in the process. After all, setting up a feedback landscape is a micropolitical process in and of itself. It’s one thing if HR, management, workers council, and different department heads are involved. It’s another thing if employee sentiments are considered, too.
What’s more, feedback tools also need to fit within the organization, its culture, and its employees. Does your company already have feedback tools in place, or are you starting from scratch and creating a feedback culture altogether? If you’re building something new, it’s particularly important to rope employees into the process as early as you can. That way, you can reduce skepticism and very transparently articulate what you expect to achieve from your feedback initiatives. By making it a collaborative process from the outset, you can create a feedback landscape that involves continuous listening and follow-up dialogue.
How to Create a Feedback Landscape
If you want to build a feedback landscape, ask yourself the following questions:
- What areas of our operations do we want to improve with feedback?
- Which employees (e.g., a team or department) are most likely to have the best insights into this issue?
- How will we be able to act on the feedback data we get?
- What’s the best way of collecting feedback data? Which methodologies, formats, and tools are most helpful?
- How can we ensure that feedback collected from different tools can be combined to create a complete feedback landscape?
As you begin the process of creating a feedback landscape, it’s important to remember to take your time. This is a significant endeavor, and the last thing you want to do is approach it haphazardly. Do your due diligence, rope enough stakeholders into the process, and develop a feedback plan that works for you.
That’s the ticket to a happier and healthier organization—and a stronger bottom line.
- By Prof. Dr. Karsten Müller, Universität Osnabrück | Matthias Frye, Questback Regional Manager Central Europe