Often, the first step in creating a new process or policy is using a survey to measure the success of an existing one. Through employee opinions regarding the status quo, a company can hold its leaders accountable for things they control and confirm that leaders control the right things. In this way, surveys confirm that policies and processes are or are not effective in both operational and financial terms. Through employee surveys, past experience guides the selection of metrics that will gauge future performance. Consequently, employee surveys serve as the foundation of many company initiatives, including employee engagement and employee benefits.
You can create and distribute a survey a variety of formats. For example, you can distribute a survey using the Internet for respondents to access using a laptop, personal computer or mobile device. You also can print a survey on paper and distribute it by hand or by mail.
The time required to create and conduct a survey is less than that needed to collect data using other methods. For example, a case study requires you to observe or interview a subject in a particular context, as well as document and analyze your observations or the subject’s responses. In contrast, you can use a mass mailing or other method to distribute a survey to respondents who independently provide responses, which they return to you.
Many of a survey’s cost elements do not increase in direct relationship to either the number of survey recipients or respondents. Instead, a significant amount of a survey’s cost is determined by development and analysis activities. The cost also is dependent on the amount of statistical confidence in survey results you require, your tolerance for error in survey results and the degree that each response varies significantly from all others.
Unless surveys are conducted on a somewhat frequent and recurring basis, it’s difficult to determine if the results reflect reality or if findings are skewed by unusual events, such as a new product initiative or a recent employee layoff. In the latter case, the survey renders a snapshot of employee perceptions at a particular time, which may be heavily influenced by one unusual event.
Conducting an employee survey can be a resource-intensive process. Consequently, surveys may not be conducted as frequently and thoroughly as need be for the results to accurately portray a situation. If a survey is conducted only once per year with a small sample size, and if few of the distributed surveys are completed and returned, survey results may be meaningless.
A survey is an independent activity that has no direct effect on business processes or financial or operational results. For a positive return to be achieved on the survey investment, a company must take action to address issues highlighted by survey results. But in some cases, managers aren’t held accountable for issues identified using the employee surveys, situations aren’t improved and the cost of the surveys is for naught.