Your Employee Research Data Is In! Now What?

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Employee Research DataMany marketing researchers enjoy the anticipation of digging into a new or expanded data set. However, others feel completely overwhelmed, looking at too many numbers, in too many tables, sliced too many ways. While our first instinctual action might be to start leafing through the analytic results, that is probably not the most effective starting point.

First, David Bator, of Toolbox HR, recommends you ask yourself these key questions:

  • What keeps your leaders up at night?
  • What drives performance within the organization?
  • What has your organization been trying to improve?
  • What will you try to make happen in the next 3-6 months?
  • How do you create the most value for the organization?
  • What areas of the organization are most at risk?

Think back to when you started the survey. What were the goals and objectives? Why is the firm spending money measuring employee engagement? What changes or improvements have resulted from previous waves of the survey?

Next, go back to basics. How were the data collected, what was the overall response rate, and are any important groups over or underrepresented? Often, employee surveys have smaller sample sizes and larger margins of error than other surveys because of the relatively limited population being surveyed. Note especially any cell with small sample sizes – reporting on small cell sizes could make it easy for managers to tie individual employees to specific results or open-end comments, violating the confidentiality of that respondent. (And damaging the survey’s credibility!)

Finally, based on the previous steps, determine what is meaningful. Whether this is your first measurement (benchmark) or a subsequent wave of a tracking survey, you need to decide what’s a good or bad number. Based on your organization’s strategic goals and brand positioning, how high is up? Some corporations look to competitors and just try to beat their metrics. However, keep in mind that their results might not support your company’s objectives. For example, your company has decided to be the employer of choice in your category. You know that competitive employee engagement scores are below 30%. Your company’s average score is 43%. You know the average score in the U.S. is 70% to 80%. You beat your competitors, but your leadership may not believe that score fits your goal to be the employer of choice. You need to understand what level of results are meaningful, especially regarding change over time.

Next, sort the results into three categories: positive, negative, and neutral. Now, go beyond the data, especially for negative findings. Look at the verbatim responses from those employees who rated the company lower on individual items. Compare them to the data. Do they tell a story? Look at demographic subgroups to see if different groups of employees are saying the same thing or something different. You should begin to understand why employees gave low or negative responses and identify actions that might be taken to improve the results in the next wave. If not, you may need to recommend a deeper dive into those negative areas that are strategically important to the company.

Once you understand the results, you need to tell the story back to executives, managers, and employees. Focus on the issues that are of greatest concern to leadership. Don’t overwhelm your audiences with minutiae. Remember to look for the greatest potential short-term impact. The most critical finding may not be addressable at this moment, so while you should note that it exists, you cannot recommend action to address it at this time.

As you interpret the results of your employee surveys, keep in mind the most important outcome of employee research is action. It is important that everyone see changes made, or at least understand why changes are not being made immediately. Engagement surveys with no action or communications will kill employee engagement quickly. As organizational psychologist Jack Wiley writes in his book, Strategic Employee Surveys, “A list of priorities that outmatches the resources or resolve of the organization almost always leads to employee cynicism toward and distrust of the process. A short list of priorities worked well will advance the cause of the organization much better and faster than a long list worked poorly.”

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Kyle Burnam

Kyle Burnam is the CEO of Infosurv and the leader of its sister company, Intengo, where he oversees all client research and R&D projects. Having been in the industry since 2005, Kyle brings a wealth of experience to the table and an innovative eye to every project.