Designing and Implementing a Survey

With the advent of free online survey instruments, it is easier than ever for organisations to conduct surveys of their employees. Unfortunately, the choice, design and implementation of these surveys are generally poor.

In this second of three articles, we explore the requirements of design and implementation management to ensure you effectively gain honest and clear feedback from your employees. The first article contemplated the choice of survey based on your needs and concerns within the organisation. The third article will look at action planning post survey implementation.

Clarity of Purpose

When designing a survey, either internally or with an external consultant, ensure you define the objectives of the survey beforehand. Allowing time to decide the result you want to achieve with the information gained through an engagement, culture or satisfaction survey, has a significant impact on the communication strategy and action planning used in managing the survey. Discuss this topic with the main stakeholders and a selection of employees that will be completing the survey. Do this via focus groups or team meetings. This consultation ensures the survey is focused on key issues.

Choose the right questions

There are many traps you can fall into, which render your survey a waste of time.

Do not ask questions that fall into categories including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Double barrelled questions that ask for two responses in one. For example, “How important is it to you to get recognition and career advancement for good performance?”
  • Questions that ask respondents to make a judgement they find difficulty in making. For example, “What is your preference; to maintain security in employment or to receive a promotion?”
  • Leading questions. For example, “How beneficial to you will the change in operation be?” Or asking a question which is not leading, but has a leading response. For example, “How will the change in operation affect you?”- 1. Very positively, 2. Positively, 3. Somewhat positively, 4. Neutral, 5. Negatively.
  • Sensitive questions without framing them to reduce the sensitivity. For example, “Do you support or oppose gender equality in the workplace, as practised by our organisation?” compared to “Gender equality is an emotive issue. There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but do you support or oppose gender equality in the workplace, as practised by our organisation?”

Use qualitative questions to gain information on a specific issue, such as ‘What are your perceptions of the team meetings that are held on a weekly basis?’. These types of questions often elicit rich data on specific issues that you may think impact the organisation. However, the use of these questions should be kept to the minimum as survey fatigue can happen, whereby people lose interest in the survey.

When you are creating a survey with a purpose that is highly important to your organisation, we recommend you test your questions. You may do this by getting advice from cognitive experts, or by running a pilot to determine how people respond to your survey design.

Engage staff in the survey process

Very often, organisations ignore the very people that they want feedback from. Those who are planning to implement the survey discuss the survey one week and the next week they push the survey out, without any forewarning to the employees. Employees are often confused and are not sure what the purpose of the survey is, how the results will be used and what the confidentiality issues are. This makes employees more reluctant to fill out the survey and unclear feedback may be given. This is easily rectified by involving key staff in the survey design and implementation process.

Ensure that these individuals are involved in focus groups or team meetings to discuss whether all areas of concern are included in the survey. Concerns of confidentiality should be investigated and post-survey action planning should be discussed but not finalised. These people become your survey champions and are the people who will encourage a high response rate throughout the organisation.

Communication Strategy

After you have had initial meetings with key stakeholders, develop a communication strategy and plan for the survey. Take into consideration the barriers to communication your people will have.

There are three stages in the communication plan for a survey.

  • Pre-announcement –pre-conditioning stakeholders/shareholders/consumers/the media ahead of the survey and encouraging engagement
  • Announcement – method to roll out survey
  • Post-announcement – sustaining engagement post-survey.

Getting a high response rate

Most surveys take place online these days, and get response rates of 30-40%. However, there are some instances where hardcopy surveys are still used. Although usually more expensive to manage, hardcopy surveys do get a higher response rate (60% is good).

If your organisation chooses to use online surveys, the various concerns of respondents when filling in the survey are more difficult to manage than with a hardcopy version. Concerns include, but are not limited to:

  • Confidentiality
  • How the results personally impact their role
  • Whether the results will have an impact on the performance of an organisation.

Manage these concerns through your communication strategy, to get higher response rates.

Completing a pilot as described to improve your question design will also give you an idea of any issues in the question style and IT hiccups.

Other elements to consider to improve response rates are:

  • Send the survey from a person that the respondents connect with well
  • Ensure the survey is easy to complete and the first page is simple to read and understand
  • Send reminders of the survey and its purpose (responses tend to increase up to and including the third reminder)
  • Offer to send the survey results to respondents.

Final words

Organisational surveys allow leaders to comprehend the key areas that drive performance in an organisation. They form the basis by which change can be facilitated to improve performance.

Discussing what you are going to do with those results, which areas you should concentrate on and – if you work on a specific area, how that will impact on the organisation – with people experienced in creating surveys, will reap benefits beyond the cost of acquiring the skill. Don’t fall into the easy route of buying an off-the-shelf survey or using inexperienced staff to design and manage surveys.

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