Are Corporate Survey Results Driving Cultural Complacency?

Today’s post comes to us from The Workforce Institute advisory board member John Frehse, senior managing director of labor strategy at Ankura.

Great leaders are often defined by their ability to drive human performance — to truly understand what motivates employees and inspires discretionary effort. Great leaders do not just understand these complex issues, but they also act on that intelligence. The outcomes are low turnover, the ability to hire and retain the best talent, and usually increased revenue and profitability.

Results from corporate surveys, when analyzed and acted upon effectively, can contribute to positive culture and business transformation. However, an alarming trend is starting to emerge among some organizations. Instead of building off of the positive employee sentiments — or addressing areas of opportunities revealed from the survey — some organizations have decided to focus their attention elsewhere after receiving their results or even earning an award badge.

By doing so, though, these organizations risk missing a fundamental opportunity, and, really, the greater point of conducting employee surveys in the first place: continuous improvement of your culture and creating a great workplace for your people.

It is easy to see why this may happen. With so many competing priorities, leaders may be desperate to shrink a growing list of overwhelming initiatives and motivated to move culture to the bottom. But with a standout, people-focused culture, the work is never really “done,” and you cannot grow complacent — even if the initial survey results meet your original expectations.

There is good news for those overwhelmed teams. It is ok to ask for help and spread the work around. For culture to truly be effective, it must be a companywide effort. In fact, there should be a companywide approach from the beginning.

Your employees complete the survey and provide honest, candid feedback. If there is an award component, maybe your PR or communications teams will help craft a corresponding submission, while partnering with HR in gathering information. And it should not end there, especially for the HR and leadership teams. If HR is not invested in analyzing results to see where the company is compared with others (e.g., similar-sized companies, competitors, industry leaders), learn what they are doing right, or identify where the culture may need critical adjustments, then they are likely in it just for the award stamp, and that could end up hurting the culture in the long term.

The Role of Surveys: Identifying Areas of Focus

My customers often ask what are the traits of a great culture. While there are some constants — trust, transparency, care, support — there is no one-size-fits-all approach to a building a successful culture. In my experience, it is more valuable to collaborate with leadership teams to define excellence based on your specific culture and diagnose where you are and what it will take to get to your aspirational destination.

The most effective corporate surveys can reveal several areas of opportunity for your organization, such as: decision making; job and work design; work processes; compensation and total rewards; organizational direction; involvement and empowerment; accountability; career development, succession, and promotion; performance management; engagement; coaching and development; and collaboration and teamwork.

Some surveys provide incredibly detailed insight into how employees feel about these areas and results can be utilized to start the journey toward improvement. The highest value comes from identifying opportunities from the survey, communicating that leadership is listening, creating an action plan, and executing change. Once you know where to focus, you can work with teams across the organization — and lean on technology — to make a difference for your employees.

The Role of Technology: Acting on Strategy While Effectively Applying Governance

In a world where the levers to increase retention (and revenue) have become more limited, leadership teams must use every strategy possible. This includes looking closely at the data and results revealed by your surveys to get at the core of what is really happening at your company and measure your overall organizational health. For example, employees in a department seem happy, but there might be a team within that same department that is unhappy or having a less-than-ideal experience. Take time to analyze your results to pinpoint where to focus your labor efforts.

As labor strategies become more complex, technology can perform a pivotal role in allowing leadership teams to innovate, manage, and lead organizations more effectively. Advanced scheduling tools allow for the creation of multigenerational labor strategies to attract a broader base of the talent pool. Analytics can allow leadership teams to understand the patterns that lead to turnover and correct them before it is too late. And the right technology can drive broad transparency into employee policies and practices to show how governance is applied equally across the organization. This transparency and empowerment help to transform workforce performance and improve culture.

The Role of Leadership: Staying Committed to Culture

For their part, leaders today should recognize and celebrate the cultural achievements of their organizations while acknowledging areas of opportunities and laying out realistic plans for improvement. Remember: employees live the real culture every day, that experience is their reality, and their feedback matters, so it is vital to listen to what employees are saying, starting with the survey.

Corporate surveys can bring a great deal of value to a company. They let you know how you are doing, and where to focus on improving. If you are doing well, you may earn recognition, which is a source of pride and validation, and also a great way to show current employees and job candidates they have chosen the right company for their careers. But you cannot just stop at the survey. To be a truly great workplace, it will take commitment to the culture from the entire organization, starting with leadership and extending to every employee. The results will be well worth the effort.