I recently did a communication training for an organization whose leadership spent two hours beforehand explaining to me that their employees were “all under-performing, irresponsible and unresponsive.” I didn’t believe them then, and I believed them even less when I was actually working with their employees – who turned out to be one of the most passionate groups of dedicated people I have met in a long time.

Flash back to a moment during the training…

When I was running through the list of what organizations should be doing to ensure strong communication from the C-level perspective, the leadership told me they had never surveyed their employees or solicited their opinions on how satisfied they were with their workplace. I probed a bit more to find out why, and here was their response:

“Everyone is free to express themselves during staff meetings so we don’t need to conduct surveys.”

When these words reached the ears of anyone who was not on the leadership team, I watched mouths close and eyes drop to the floor as an uncomfortable silence settled over the room. The non-verbal behaviours certainly indicated that there was a problem, and the palpable change in atmosphere indicated to me that the upper management was not open to hearing about this challenge directly.

How surveys can help your organization

This is where surveys come in. Here are a few ways surveys help organizations tap into the information sitting below the surface:

  • Because surveys are usually anonymous, respondents aren’t generally entering a conflict ridden situation by providing honest feedback, so they are more likely to do just that – be honest – than if they were responding to the same questions in person.
  • The time lapse between collecting surveys and analyzing findings provides a valuable window for management to consider the feedback, think strategically about making improvements, and come up with a possible action plan. In circumstances where management is on the defensive, an extra day or two can buffer any knee-jerk reactions and entirely eliminate the need for damage control.
  • As a diagnostic tool, you design the survey to take the pulse of your organization in any particular area – you need not just survey to find out what’s wrong…looking for what’s right is equally important. When you compile responses, you can look for themes that tell both the desirable and undesirable parts of your company’s story, and you can use this data to understand how healthy your organization is overall.

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Business Insider interviewed Lori Goler, Facebook’s VP of People, and they talked about a recent internal survey conducted where high performing teams were asked what their leaders did right. The results list the characteristics of managers who bring out the best in their team:

  • They care about their team members
  • They provide opportunities for growth
  • They set clear expectations and goals
  • They give frequent, actionable feedback
  • They provide necessary resources and remove roadblocks
  • They hold their team accountable for success
  • They recognize outstanding work

Facebook also used surveys to spearhead their diversity initiative, which began with online unconscious bias testing and then measured bias reduction at the 60% level of participation in the unconscious bias initiative. Together these insights gave Facebook a curricular outline and specific comments and examples to help them show all their managers what it looks like, feels like and smells like to do things right when managing a team. Surveys were essential in helping Facebook know what to target in management training.

Here is another example of how surveys can be helpful for talent development. Tiny Pulse’s 2017 employee engagement survey saw these two important findings:


#1. The relationship between network centrality and peer interaction

As peers interact and connect with each other at work, the talents of team members become more visible to managers and could be developed more effectively (network centrality). Tracking this over time, in 2014 Tiny Pulse found that peers at work were the #1 reason people went the extra mile. In 2015 peers were the #1 thing people liked about their jobs. But in 2016 – big change – employees reported that they were not feeling very connected to their peers.

Network centrality goes down in an unconnected climate, meaning that you cannot see people’s capacity when there is no peer-to-peer interaction. And with more peer interaction comes more appreciation. So one important way to develop your employees is to actively find ways to encourage peer interactions so talents become visible.


#2. The role of management in promoting employee engagement

The Tiny Pulse survey reported that in the past year a larger number of supervisors and middle management were taking charge of their teams by using good engagement strategies and coaching for performance. This contrasts past surveys that showed a larger percentage of engagement responsibility placed on the shoulders of HR staff. Happily, 52% of employees are totally on board with direct feedback, coaching and engagement from their immediate managers and want to see this trend continue.

On the other hand, few organizations feel their leadership is capable of meeting company leadership needs and only 7% have any plans to improve in this area. We know that high performing employees seek professional development, coaching, mentoring and training. We also know that a lack of development opportunities is one of the main reasons people leave employers.

This brings us full circle in the discussion of encouraging the growth of talent in organizations.

Managers have to show the kind of hands-on people coaching skills that will bring out the best in their people while developing a culture of peer interaction. Peer interaction allows managers to see talent. And both managers and employees need to have the necessary tools provided through opportunities for training and development to be able to foster this kind of virtuous circle. (For more tools about building talent on your team read our post “Overcoming talent blindness” and check out our micro-learning course “Build Team” in the Quickstudy Manager Builder section of the Shift Management store.)

Here at Shift we recently sent out a survey to find out about the leadership pain points that are most troubling our audience. We were overwhelmed with feedback within the first hour of sending the request – apparently many needed a chance to talk about their experiences. The results revealed not only the problems people were having but also the successes many were experiencing after leaving the “bad” leadership company.

A number of respondents prefaced their comments with, “This is not what happens at my current company, but we had this issue at my last company…” The connotation inherent in responses like these is that people will choose to leave behind companies and managers that do not provide basic human dignity and responsiveness. Instead, they’ll find organizations that understand how to treat people: our findings certainly confirm that people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers.

Using surveys to your advantage

Here are a few ways to start using surveys in your organization:

  1. Find survey results that you can use as a benchmark in your organization. For example, check out Facebook’s internal survey mentioned above, and start implementing some of their findings to increase your capacity to recognize and groom talent internally. Survey before you start your efforts and then follow up to track your results.
  2. Create a survey targeted toward a specific hard-to-meet objective. Ask questions that will allow your team to give you as much information as possible on which practices get results and which don’t, and what they recommend to mitigate difficulties.
  3. Ask employees to explain what is working for them and what isn’t. Be prepared to present the survey results to your employees alongside a plan to address issues and safeguard best practices as your organization moves forward.

However you choose to do it, I’m recommending surveys as a critical first step to getting closer to what employees are actually thinking: the good, the bad and the in-between. Survey results can help you take a more targeted step towards uncovering hidden talents, removing obstacles, and solidifying the good already happening within your organization.

You know what they say: if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Survey and ye shall receive.

Your action item from this post is to use Survey Monkey to create your own employee survey, or check out the Tiny Pulse survey system and see how you can use it regularly to encourage peer-to-peer interactions (here is a pdf about Tiny Pulse and a video to see how it all works). Better yet, do both!

Got more questions?

Find answers every Thursday @ 11:00 MST during Marie’s weekly Facebook LIVE on the Shift Management Facebook page. We polish up the recordings and post the videos HERE so you can find what you are looking for when you need it.