Are organizations oversurveyed?

 

Everybody who administers surveys in organizations knows how difficult it is to get a decent response rate.  Nobody seems to like filling out surveys which are becoming increasingly more popular with organizations. I started wondering if being oversurveyed is the real cause of this survey fatigue.

Survey comments and feedback from organizational members have cast some doubt on the excessive use of surveys per se being the main culprit. What truly annoys and even angers respondents is the perceived futility of these surveys. Whether it is true or not by any objective standards, many feel that their responses and comments are falling on deaf ears. It is perceived that organizations ask for employee opinions only for the sake of asking. People fill out the questionnaires, data are collected and stored in a safe place, and the only action taken is asking those same questions in a year’s time again.

A question arises: isn’t it the failure to use survey findings to improve the organization’s functioning that gives surveys a bad rap? As Dean Wiltse has written in his Talent Management article The Employee Survey: What’s in It For Me? , the problem is with the execution, and not with the employee survey concept as such.

If wisely used, surveys can be a great tool to gauge the organization’s climate and inform its strategies and tactics. An excellent example of such an approach is the case of Cape Fear Valley Health System (in North Carolina, USA) reported by Michele Westphall of HR Solutions, Inc..

When Cape Fear Valley administered its first employee engagement survey in 2001, the participation rate was 51%, and the organization scored the same or better than merely 35% of other health care organizations. The senior management took this seriously. They put together employee task forces and organized forums to explore each poorly scored survey item and to solicit suggestions for improvement which were then implemented. Management kept everybody informed of the implementation process and invited feedback through follow-up surveys to see if the impact of their actions is felt. Everybody was held accountable for doing their part of the change implementation, and everybody’s contribution was acknowledged.

To increase the survey response rate, in every department, Survey Captains were identified, that is, fellow employees who encouraged others to respond, and departments with highest participation rates were given incentives. These are just a few steps that Cape Fear Valley undertook systematically and intensely.

The third time around, the survey response rate reached 99.8% since employees saw that their opinions made a difference. In terms of employee engagement, the organization hit the 84th percentile of all the organizations surveyed (as opposed to the 35th a couple of years earlier). A healthier organization climate also had a tangible impact on the bottom line: patient satisfaction went up, and financial performance considerably improved.

Organizations might or might not be oversurveyed, but in many cases, survey results are definitely underutilized.

In my next posts, I will address some possible obstacles to an effective use of surveys.

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