Today’s Harvard Business Review Management Tip of the Day, adapted from a January HBR article by Rob Markey, contained the advice to “throw out the annual employee survey,” because “they’re unwieldy and unreliable.” Although most of us know that tips and “best practices” are seldom one-size-fits all, I feel so strongly about workforce analytics that I wanted save others from taking this potentially harmful advice.
Unwieldy and unreliable? Absolutely asking the wrong questions or too few questions makes a difference. Asking questions without normative reference points matters, too. Perhaps it’s better to say throw out your preconceived notions about an employee survey. Measuring engagement today is all about being targeted, timely, and tracked. Annual surveys, pulse surveys, and just in time data are the name of the game. Having the normative reference points to spot trouble areas can be essential to using the data you have.
As a Science and Research VP for a cutting edge employee analytics company, I spend most of my waking time analyzing the value of asking the right questions at the right time. Through working with hundreds of U.S. businesses over the years, we’ve seen the power of good data put to good use. Surveying with too few questions, too general questions, followed by untimely or absent follow-up are certainly bad practices and ultimately a waste of time, resources, and employee good will. However, throwing out all annual surveys because they are unwieldy and unreliable is not going to give you better company advocates. Morehead’s analysis of over 37 million data points in 2011 shows that companies who execute strategic, well-designed survey processes consistently score higher on the item, “I would recommend this organization to family and friends for care” and several other “advocacy” key items.
In short, the real management tip for today is, “To drive company advocates, rethink your survey process and your survey partner.” Or, in other words, friends don’t let friends use sloppy surveys.