Article: The Timeless Guide to Feedback Surveys

Employee Engagement

The Timeless Guide to Feedback Surveys

While a survey is good and provides insight for employers & customers, we perhaps do not need a survey to tell us everything
The Timeless Guide to Feedback Surveys

Even those coveted best employer award judges just ask…do you run an employee satisfaction survey


Surveys can be a terrific tool but can also have their own unintended consequences


While a survey is good and provides insight for employers & customers, we perhaps do not need a survey to tell us everything.

In the season of ‘Best Employer’ surveys, ‘Employer of Choice’ awards, and ‘Service Excellence’ galas, here is a tale of survey overload and some self-proclaimed ‘timeless ideas’ to get feedback and use it too.
The time – past my bedtime
The place - somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean

This was it! I was not going to fill another form… I had had enough. This was the fifth survey I was being asked to fill out today and that too, being woken up from deep slumber to do so! If decency permitted, I would have strangled the smiling stewardess for doing this to me. But gratitude for getting me my special meal and other such niceties meant I had to smile, grit my teeth and get down to the task of filling out the four page treatise! My fingers are used to typing, not writing. Suddenly I was having flashbacks to my 12th standard board exams!

Five in a row… did I have ‘Ask me’ written on my forehead? There were surveys everywhere... from the restaurant we had lunch at to the coffee shop we visited. From the airline we flew to the conference facilities we used. Even the taxi service that got me to the airport asked for feedback! Thankfully theirs required only an ‘A’ or ‘B’ response. But what they forgot to tell me was I would pay six rupees to my telecom provider for texting my response!

I wonder what happens to all the feedback that we provide. I don’t get a thank you note from an employee I recommended or an ‘appreciate the feedback you provided here is what we changed’ follow-up. And I have yet to win the elusive lucky draw for filling out those forms!

It is unfortunate, but over the years, this habit of asking for feedback has turned into a check-in-the-box exercise. Even those coveted best employer award judges just ask…do you run an employee satisfaction survey. No questions on what you do with it once your employees respond.

But it need not be that way, responses from our employees and customers are a treasure trove of information that can help us stay relevant as employers and service providers.

Here are some ideas that I seriously wish management listened to and implemented.

1. Don’t ask if you don’t intend to do anything: If you know you can do nothing or will do nothing, don’t ask. If you know you will not increase compensation, change your work timings, serve food on your aircraft, don’t ask. Rather than getting points for asking, you will get expletives for wasting people’s time.
2. Celebrate the contributions and inputs: Just sending an automated thank you note in response to feedback is not good enough. If you made a change as a result of feedback – send a note to the respondent telling them how they influenced the decision. I recently saw an internal communication that acknowledged an employee for his/her contribution and how it impacted the decision on the subject. This mail had the person’s picture, what he/she said and what was changed! Wow!
3. Announce the results: If you ask for feedback, tell people what the response was. Share a report of trends, important feedback and what you intend to do. That way, they won’t feel like everything just goes into some black hole or to a galaxy far, far away.
4. Keep it simple: Please, please keep your survey simple, to the point and one that can be finished in 5 minutes or less. Two reasons for this: i) people don’t have the time for anything more than that and will lose interest; ii) those who have the time will find other ways of telling you. In fact, they probably already have in those countless hallway conversations they pull you into.
Not to mention, do you really have time to analyse, formulate and extrapolate so many pieces of information?
If not, for the poor people giving you feedback, in the interest of self-preservation, “keep it simple, silly”.

Buyer beware
Here’s my version of the ‘Smoking can be injurious to your health’ stamp of surveys.
Surveys can be a terrific tool but can also have their own unintended consequences. In early 2000, when the IT business was just taking off from the dotcom bust and the BPO business was still a novelty, an otherwise stable process (as work groups are called in the BPO business) was experiencing sudden and rapid attrition.

This process was growing rapidly with little or no customer issues. Alarmed, we spent a lot of sleepless nights peeling the onion to only land up in hysterical tears of laughter and incredulity!

It appeared that what triggered off this attrition was an employee satisfaction survey rolled out by an intern! Most of the employees were happy, engaged and enjoying what they were doing. But they started wondering if they were missing something when their responses for many of the survey questions was ‘no’. What were these questions? Here are a few:

‘Does your supervisor spend time providing feedback and coaching?’; Do you have a written goal sheet?’; ‘Do you meet your process head often?’.

Employees started wondering, ‘if these things were standard and they were not being provided to those, should they be happy?’ Some of them discussed this at the water cooler; one decided to check out reality, got a job… and the vicious cycle had set in.

Is this why they say “the road to hell is paved with noble intentions”?

I personally believe while a survey is good and provides insights, we don’t need a survey to tell us everything. There are signs everywhere for us to see. Data points like attrition, client reviews, smiles or frowns on faces, and most importantly, the informal channels like social networks, water coolers and blogs!

You don’t need an ‘award’ to tell you that – your customers will vote with their wallet and your employees will vote with their productivity and innovation!

Till then, good luck filling surveys and a six rupee charge for providing feedback!
And while you are at it, would you mind giving me your feedback on this column!

Elango R, is the Chief Human Resources Officer at MphasiS. He blogs on and follow him on twitter@agastyasays

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Topics: Employee Engagement, Culture, Watercooler

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