Most organizations conduct some sort of employee survey. Either annually, every two years or sporadically. Some organizations use the data from the employee survey to affect real change that contributes to their ongoing success. The results received from the surveys are used in different ways by different organizations. Some organizations focus on comparing their survey scores to the scores of other organizations, there are other organizations that do little with their survey results. Yet there is one more group which focuses and compares their employee survey scores against the average scores of all the organizations that are in a third party database.
Many surveying companies sell their services on the basis that they will be able to compare the scores of one company against the average score of all of the organizations in their database. Many companies find the idea of being able to compare their company to another company as attractive. If you think about it, we have been exposed to comparative data from the first day we stepped inside a school. Throughout our primary and secondary education we were compared to those within our group, and typically this comparison was against the class average. That was important in terms of dealing with our own self esteem and dealing with our parents. This was not the case for all students. The parents of some students demanded top marks and that is exactly what those few students worked towards. They had to be the best. They had to have the top marks.
This was all very interesting but in the end it was irrelevant. When it came time to apply to university a new standard had to be reached. University entrance requirements varied but one thing was clear. Average marks were not good enough. In fact being above average in many instances was not good enough. University entrance requirements were demanding and one had to strive for a new and much higher standard than average. The profile or status of a university that you were interested in attending, determined the level of academic excellence you had to achieve.
It is puzzling to see how many organizations fall into the trap of placing a great deal of emphasis on comparing their survey scores to a database that represents the average of a number of companies. These comparisons are pursued not only for the overall scores, but for every question in the survey.
It would seem that at least two essential questions need to be asked by every organization.
1) Why are we conducting an employee survey in the first place
2) What are we going to do with the results.
From a calculated viewpoint it would seem reasonable to think that an organization would wish, at the very least, to demonstrate that the survey is helping the organization to achieve their strategic goals. In other words, they are conducting the employee survey as a way of obtaining employee information that can be used to improve the organization.
A few examples where the surveys could help are in the following areas:
- Workplace practices in order to lift their employees
- Working experience. In turn this will lift the customer experience and profits.
If an organization pursues a survey, but there is no goal to be achieved from doing so, than the value of conducting the survey is questionable. Some believe that comparing one organization to another organization is in fact a legitimate strategic objective. It is worth knowing how you compare to the best. How does your stock performance compare to the best in your business sector-not the average of all the companies in your business sector but only the best? How do your employee survey scores compare to the best in your business sector-not the average of all the businesses in the database but only the best?
Comparing oneself to the very best is valid. Especially if the best sets a standard similar to yours. But comparing oneself to the average does not serve a purpose. If a senior management group knows that their scores are better than the average of all the companies in a database, strategically speaking, how would that senior management group help yours? Perhaps it may give them a sense of pride knowing that they are better than the average. But it may also provide them with a false sense of confidence. The question that should be top of mind is are we really as good as we can be? Are we really achieving a level of excellence that will sustain us over the long term?
There are Several points that need to be considered before considering on an employee survey:
1. Develop clear strategic objectives
2. Measure towards those objectives
3. Inform your employees of the survey scores
4. Follow up with positive execution
5. If you must compare yourself to others, compare yourself only to the best
If this process is not followed the organization can expect:
1. Employee participation rates in the survey to be low (30% or lower)
2. Rising employee suspicion on why the organization is taking a survey (why bother if the activity of completing an employee survey does not make a difference)
3. Employees become detached from the organization
4. The organization loses an opportunity to make significant strides in performance
The trap an organization falls into when they become focused on benchmarking themselves against others is that they lose sight of what is really important. Such as, what is it that we are doing well, and where do we need to improve in order to create an even better organization than the one we already have. If you must compare yourself to others, compare yourself only to the best and do not get side tracked. Focus!!