In a recent article, “It’s time to get rid of employee surveys,” Peter Cappelli calls into question the use of a common employee experience (EX) tool – the employee engagement survey. He correctly points out that when these surveys are poorly designed, lack stakeholder buy-in, and are not acted upon, they engender distrust among employees and are ultimately not very useful.
In our experience, however, those issues are symptoms of an outdated approach to EX. When organizations use surveys as part of a more adaptive set of Experience Management (XM) capabilities, then engagement surveys, along with measures of experiences across areas such as onboarding, benefits, and diversity, equity, and inclusion, can be incredibly valuable. In fact, during the heart of the pandemic and through the transition back to a new normal, many organizations shifted the focus of their annual surveys toward timely topics like employee wellbeing, readiness for remote work, and readiness for a return to the office. Through these approaches, organizations reported extremely high response rates, highly actionable feedback, and genuine appreciation among their employees.
Many organizations with modernized approaches to EX actually increase the frequency of employee engagement surveys. But these updated approaches don’t lead to the lengthy, unactionable surveys that Cappelli describes. Instead, they are designed from the beginning to trigger thoughtful actions. For example, one U.S. based bank recently created an always-on listening post as the bank began reopening its retail branches. Employee feedback about safety concerns immediately triggers alerts to the facilities team. A mortgage lending company embeds short surveys after every major employee journey. Every question is vetted for “actionability” before they are launched and process owners have real-time access to the insights.
Ultimately, we agree with Cappelli that poorly executed annual surveys often amount to “check the box” activities and that these have no place within current XM efforts. But annual surveys are not inherently bad. It’s the way that they are designed, executed, and utilized to drive action that determines their value.
Three Ways To Modernize EX Measurement
As you transition away from old-school surveys, here are three approaches for modernizing your EX efforts:
- Build feedback into your organizational culture. A company’s culture reflects the attitudes and behaviors of employees and influences every aspect of the employee experience. Honest and transparent feedback is an important characteristic of an XM-centric culture. But in order to build feedback into your culture, organizational leaders must take the first step. As Ed Batista puts it, “If we want feedback to take root in the culture, we need to explicitly ask for it”. But it doesn’t stop there. Once you ask for and collect feedback, you must then communicate back to employees transparently and as quickly as possible.
- Introduce new employee listening elements. While well-constructed and executed engagement surveys are a perfectly legitimate way to measure employee experiences, organizations cannot rely solely on this tool. There are many different listening elements that organizations can employ. Organizations should identify important employee journeys and gradually instrument them to collect employee-centric feedback. Passive feedback via always-on listening or social media scraping is another important element that can complement feedback collected through solicited tools.
- Create organic accountability for action. Old school employee engagement surveys typically try to force accountability through formal targets, incentives, and “heavy” action plans. In our experience, this approach often doesn’t work. Organizations should first transition from dense, static reports to action-oriented dashboards. When possible, leaders should be able to access these insights in the work systems that they regularly use. Organizations can also “lower the bar” for action plans. For front-line managers, for example, action plans don’t always include major process changes. Oftentimes, simple behavioral nudges work best.
Benjamin Granger, Ph.D., is an XM Catalyst with the Qualtrics XM Institute