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Much Ado About Nothing

Let me paint a scenario for you. A company, let’s call them ACME Industries, decides it is a good idea to do an employee survey. Their reasons for wanting to do so may vary – i.e. their HR person told them it was a good idea, their parent company is ‘forcing’ them to do one or perhaps ACME’s CEO is a true visionary that understands the value of employee surveys. ACME goes ahead and creates a lot of fanfare about how valuable the employee’s opinions are, and that ACME is listening to them and ACME wants to know their opinions so they can affect change, etc. ACME makes a point of letting employees know that they will “share the results” with them once the survey is complete so “we can all work together to solve things and improve at ACME.”

Much_Ado_QuartoSound familiar? I would hazard a guess that this scenario plays out annually in thousands of companies across North America each year. So what is the problem you ask? Well, up to this point, nothing. Everything that has transpired up to now is very positive and very ‘engaging’ (see what I did there.) The “problem” comes AFTER the survey has been launched and the results tabulated. Many companies get their results back (whether positive or not) and they share the results with their management team and then the communication stops there. Some other priority takes place or a shift in business occurs and suddenly the survey and all the hoopla surrounding it weeks/months ago is gone and replaced by some other priority. Results aren’t cascaded to staff, discussions don’t take place, solutions are not discussed, communication does not occur and trust is broken.

What’s that – you disagree…trust isn’t broken? Trust me when I tell you it is. When you sing from the pulpits about all the wonderful things you are going to do with the survey info and then NOTHING is said or done about it, trust has been broken. This vicious cycle occurs annually at so many organizations. You see this in companies that are experiencing turnover, attendance problems, productivity issues, customer service challenges, etc. Then they wonder why their survey results don’t give them some magical prescriptive formula about what is wrong and how to fix it! I have heard far too often of leadership teams getting the results back and everything rated down the middle of the road (a.k.a. – everything is “o.k.”) .  The response from the leadership team is often, “see, the staff are ‘engaged’”; “everything is fine.” The reality is that your employees are sick of filling out another dumb survey of which nothing will be done with the results/info they share. There is no difference for your staff between completing the survey and filling out the annual “Employee Information Sheet” that is thrust upon them to complete each year as well.

If you aren’t prepared to act on employee survey results, or at the very least, not prepared to stand up in front of employees and acknowledge what they have said, then don’t survey them. If you really don’t want to hear what they have to say or if you spend your time discrediting the overall results, then don’t continue to survey. If you think that sharing the results with your staff and discussing the gaps is not time well spent and an investment in your people, then don’t survey. The damage that is done by creating a big to do about surveys and then not following up is often irreparable. Apathy, eye-rolling, sarcasm and cynicism amongst employees are usually found in abundance over time as companies fall into this vicious survey/non-communication cycle.

So the next time someone at your company (especially HR!) says, “It’s time to do our annual employee survey,” you need to really ask the hard questions of each other. Are you prepared to see this through to the end? Are you prepared to communicate, follow up and provide feedback? Are you prepared to take action on the results or discuss why you can’t action certain things that have been identified? If the answer isn’t “yes” to these questions, than you are making much ado about nothing.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.org

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