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Increase Employee Involvement using Pulse Surveys

Employees want to feel heard.  In fact, the desire to influence, interact with and have an impact on our environment is basic human nature.  So when people feel powerless or micromanaged in their work, what do they do?  Typically, they disengage themselves from that system either mentally (through reduced motivation and satisfaction) or physically (through turnover or counter-productive behavior).

How do you keep employees from disengaging?

Two practices for encouraging employee involvement are important for every type of organization:

  • Establish processes to solicit (and act upon) employees’ ideas and input
  • Provide employees with the autonomy to make decisions (large or small)

These practices are encouraged by an organizations leadership, their culture, and their processes.  While leadership and culture are difficult things to change, we can create new processes that encourage employee involvement.  But why should we bother in the first place?  If the comment on human nature did not move you, outcomes that have been identified through decades of applied research just might… specifically, gains in employee involvement have been shown to have a strong impact on outcomes such as:

  • increased individual productivity
  • organizational performance
  • job satisfaction
  • motivation
  • reduced turnover

Employee involvement interventions typically involve large-scale changes in culture and intense leadership training to establish behaviors and norms that encourage direct employee participation.  However, this does not mean there is nothing you can do right now to make your employees feel both heard and empowered.

Pulse Surveys

A Pulse Survey is a type of employee survey that is brief (5 — 10 questions) and targeted.  It is different from your yearly employee satisfaction survey in that its purpose is not to “take the temperature” of the entire organization.  Rather, a pulse survey has a specific goal and it gets there with as few questions as possible.  One great way to use pulse surveys is to solicit improvement ideas from groups of employees.

Surveys always have a caveat — if you are not ready to act on what your employees tell you, then do not follow these steps. Organizations are better off not asking for employee ideas and/or feedback than asking and not communicating and acting on results.  That being said, the first step in this process is to think about whether or not your team or organization can:  champion the process (i.e., buy-in from leadership), communicate the results, and take action on some of their ideas.  If you can do this, then read on.

Action Steps

1.  Design the Survey

Create a brief survey with two or three open-ended questions that ask for specific ideas that will improve organizational performance or customer service.  Here are some examples of the kinds of questions you would want to write:

  • “What would you specifically change or improve about Company XYZ that would increase our performance?”
  • “If you were the CEO, what are two things you would do that would better allow us to satisfy the needs of our customers?”
  • “What specific suggestions do you have for improving the way we do things at Company XYZ?”

2.  Deploy the Survey

Put the questions up on either an internal survey engine or an external website like SurveyMonkey and invite your employees to give their input.

  • It is very important to ensure anonymity!  Never ask employees to give their names, email addresses, or any other personal information in the survey.  When anonymity is threatened, employees hold back or don’t respond at all out of fear of retribution
  • Communicate to employees three things:  (1) the purpose of the survey, (2) how and when you plan to share the results (with everybody who was invited to respond), and (3) what you intend to do with their feedback and ideas

3.  Analyze the Responses

Leave the survey up for at least 1 week.  When it’s closed, have a qualified survey or statistics expert perform a content analysis on the responses.  Content analysis is a way to evaluate open ended comment responses, where each comment is categorized (and sometimes sub-categorized) and the categories are counted, giving you a distribution of the specific themes that were identified.  For a sample content analysis report, go here.

4.  Share the Results 

Results can be reviewed in a “trickle down” manner or at an all-hands type meeting.  The exact way that results are communicated does not matter, as long as they are communicated to all employees at all levels.  Even negative or bad survey results should be communicated, as not doing so could reduce morale and harm trust

5.  Take Action!

One idea here is to create a task-force team of employees to read through all of the responses and identify those that are both (a) easy to accomplish (low-hanging fruit) and (b) could have the greatest positive impact.  To help identify the best ideas, create an X-Y chart with the X-axis labeled “Difficulty,” the most difficult to accomplish ideas at the bottom and the easiest ideas at the top. Label the Y-axis “Impact,” with the lowest impact on the left side and the highest on the right.  Using stickers, evaluate each idea on its ease of implementation and potential impact.  Based on this, the best ideas would be at the top-right of this graph and the worst at the bottom left.  The chart below can be used as a guide, or you can click here for a ready-to-use template that can be used to help teams evaluate and organize ideas. 

  • Once the best ideas have been identified, have the team chose one and evaluate the current practice to be improved, define how the improved process will be performed, and implement changes with the involved staff (similar to Continuous Improvement teams and Kaizen Events).  As you can see by now, leadership buy-in and encouragement are 100% crucial for this type of thing to work.

Although this may seem like a lot of work, this is possibly the easiest and most straightforward process to encourage employee involvement on a meaningful scale.  This kind of survey allows employees the opportunity to share their ideas and participate in a broader context.  Task force members will also be developing critical competencies such as analyzing information, solving problems, defining processes, leadership and dealing with ambiguity.  One thing I can say for sure is that you will surprised by the quality and insight of the improvement ideas your employees will give.


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2 Responses to “Increase Employee Involvement using Pulse Surveys”

  1. Rick Maurer May 24, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    Thanks for a fine post. (A fine post is one I agree with!) I use 3 to 5 question surveys a lot when working with clients on change management projects. I find that by asking for open-ended answers instead of 1 to 5 scales, I get people’s stories. And that’s a good thing. My client and I learn a lot about people’s reactions to the proposed change? Are the clear or confused? Excited or afraid? Trust leaders to handle this well or do they believe that the clowns are running the circus. That data is invaluable as the clients plan the change. – Rick


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