pulse survey

Seven Questions to Ask Your Team

We have all been a contributor to annual employee satisfaction surveys, and for the most part, they haven’t changed much over the years. While there is greater acceptance of a mixed approach to leverage pulse surveys as well as annual surveys, the line of questioning has generally remained the same. But should you be asking different questions?

Workplace culture has been evolving over the last decade, with even the largest companies trying to break down the traditional “corporate” environment to foster a more innovative culture in order to compete for talent. We should focus our efforts in determining if we are cultivating the culture we want and that requires asking employee satisfaction questions a little differently.

Here, I present seven questions that you should be asking, whether through your annual employee survey or through pulse surveys. I think they help represent a different mindset from management and will illicit insightful feedback from your teams.

1. Are you having fun at work?
We now spend more than a third of our day at or on work with many team members spending more than that. But that doesn’t mean we should be suffering. Work should be fun in order to bring out everyone’s best effort and talent. Ask this question to gain insight into whether you’re effective in aligning the right opportunities for the right talent. 

2. Do you feel the management team is transparent?
Transparency is highly coveted these days, with millennials leading the charge in asking for brands to be authentic and management to be transparent. What this means is the desire to understand why tasks are being assigned. If you are successful in creating transparency, you have a higher chance of retaining key talent and creating an open culture. So while you may think you are being transparent, how are the employees perceiving management?

3. How comfortable are you to give feedback to your manager?
Transparency flows both ways and it’s important to understand whether middle management has created a culture of fear or openness. Check-in to see if there are managers that need coaching and encouragement to reflect the openness that you are creating at the top. Employees should be comfortable providing constructive feedback to their supervisors in order to maximize operations and customer service.

4. What three words would you use to describe our culture?
While this is an open-ended question, it’s a true reflection of how your team members perceive the workplace. By asking employees to put culture in “their own words,” we reflect on whether there is alignment to company values as well as how culture is actually embodied in our front line teams. Oftentimes, what we think we are encouraging is actually not what is being heard.

5. What would be your number one reason for leaving?
Employee satisfaction surveys often ask how satisfied employees are with benefits, pay, training, etc. But what is the ONE thing they would leave for? While compensation naturally ranks high, you may be surprised at what is really driving attrition amongst your staff. Insights here should lead organizations to think hard about what can be done to address the cause and how much resource to allocate.

6. If you could do it all over again, would you re-apply for the job you have now?
When I first came across this question, I was a little surprised. Why would we want to know if they would apply for the same job? Interestingly, it’s a great way to gain insight into how job perception and reality line up. This relates to our first suggestion question above, but asks whether the job description and hiring process provided the best match of skills and desire with the opportunity. If you “sell” a job the wrong way, it ends up costing the company more in the long run due to unhappy workers and lower productivity.

7. How likely are you to refer someone to work here?
No surprise here, but I think it’s important enough to include this as a reflection of how the organization as a whole is perceived. With outlets like GlassDoor and LinkedIn, it’s hard to hide just what your employees think, so why not address the issue head-on? It’s important to know whether your current team members are having enough fun, seeing growth opportunities and being managed appropriately to recommend their friends come work with them. It’s truly the ultimate measure of support for your organization as a whole.

While these seven questions are not the only questions to ask, I suggest organizations incorporate some of these into their annual survey or use them in pulse surveys to keep tabs on trends. The workplace has evolved challenges the way we build company culture and respond to employee concerns. Keep evolving your feedback mechanisms to keep an open dialogue with your team members, especially the front line teams.

Four Reasons Pulse Surveys Don't Work

There has been a big movement toward deploying pulse surveys in the last few years, but I still see many organizations confused about how they should use pulse surveys and what benefits they can bring - as well as the perils of doing it wrong. In this blog, I want to focus on what pulse surveys really are, the major pitfalls to avoid and most importantly, how to make pulse surveys most effective for your organization.

