The two questions every internal communication survey should ask.
Millions, perhaps billions of dollars, get made every year in the employee survey business.
For the most part, that money gets spent on asking a lot of people a lot of questions. But while these questions are occasionally interesting and, in some cases, important, they offer little actionable insight. And employees have become a bit cynical, especially when leaders tell them year after year how important the survey is, that changes will be made based on their responses, and they rarely if ever do.
Part of the reason why employee surveys tend to “bark up the wrong tree” has been the two-decade-old, single-minded pursuit of higher “employee engagement” scores, with those scores being a cocktail of of largely intangible attitudes aggregated into a single, almighty and all-too-frequently benchmarked score.
But two questions that never get asked in these surveys are:
· What are the top five priorities of your company?
· What are the top five things you are focusing on now in your job?
Why ask these questions?
Without asking these questions directly, it’s impossible to authenticate and document whether there are gaps between what leadership is prioritizing, what management is prioritizing, and what employees are focusing on.
The difference between the answers to these questions is essentially the gap your internal communication activities needs to close.
More importantly, it’s the gap your business needs to close if it wants to move its priorities from being words on a PowerPoint slide to being what drive actual business performance.
After all, one of the key roles of corporate internal communications is to ensure that employees understand what is important for business success so they can collectively work towards common goals.
Your employees should be directly linking their job to the top priorities in your company. If you need additional insights you can also ask ‘what are your manager’s top priorities'. This will help show if there is a disconnect closer to home (the employee-manager relationship).
Mind the gap
If you sense that there is a gap between what your organization says its priorities are and what its people are pursuing on a day-to-day basis, the time may have come for you to make sure these questions get asked and analyzed.
That doesn’t mean yet another massive survey or blowing up the survey work you are already doing. But it means being willing to ask a few direct questions of enough people to document that a gap exists. This can be done without exercising the whole company – or without breaking the bank.
Why aren’t these questions asked?
In organizations where these questions haven’t been asked, I often suggest a very short supplemental survey to be able to identify, and more importantly, document, the existence of this “priority versus performance gap.”
When I do so, I usually get this response:
“NOT ANOTHER F*&!ING SURVEY” (otherwise expressed as “We do an extensive employee engagement survey every year and that should be enough.”
“These are open-ended questions! How are we going to analyze all that data by hand?”
It’s true that getting the answers to these questions requires us to ask them, and that asking them requires to analyze the answers.
Does this mean you need to do another company-wide survey or change your employee engagement survey?
Given that the biggest initial value comes from the asking of these questions, it’s not important to use a massive sample when first raising these questions. A small sample – 50, 100, 200 employees – will yield verbal responses that will likely demonstrate and document some gaps and do so with language that resonates with leaders and senior managements.
Do you need to ask open-ended questions on a company-wide basis?
Of course, I’m not going to discourage people from using open-ended questions because they yield quantifiable insights and also often produce memorable quotes to share.
But it’s not necessary to use open-ended questions to quantify the magnitude of the priority-to-performance gap.
If I were to follow up with a broader survey, I’d simply prepare a list combining the official priorities for the organization, add the items participants mentioned as actual manager and employee priorities, and ask employees to rank them.
You can then see how your official priorities compare with employee priorities and manager priorities.
Do you need to do the follow-up survey?
Finding the magnitude and scope of the gap of course can be helpful. But if the organization’s priorities are intended to be its true north, the documentation of a gap is of value in and of itself.
Doing so opens an approach for demonstrating and reinforcing the importance of the organizational priorities and for aligning manager and employee priorities in that common direction, based on real data as opposed to suspicion.
Are there other questions you should ask if you can?
If you are going to ask these questions, demographics are potentially very useful. Division, function, location and length of service in the company are particularly useful.
For a quick, cost-effective priority gap assessment like what I've described here, contact me through LinkedIn or email at email@example.com
About the Author
Mike Klein is a communication consultant with extensive internal and political communication experience, based in Reykjavik, Iceland. A dual US/UK citizen, Mike has lived and worked in seven countries, for major organizations.