Choosing Organisational Surveys

Organisational surveys are a simple and economical way to understand what perceptions individuals in a workplace hold and how that may impact their behaviours. Despite their simplicity, it is easy to get it wrong when choosing survey types and creating survey questions. There is a high risk of time spent in developing and implementing a survey without getting the right feedback to make the changes in the workplace that are desired or necessary.

This article discusses the issues prevalent in choosing the right organisational survey for your workplace, selecting the right type of external survey company to gain maximum benefits for your people and ways to evaluate the quality of the survey.

Organisations can choose the wrong survey for number of reasons. These may include but are not limited to:

  • Not knowing the difference between different survey types and their purpose, for example, an engagement surveys, cultural surveys and satisfaction survey,
  • Being misled by external or internal consultants
  • Not accurately understanding the overall environment of the organisation

Here are some tips on how to choose the right survey.

1. Understand the differences between various organisational surveys

When deciding to implement a survey, before calling in the experts, conduct an environmental evaluation within your organisation. It is important to understand the issues that may be facing your organisation, business unit or team. Randomly picking any type of survey can result in inappropriate feedback and in employees thinking they wasted their time filling out the survey.

Organisational surveys cover many areas of working in an organisation, including:

  • Expected behaviour within the organisation
  • Values
  • Intention to stay
  • Satisfaction with pay

Ensure you have some general areas that you would like measured, such as lack of communication, retention or team relationships. This will help determine the type of survey you want to use.

Below are three commonly used surveys which measure in different levels of complexity and cost how employees perceive working in an organisation. They are listed in order of complexity and cost, and describe the areas they measure and what outcomes you may expect to influence through undertaking an analysis of the survey results and taking action:

Satisfaction Survey

Complexity/cost: Low

What it measures: Employee satisfaction surveys measure a number of areas, but not in depth. These include motivation, engagement, intention to stay and general satisfaction with the work conditions.

Outcomes: Satisfaction surveys are good to get a snapshot view of employees’ perceptions about the workplace, including:

  • Relationships with colleagues
  • Training needs
  • Perceptions about pay and working conditions

Engagement Survey

Complexity/cost: Medium

What it measures: The degree to which the individuals in an organisation are involved, committed and psychologically invested in their work, their job, and their organization (Denison Consulting)

Looks at the individuals’ perception of their work and how they feel within the organisation.

Outcomes: Taking action on the results of an engagement survey will have an impact on:

  • Retaining valued employees
  • Allowing you to recruit from a wider pool of good candidates by having staff act as unofficial spokespeople for the organisation
  • Enabling employees to understand the vision and strategy of the organisation and empowering them to play their role in executing the strategy.

Cultural Survey

Complexity/cost: High

What it measures: Culture measures behavioural norms and expectations that have a well-documented impact (positive and negative) on performance (Human Synergistics)

Looks at the individuals’ perception of their work and how they feel within the organisation.

Outcomes: The actions which can be taken as a result of critical analysis of a culture survey are very broad and include but are not limited to:

  • Create and monitor organisational development programs to improve performance
  • Design supporting programs to enhance strategy implementation, employee engagement, organisational learning, quality and reliability, or customer service
  • Facilitate mergers, acquisitions and strategic alliances and achieve the desired synergies
  • Enhance managers’ understanding of culture and sustainability and thereby their ability to lead and manage their teams
  • Manage diversity and corporate responsibility.


2. Determining the best survey for your organisation

Organisational surveys garner varying amounts of interest from employees. To get the broadest level of support through participation from employees, follow the “What’s in it for me maxim”. Choosing a complex survey (cultural survey) over a simple survey (satisfaction) with no increase in potential outcomes for the employees drives participation rates down. Have discussions with internal stakeholders about what it is that they want to measure and what they hope to do with the information that will benefit employees directly or indirectly.

Factors from the discussion which influence the choice of survey include but are not limited to:

  • The problem they are trying to understand
  • Possible actions they may take
  • Budget availability
  • Desired duration of survey
  • Desired duration of action planning
  • The number of responses needed to get the level of data required to inform the level of analysis required
  • Level of impact desired from actions
    • Organisation-wide
    • Business unit level.

For example, imagine your organisation is having issues with internal communication between leaders as well as the lower ranks of the employees. Imagine this is significantly affecting internal customer service and thus affecting clients and the execution of strategy.

A cultural survey would be ideal in this case to investigate the issues that are being faced as it will measure why people behave in this way, the organisation’s expected behavioural norms from leaders and employees, and the impact it would have on the organisation’s performance levels (internal customer service as well as external customer service).


3. Do it yourself or hire a consultant

There are two main ways to conduct surveys. The first is to develop your own survey and distribute it to the organisation. Developing your own survey, whilst popular with the advent of free online survey instruments, is generally not recommended unless you have staff who are skilled at designing questions and question sequencing to avoid bias and in selecting samples which give a true reflection of the population as a whole..

People who do not have the skills to create robust surveys and sample design can learn the skills. This is something which usually happens over several years and therefore several renditions of the survey. Different renditions of surveys created as people learn and try to improve the quality of their questioning techniques has a major impact on the quality of benchmarking information the organisation receives for following surveys. Organisations then find it difficult to determine what real impact their actions from previous surveys are having on the problems they wanted to solve.

The second option is to secure an external survey consultancy. It is obviously more expensive, but there are benefits:

  • Professional design of survey questions and selection of samples to avoid bias
  • Professional design of questions to maximise engagement of employees
  • Benchmark data from like companies in like industries
  • Analytical capability to evaluate the responses
  • Hosting capacity
  • Multi-channel capacity for distribution including face-to-face, electronic, mobile, paper

If you are dealing with a survey company, it is important that there is someone you can speak with face-to-face or on the phone perhaps as much as 3-5 times during the survey creation and evaluation processes. This is to ensure the consultant has a holistic overview of the organisation; the challenges faced and are able to recommend the best survey design and implementation.

A final piece of advice; many survey companies display well-known organisations as their clients, but the important area to focus on is those clients’ results, action planning and subsequent improvements. When a survey company talks to you about their services and clients, always ask how they helped post-results in the improvement of an organisation to ensure they can support you post-implementation.

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