When you want to improve your business, you ask questions. You turn to your employees in whom you've invested months—maybe years—and you get from them the information that will help you make your small business better and stronger for the long term.
But you have to ask the right questions. And you have to ask them in the right way.
The Right Questions
The bottom line when it comes to employee feedback surveys is that you want dynamic results—ones that you can actually use to implement change. How can you make sure your next in-house survey delivers the data you need to help you plan for your business's future?
1. Skip the shortlist. Understanding the scope of your employee feedback survey counts for almost everything, right from the start. If you limit your questions, you'll limit your potential when it comes to building new strategies based upon responses. Instead, draw from an aggressive set of categories and encourage a broad range of ways to answer and introduce ideas.
2. Don't waste your time on boilerplate stuff. As the shortlist approach will limit your potential responses, the boilerplate question list will also truncate the outcome of your employee survey. It might seem like a time-saver to turn to firms that generate questionnaires for businesses like yours, but take note: Every question is important to the product you're after and every one of them needs to be checked against the issues and ideas you want at the front end of your survey goals.
3. Make your goals the first order of business. Now we're talking brass tacks. From the very start of your survey project, build in a strategy session that allows you to put heads together with the business leaders in your organization. Whatever your senior management structure may be, large or small, you want every member to be closely aligned with what goes into your questionnaire. That's an approach echoed by experts on the subject, such as Jack Wiley, in this Kenexa Research Institute white paper: See that your survey is "designed and driven by the organization’s top level goals." That way, the results you generate are matched to expectations, and you're not as likely to have to circle back to what a partner wanted to learn, but didn't get a chance to initially express.
4. Run a trial in advance. As you steer your survey plan toward the goals and expectations of your executive managers, but also away from the boilerplate and short-form iterations that can sabotage a survey, pick a test group that can try out what you've got so far. Focus groups within your professional space allow you to weed out the poorly (or ambiguously) worded queries, and they provide that all-important sanity check against certain difficult-to-quantify lines of questioning.
5. Solicit everyone or randomize. When it's time to deploy your employee survey, you've got two choices: Either everybody takes it, or a truly random assortment of employees takes it. Failing to do one or the other means that a valuable chunk of your data set is likely to be left out. Self-selection among employees is the enemy, according to human resources consultant Susan Heathfield: You'll only see the already satisfied or the presently disgruntled employees among your respondents. And that's not what you're after.
A Smart Survey Strategy
Finally, remember that the key to success is involvement. Take the time to bring your business partners on board and avoid the worst case scenario—discovering after employees' responses come back that you've built your study without gathering the goals of everyone who stands to benefit. The idea is to give a good survey once, and reap the rewards, rather than re-tooling and broadcasting a mishap to everyone in your company.
Also, don't just construct your survey as a survey, but think of it as an employee confidence builder. When your questionnaire conveys your goals, then your goals stand to become part of your respondents' thinking, even after the work of it is complete. That's another underlying benefit, sometimes overlooked, of a well-built employee survey.
James O'Brien, PhD, covers business, technology, travel, food, wine, home improvement, writing, and news. His new book on writing, The Indie Writer's Survival Guide, is available at Amazon.com.
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