11 steps to developing an effective employee survey

Deriving feedback from your staff is essential to bolstering engagement, quelling turnover and identifying systemic problems. Follow this guidance for getting the input you seek.

11 survey questions

An employee survey is as good as the questions it poses; you can act only on what you ask.

Here are 11 tips for how to craft an effective staff survey:

1. Have one key decision maker on question design. This person understands the survey strategy and purpose and is responsible for collecting feedback on the questions from relevant people within your company. Having a point person keeps the process concise.

2. Start with objectives. Each question must have a purpose defined by the objectives. Look at the systems and initiatives you have in place, and consider what you have in mind for the future.

3. Consider your company culture. Ask, “What has been crucial to our success?” If you’re using a survey template and find some questions aren’t relevant, rewrite them. Your company is unique, and your survey questions should reflect that. It might be changing “manager” to “coach” if that’s how your company functions.

4. Understand the cognitive model of question response. In other words, understand how someone answering your question processes it in their mind.

Consider the example: “I receive appropriate recognition for my work.”

Step One: Understand intent of the question—“I understand what recognition is.”
Step Two: Search memory for information—“When was the last time I felt recognized? Just last week I got props from a co-worker.”
Step Three: Integrate information into judgment—“I think, yes, I do receive appropriate recognition for my work.”
Step Four: Translate judgment onto response options—“I would rate this affirmatively.”

5. Familiarize yourself with “bi-directional” questions. Each one sends a signal. If the statement to be affirmed or rejected is, “My manager gives me feedback once a week,” it signals that weekly feedback is the norm. Understanding this idea ensures that you are sending the right signals about company norms.

6. Have the right scale. Include a midpoint in your Likert scale, because it accounts for people who feel neutral on a question. If you exclude a midpoint, your “favorable” sentiment becomes inflated as people tend to acquiesce to the “yes” or “positive” side of the scale rather than answering how they truly feel. (Some oppose a precise midpoint, contending that it affords an easy “out” to noncommittal respondents.)

7. Include benchmark questions. If the platform you’re using includes benchmarks, retain those questions so you can compare your survey results against others in your industry.

8. Don’t ask questions you aren’t ready to discuss. Survey respondents will expect that if you ask questions about compensation, for example, you’re willing to discuss or change something about that policy.

9. Avoid “mandatory question” fields. These can be frustrating and annoying for people who honestly can’t answer a given question. Survey participation should be voluntary, and mandatory questions go against that ideal.

10. Each question should serve a purpose. You should understand the “why” behind each question, but not every question has to be immediately actionable. You’re looking to diagnose prevailing problems, not solve individual quibbles.

11. Put yourself in the mindset of the survey taker. Survey fatigue can affect results. If you’re asking about every aspect of your company in a 200-question survey, participants will get tired or zone out. Keep them interested and focused by limiting the number of questions. Take the survey yourself to estimate completion time.

Alexis Croswell works in content marketing at Culture Amp. A version of this post first appeared on the Culture Amp blog.

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