The personnel survey as a management tool and what to do with the results?


Conducting a personnel survey in a company is a forward-looking decision to find out what employees think and how committed they are to work. However, conducting the survey itself does not solve any problems and does not keep people employed at the company. The success depends on the beneficial use of the results for improving the management quality. So how do you turn a staff survey into an effective tool for management if the goal is to promote the business and improve results?

Let’s start with a real-life example

In an IT company with a high level of involvement, personal development responses in employee surveys remained lower than in other areas. Management wanted to change this and delved into the issue. It turned out that due to the small size of the company, the employees did not see long-term development opportunities in the company. The situation and results improved substantially when a personal development plan was developed for each employee in cooperation with management. Employees gained new perspectives and the company’s growth gained momentum. What can we learn from this story? Just doing a survey is of little help, and the real work starts with the results.

Openly and transparently

So, you’ve got a bunch of survey results in hand and a fresh workload on your desk. What do you do next? When planning future activities, it’s important to make the whole process as transparent as possible. Information on the results of the survey must be available to all employees, whether presented by managers or electronically in a place that is accessible to all. The more openly the problems are addressed, the more willing people will be to have a say next time. Not all problems can be solved immediately and some may never be solved. The reasons and alternatives must be explained to the employees. Some issues are out of our reach. People will get it if you explain it.

Only fools rush in

Respond to the results, but first, explain the situation and the reasons for the respondents’. Problems that seem simple at first may be more complex when exploring the topic. Some areas and topics are good to discuss with the team in a group. One-to-one conversations are also a good tool for more personal topics. Although the surveys are mostly anonymous, it’s good to gather explanations and examples in the form of interviews to fully understand the reasons for dissatisfaction. Let’s do things that are easy to change right away. The head of a temporary employment agency told the story of how the fact that temporary workers had to wear a different shirt color was a problem for them. This became clear from the survey and came as a surprise to the managers, but it was easy to change in a few days. It was a small thing that helped to make the employees feel better, but which had not come up in conversations.

So, don’t do this:

  • Don’t ignore awkward topics. The problem will persist, even if it isn’t discussed.
  • Don’t hunt for the source of feedback or a comment. Even if, as a leader, you can guess to whom the opinion belongs to, don’t attribute it publicly and try to reduce the importance of criticism.
  • Don’t make justifications. If there is a problem, take responsibility as a manager and, if necessary, explain the situation.

Emphasize the positive

We tend to focus only on the negative in all kinds of research. One important reason to do research is to get confirmation of what we are doing well, in addition to the problems. If the results of one unit of the company are obviously better, there is reason to believe that the manager there can perform his duties well and has managed to make good personnel choices. We can then map these success factors or processes and deploy them elsewhere. We acknowledge them and value them.

We grow together

Some of the information from an employee experience survey may be personally inconvenient for the manager. In such a situation, emotions cannot be allowed to evoke feelings of resentment, and one must focus on personal growth. As a rule, any criticism provides some route to becoming a better leader, so the situation should be treated as such.

The situation is more complicated when people do not open up at all in a study. In this case, we need to start by building trust over time and creating an open feedback environment.

In addition to work design and strategic planning, the mapping and monitoring of the employee experience could also be the basis for drawing up a personal development plan for each employee. In cooperation with the direct manager, the employee’s expectations and skills can be mapped, and the organization can plan better for the future with the help of this knowledge.

The strategic significance of the employee experience

Eesti Energia has been one of the first employers in Estonia to create the position of employee experience director, and their example is worth following. Company culture and employer branding require attention because recruitment is very complex. When living outside Estonia and observing the developments of working life in one’s home country from a distance, Estonian companies’ lack of openness in using remote teams is also noticeable. Automation alone will not achieve the growth promised by economic analysts; we need more people. People move to companies where they see personal growth potential and feel there is strong and healthy leadership. Of course, wages are also important, but the nearly one billion worth of investments attracted by the “new economy” in 2021 will create a situation in the labor market where it’s impossible for a mediocre company to compete. The “but I pay them a salary” style of management is a hopeless relic of the past.

Mental health and technological assistants

The mental health and well-being of employees is part of a holistic employee experience at the manager’s desk. Technology helps one to map and monitor the situation, but not just that. There is no substitute for a manager’s personal concern, and digital platforms can be used here too. The company can create or use chatbot-type applications to communicate more freely with employees, offer free access to meditation apps, or consult with physicians. Driven by the pandemic, new, helpful solutions are emerging, and all that is needed is to narrow in on the issue and pain that needs to be addressed.

A successful personnel survey makes a company more successful

And finally, a personnel survey is successful if the collected results are used for the development of the company and its employees. More than the choice of a survey tool, a successful survey depends on how managers react to the results. This has also been confirmed by research. For example, according to the Gallup 2020 Q12® Meta-Analysis study, as a result of employee involvement, the profitability of the target group companies increased by 23%, and sales growth was 18%. The number of employees leaving decreased by 43% and the number of cases related to occupational safety decreased by 64%. In contrast, employees’ perception of well-being increased by 66% in the target group.

By Pille Parind-Nisula, January 2022