Survey Says?

Surveys can uncover a lot, but it’s what you do with that information that counts. While organizations commonly use surveys to gather information and identify opportunities for improvement, very few organizations capitalize on the investment of their people’s time and trust. Let’s face it, everywhere you look someone is asking for input on your experience with someone or something. Whether it’s at the checkout line, from a service department, in your office or on the phone, people want to know what you think. But how often do you ever hear back on your feedback? Organizations that properly prepare and follow up with survey respondents will gain more in the long run.

The following tips will help you take care of those who are making the effort to provide you with open and honest survey feedback.

Tell them why: Properly prepare your survey respondents by telling them why you are looking for their feedback and what you plan to do with it. Ideally this explanation will specify a future benefit for them such as improved customer service, enhanced product features, or simpler online tools.

Ask fewer questions: Have you ever started an online survey that fools you into thinking that the survey is short but then ends up asking what seems like 20 sets of five questions? Surveys, like conversations, should end before someone starts to think, “I’ve had enough of this.” The fewer questions you ask, the more likely the survey respondents will be to complete future surveys, and the more you will carefully consider what you’re asking and why you’re asking it. This applies to comment questions too. By including fewer questions that ask for comments, you’ll get better quality written feedback and avoid respondents being burned out before they get to critical questions. (Of course, you’re only asking critical questions, right?)

Ask the right questions: Before you write a single question, clearly identify the objectives of your survey and the information that you’ll need to plan meaningful follow-up. Be certain to ask questions that provide you with objective data.  With objective data, you can pinpoint behaviors that you want more of (those that are contributing to better performance) and those you want less of (those that are keeping you from the results you want). If survey respondents are scratching their head when completing the survey, wondering why in the world you are asking some of your questions, they are likely to begin thinking that you are wasting their time. If your survey is well crafted, it will tell you what you think you need to know and what the respondents think you need to know—what is important to them. If the respondents never think, “I’m glad they asked that!” when completing your survey, you’ve probably missed the mark.

Keep it confidential:  Be sure to administer your survey in a way that provides strict anonymity for the respondents. If you are administering the survey internally, ensure those involved in the survey administration process understand the importance of keeping data confidential, including written feedback. Nothing will shut down responding to surveys faster than fear that responses and comments will be traced back to individuals.

Close the loop:  Thank respondents when they complete the survey. At the end of the survey period, announce the overall response rate and thank those who completed the survey.  As soon as possible afterwards, provide a high-level summary of the survey results and your plan to make improvements where necessary.

Act on the data: You’ve got the data, now do something with it! Identify what is working and what is not.  Prepare specific plans for improvement and define measures for success. Responding to surveys will extinguish if the respondents feel like no one ever acts on their feedback.

Communicate your progress: Let the survey respondents know what you are doing and how it is going.  By communicating along the way, you’ll help reinforce their speaking up and create an engaged workforce or customer base that feels like it is making a real difference.

Check your progress: Your survey results are only as good as your last survey.  Take time to respond to what you learn from your initial survey but be sure to follow up in 6 to 12 months and survey again.  The more you ask your employees for input, and then take action on what you learn, the more your employees will offer feedback for improvement.

Posted by Aubrey Daniels, Ph.D.

Aubrey is a thought leader and expert on management, leadership, safety and workplace issues. For the past 40 years, he has been dedicated to helping people and organizations apply the laws of human behavior to optimize performance.