Let’s first define what pulse surveys are. Pulse surveys are designed to capture, well, the pulse of the organization around key topics important to management. As the name indicates, these are surveys deployed in relatively short intervals, designed to gather high level data around specific topics or initiatives. But depending on the goals for your pulse survey program, you can take various strategies on content, frequency, target audience and data analysis.

Organizations often ask - should I replace my annual employee survey with pulse surveys? Or do they live together, and if so, how? I think there are advantages to both types of survey initiatives and it doesn’t necessarily mean replacing one with another. But as most things go the answer is: it depends. For larger organizations, an annual survey is still the cornerstone survey strategy. An annual survey is often aligned with the strategic planning process, helping to feed the annual strategy with input and insight into the people side of the equation. For smaller organizations, there might not be the appropriate resources to support both an annual survey and pulse surveys.

So why should you consider a pulse survey strategy? Primarily, it’s the speed of business. More specifically, the speed of business change. Most organizations would self-proclaim that there is more and more significant change in their business environment than in the past. To properly respond to the increase in change, organizations are looking for ways to be more agile and pulse surveys can provide more frequent data to improve organizational visibility.

As you decide to pursue a pulse survey approach, here are four common pitfalls to keep in mind and suggestions on how to avoid them.

1. Not Defining a Goal
It seems trivial, but clearly define the objective of deploying pulse surveys before you start. Improperly defined goals will lead to disappointment in the results and confusion amongst the organization as to what response they should expect from the survey results.

  • There are several ways to think about pulse surveys, depending on our intended use case:
  • Continuously listen to employee opinions 
  • Targeted, one-off surveys for big events or one-time organizational changes
  • Track feedback throughout the year between annual surveys
  • Measure results of responsive action as a result of an annual survey
  • Identify how to further improve responsive actions from an annual survey

These five goals are fairly common in pulse survey strategies. But a lot depends on your organization and how you might start a pulse survey program, especially if you have not deployed one before. 

2. Asking Unrelated Questions
Pulse surveys are not designed to be heavy. So it takes more discipline to maintain focus based on your goals. Some organizations deploy single-question polls, while others aim for 3-5 questions at most. The goal is to get feedback from the audience without consuming too much time. Some question topics to think about might be:

  • Employee sentiment - like the Net Promoter Score (NPS), “How likely are you to recommend a friend to work here?”
  • Managerial support - “Does your manager provide adequate training for you to perform your job?”
  • Effectiveness of responsive actions - “Has there been an improvement in the quality of communications in the last 6 months?”

Keep questions related to each other so the audience is not confused by the line of questioning and don’t look to acquire vast amounts of data. Pulse surveys are meant to “take a pulse” in specific areas of interest.

3. Too Often or Not Often Enough
Timing can be critical to gaining adequate responsiveness and buy-in from the audience. Surveys conducted too often can intrude on regular schedules and asking for feedback without adequate time lapse can create survey fatigue. Employees want enough time for change to have happened.

On the other hand, waiting too long allows issues to fester without getting adequate visibility. Intervals can vary from two weeks to quarterly, and it mainly depends on your goals. If you are looking to measure on-going sentiment, quarterly may be too sparse. If you are checking on how effective responsive actions have been, every two weeks might be too often. Make sure to align the timing with your goals.

4. Asking Everyone
Given that pulse surveys often look to target specific topics, think about the target audience that you need feedback from. Was the initiative related to a specific department or geography? Or a specific product-line or business unit? Pulse surveys don’t have to target all employees all the time. Your decision should be driven by the level of insight you are looking to gain to calibrate for the right audience set.

Pulse surveys are a great way to listen to your team and to create a regular channel for feedback from the organization. Make sure to consider your goals and define the right audience, content and frequency to maximize effectiveness and engagement with your pulse survey initiatives. And make sure to respond appropriately to concerns brought up in pulse surveys - no one wants to give further feedback without seeing responsive actions from the organization.