As my regular readers know by now, one of the things I write and speak on most is value alignment. Nearly all companies will proudly tell you about the value statements they have, and nearly everyone will agree that businesses should be values centered in their mission. However, nearly all have to work much harder on the practical application of their values so they truly take actions which are consistent with the beliefs they profess to have.
In my coaching practice, I consistently give the different companies I work with reality checks on if their values spoken are their values practiced. We take a clear look at their operations and work processes to see if they pass muster according to how they interpret the values they claim to have. One of my favorite targets? The employee opinion survey.
Leaders will tell me they have an open door policy, that everyone is encouraged to give honest feedback, and that they do everything possible to create a safe environment in which people will do so, communicating freely and without any fear of repercussion. They say there are good relationships throughout the workplace, and that morale is high. Yet they still will persist in using anonymous employee opinion surveys so that employees will “tell it like it is,” and so they can periodically discover “what is really going on,” and “how people may truly feel.”
Doesn’t quite compute, does it.
I get pretty bullish in my insistence that employee opinion surveys (and any kind of anonymous feedback forms) become completely unnecessary if managers consistently practice the Daily 5 Minutes to promote healthy, forthright and enjoyably engaging communication throughout the workplace. However despite the pain they potentially can cause, many leaders will in turn insist they still want to use surveys to shed light on any corners of darkness which linger. In particular, I can understand why companies in an acquisition or transition of some kind find them useful, however the norm is that not enough care is employed in the manner in which they are used.
If you must use them, please give considerable thought to the process. My biggest objection to employee opinion surveys is that by nature the communication is one way, and when anonymous need not be substantiated or clarified. It is a fallacy to assume that the feedback you are getting is a totally honest representation because it is seldom complete, even when comments are coming from employees with the most positive attitudes and good intentions. Understand you still have to read between the lines, or somehow employ a follow-up process in which you can get closer to the truth and uncover root causes for pervasive opinions.
Construct your surveys carefully. The better ones I have seen do not ask questions about the work performance of peers, managers or leaders (for those questions invite witch hunts and unrealistic comparisons). Instead, they seek to educate, and question for understanding on company values, mission, and strategic objectives. They ask about the tools people feel they might need to get the job done better. They ask for ideas on how to serve the customer. They ask for suggestions beyond mere comments, and all participants understand they are expected to be part of the solution when they reveal issues.
Be timely with your follow-up process, and seek to validate the thought and effort which has been shared, however make it clear that the survey is just one part of on-going efforts to create a vibrant and dynamic workplace— and that everyone’s involvement is necessary.
Rosa Say is the author of Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawaii’s Universal Values to the Art of Business and the Talking Story blog. She is also the founder and head coach of Say Leadership Coaching, a company dedicated to bringing nobility to the working arts of management and leadership.
Rosa’s Previous Thursday Column was: The First Time versus the Insider’s Advantage.