6 Steps to Effectively Use a Culture SurveyBy Andrew Barenz, Client Engagement Leader
At Chapman & Co., we host annual health screenings. One morning each year, we have our blood drawn, blood pressure taken, and BMI measured. Our results are then mailed a few weeks later with a comprehensive report on a myriad of different metrics. Some are simple to understand and improve such as blood sugar and salt levels, while others you need a MD to decode for you like Albumin/Globulin Ratio and eGFR.
In combination, these metrics give a holistic picture of our health; however, doing something about the results is an active choice. Similarly, culture surveys are diagnostic in nature. They will identify organizational strengths and weaknesses but acting upon the results is a separate task. Effectively administering a culture survey, understanding the results, and implementing change consists of multiple parts.
- Determine and Communicate the Purpose
Committing to act upon the results of the survey is an important first step. If the reason for running a survey is strictly to gain information as a leader or leadership team, this approach can have a negative impact on the team. It can be discouraging for employees to share their perspective, especially if it’s a difficult one to share, and not see change. This approach can lead to a decrease in trust and engagement within an organization, so it’s important to commit to action before running a survey. If you haven’t acted on previous surveys, your next survey is a great place to start.
Communicating the purpose of the survey to your team is also important. It allows you to share with your team what you’ll do with the information: hear employee frustrations, make improvements, and reinforce what’s working well. Sharing this information helps employees see the value in the survey. If the purpose of the survey is to better care for your employees and improve their work environment, it often leads to a higher response rate, more honest feedback, and appreciation from the team. In addition to communicating your commitment to action, using an anonymous survey and communicating that to your team often results in more direct feedback and a higher response rate.
- Prepare Leaders to Receive Results
Culture surveys can and often do surface difficult issues within an organization. Preparing your leaders to receive the results is important for both them and your team. Below are a few actions to consider:
- Have an open mind. Each person’s feedback on the survey is their reality. If a leader disagrees with the results, it is fine to have a different perspective, but disagreeing with a person or group does not serve to further the conversation, better understand the situation, or build a better culture.
- Ask open-ended questions. Having an open mind leads to open-ended questions, which allow employees to share further and it expands our understanding of the situation. Conversely, closed-ended or yes-or-no questions often reinforce our own perspective.
- Listen to your team’s response. When discussing the results practice empathetic listening. When we ask teams around the world, “What do great leaders do?” listening almost always falls in the top five responses. Not only does listening validate your team’s perspective, it provides empathy for their situation, which reinforces an open mind.
In combination, these three steps provide you with better information as a leader, which allow you to deliberate more carefully on how to act and build a better company culture. Plus, practicing these steps might land you on someone’s great leader list!
- Communicate the Results
When sharing the results, an all-team meeting is a great place to start. It is important to first thank those who took the time to complete the survey. Then, share the main themes from the survey, starting with the positive. Doing so frames the conversation that your team has its strengths and the goal is to address negative aspects to build a better culture. When sharing the negative feedback from the survey, remember to listen and utilize empathetic responses.
It is also important to include next steps so your team knows what will happen as a result of the survey. Scheduling employee focus group sessions and sharing an action item list are great places to start.
- Follow up with Focus Group Sessions
Once themes are identified in your survey, organizing small, in-person focus groups allows you to gain greater clarity and insight into what’s working well and what’s not. Similar to the Chapman & Co. health screening results, some of the feedback will be easy for you to understand, and some of it will require further investigation. Your team will help you do that during focus group sessions. Below are a few tips when hosting a listening session:
- Determine the relevant groups. If an issue pertains only to a certain department or location, it probably doesn’t make sense to invite employees outside of those groups.
- Invite a cross-section of employees. Often, problems within a team are multi-faceted and many individuals across the organization can offer insight. If your sales process surfaces as a problem, involve your Sales, Marketing, Research and Development teams, and any other groups or individuals involved.
- Organize as many focus groups as necessary, but remember to keep them to a manageable size. Anything over thirty people can be challenging, because you want to ensure everyone is able to share and be heard.
- Ask for stories and behaviors, not opinions or rumor. Stories focus the conversation and avoid generalizations and exaggerations. “This company punishes anyone who speaks up.” is very different than “When I shared my thoughts during our Monday project meeting, I was told after the meeting by my manager that I need to stay focused on the agenda instead of thinking of different ways to do things.” The former lacks specificity, while the latter offers specific areas for follow up.
- Practice empathetic listening. The listening skills video referenced above is a great resource on using listening to facilitate more powerful conversations. Doing so encourages employees to share more and makes them feel valued, which in turn provides you better understanding of the issue and increases employee buy-in to fix the problem.
- Thank each person after they have shared. Even if you disagree, their story is their truth.
- Take action
Taking action is arguably the most important step as it demonstrates your commitment to improving your company culture. Doing so supports your words with action from when you communicated the purpose of the survey to your team. This also builds trust with your team for the next time you run a survey. If action is taken, your team is more likely to share their perspective on the next survey. If not, why would they share again? At Chapman and Co., we recommend three categories of action items.
- Quick Fixes
These are easy changes you can make in one or two months to show your commitment to taking the survey seriously and improving your culture. Examples we’ve seen include fixing burned out lights in the parking lot to make employees feel safer and cleaning outdoor walkways. These may seem simple but have a large impact on your team.
- Long-Term Change
These changes often take more time, as they are generally more complex problems that need to be investigated. You might not know exactly what the problem or solution is. Sometimes these changes require system and process changes or leadership training and team development. With these long-term changes, it’s important to share your commitment to investigating and taking action, even though it will take longer.
- Won’t Change
Finally, out of respect for the team, share what won’t change. These are inherent parts of your company culture that some might struggle with. For example, your team might operate at a high speed and pivot quickly during change or you might be in a client service industry that requires employees to work outside of regular business hours. If these are fundamental parts of your business model or culture that won’t change, share that with your team so they can make an informed choice of if the team is a good fit for them. This is out of respect for each team member.
- Regularly Communicate Progress
Finally, communicate progress toward your immediate and long-term goals on a regular basis. Identifying tangible metrics or running periodic pulse surveys can be a great way to monitor progress, and monthly or quarterly meetings might be an appropriate cadence to update your team. This keeps your culture front of mind, and it helps keep your team invested in your cultural journey.
Similar to a health screening, culture surveys provide an overview of your culture. However, if you only complete a health screening or culture survey once a year, you are unlikely to improve your health or your company culture. These assessments are diagnostic in nature, and effectively using a culture survey requires proper communication, implementation, and action; the result of which is a stronger culture.