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Complement annual employee surveys with strategic pulse surveys

There has been quite a bit of debate about whether the annual employee engagement survey should be replaced by regular pulse checks, or whether the pulse checks should complement the annual survey.

Understandably there are many conflicting views and many with special expertise in one area but not another, find extra reasons why their area of expertise is the favoured approach. The proliferation of new technology companies over recent years that provide pulse surveys has turned up the volume on the argument that pulse surveys are the future and large scale surveys are dead.

As Insync has expertise in both annual and pulse surveys, it is better positioned to give a balanced view on this important debate.

In Insync’s view annual employee engagement surveys are here to stay. And for good reason. A large-scale organisation wide employee engagement survey provides a complete “health check” of the organisation and measures all key indicators for achieving sustainable high performance.

Best practice organisations complement their annual employee satisfaction survey with strategic pulse surveys throughout the year that measure the extent to which the key initiatives chosen for the year are being implemented well, gaining traction and bringing about measurable change throughout the organisation.

The Corporate Executive Board agrees

A study from CEB Corporate Leadership Council found that 90% of organisations roll out traditional large-scale employee engagement surveys but only 19% use informal pulse surveys throughout the year. However more than half believe that pulse surveys should complement, not replace, traditional annual surveys. Of those that use pulse surveys, a third send them every six months and a quarter send them every three months.

An annual health check up

Think of an annual employee engagement survey as akin to a comprehensive annual health check up with your doctor. All your vital indicators will be measured and checked and any problem areas that arise will be identified and dealt with separately and in more detail.

A well designed engagement survey conducted once a year will unearth many opportunities to drive employee engagement across many areas of the organisation. To get the most out of an annual employee engagement survey, ideally choose no more than four hotspots that will have the greatest effect on employee engagement and organisational performance, put together a comprehensive action plan to address those hotspots and use pulse surveys to measure whether the initiatives implemented are having the appropriate impact. This is where the real benefits can be realised and change made.

More surveys or more action?

If you ask your employees whether they would like more surveys or more action as a result of existing surveys, their almost universal answer will be more action. We agree with those that say: “The only thing worse than not doing a regular annual employee survey is doing one and not acting on the results”.

When you do a survey, no matter how small or large, you are sending a message to your employees that the issues covered by the relevant survey are important. You also set up the expectation that you will advise your employees of the survey results and the actions you intend to take based on the results. Having set those expectations, ensure you follow through.

One of the most common complaints we hear from employees is that they weren’t advised of the intended actions and initiatives that would be taken as result. This lack of communication and action undermines employee engagement and can build cynicism amongst employees. It will also undermine employee interest and engagement in subsequent surveys and reduces the response rate of future surveys.

Be strategic with pulse surveys

Well designed pulse surveys can be very useful to quickly and easily identify employee views on key issues but they should be used wisely.

Most organisations are becoming much more strategic in the topics they cover and the questions they ask in their annual employee survey. The survey should measure the organisation’s ability to execute its strategy well. Inhibitors to the execution of strategy should be identified and actions and initiatives designed to bring about the desired change.

Similarly, Insync recommends that organisations are strategic in their use of pulse surveys. If you have implemented a change program, whether as a result of an annual employee survey or otherwise, a pulse survey can help you identify whether that change program is gaining traction, and if not, what might be done to rectify that.

It is much easier to do a pulse survey of employees than it used to be but that doesn’t mean you should do more of them. Be strategic in your use of pulse surveys and don’t do one unless you plan to act on the results.

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