4 Steps to Obtaining “WOW!” Results from Employee Research

4 Steps to Obtaining "WOW!" Results from Employee Research

Nearly everyone sets goals. Many people set goals at the beginning of a new year. These New Year’s resolutions are notoriously short-lived. By the end of January these goals are often abandoned or forgotten. Why is it that few people seem to be able to stick to their New Year’s resolutions and even fewer manage to make dramatic, lasting changes?

The answer has to do with the difficulty of changing. Goals inevitably involve making changes – either in our thinking or behavior. Whether it is our eating habits, exercise habits (or lack thereof), time-management, or organizational skills; it is difficult to change well-established habits. Once we become accustomed to thinking or
behaving in a certain way, it becomes automatic. We no longer have to engage in cognitive effort to perform the behavior. Changing a habit however, takes a great deal of cognitive effort, especially at first. We must think about the behavior we want to change and how we will go about it.

The same is true in organizations. If change is difficult for an individual, think about how difficult it is for a company to make changes. Organizations are made up of many individuals and when a company tries to implement changes on a macro level, the individuals within that company may resist. But change is a necessary part of survival in today’s dynamic environment and when a company commits to making positive changes the rewards can be great.

Employee surveys are often used to calculate employee satisfaction and other attitudes. What is the purpose of employee surveys? While the answer may seem obvious, there are companies that conduct employee surveys and then do nothing with the results. In order for the investment made in employee surveys to pay off, the results must lead to actions that improve employee perceptions and attitudes about the work environment.

Related Employee Surveys

Employee Satisfaction Survey – Fairness factors into many of the key topics associated with an employee satisfaction survey. This key factor will play a significant role in improving productivity, job satisfaction, and loyalty.

View all Employee Surveys by NBRI.

Is it really important to improve employee perceptions? Are happy workers more productive workers?

Early research in organizational psychology (in the 1930s) seemed to indicate that employees with higher job satisfaction were more productive. However, it was not long before researchers began to question this belief. For decades many social scientists believed that the relationship between job satisfaction and employee production was weak at best. However, more recent research leads to a different conclusion. In an article on employee attitudes and job satisfaction by Lise Saari and Timothy Judge in the journal Human Resource Management, the authors discuss a meta-analysis[1] involving over 300 studies on the relationship between job satisfaction and performance. In this study the researchers corrected sampling and measurement errors that occurred in previous studies. This meta-analysis indicated that job satisfaction is indeed strongly related to performance. The relationship between job satisfaction and performance was found to be even higher for complex (e.g. professional) jobs than for less complex jobs. Thus, employee perceptions and attitudes are important and thankfully, according to Saari and Judge, there are many changes an organization can make that will have a positive impact on employee perceptions and job satisfaction. Of course, this is easy to say but for most of us “seeing is believing.”

Is there any real proof that making efforts to improve employee perceptions can bring about “WOW!” results?

Yes, there is!

Recently the National Business Research Institute (NBRI), an organizational research firm specializing in employee and customer surveys, conducted a follow-up study on an employee survey and obtained “WOW!” results. The study was conducted at a nationwide staffing company. In their initial employee survey, the staffing company, when compared to a large, nationwide database, had an overall rating that was 15% above average. While this was a respectable result, how many of us strive to be just a little above average? Like most companies, this staffing company did not want to settle for this level, but instead believed they could and would do better on their next survey. The company used the survey results to improve their business. Twenty-four months later another survey was deployed to assess their progress. The staffing company was more than pleased with the results.

NBRI categorizes survey results based on how they compare to the national average. Comparing results to a national database is important because it provides meaning for a score. How can you know if a score is good or bad unless you have a standard with which to compare it? After comparing the scores on each topic and item to the national database, NBRI provides the company with ratings based on percentile rankings. An item that scores at or above the 75th percentile is considered a strength. Items ranking between the 50th and 74th percentiles are categorized as opportunities. Any item scoring between the 25th and 49th percentiles is considered a weakness and those scoring at or below the 24th percentile are classified as threats.

In their initial survey, the staffing company had no survey topics in the weakness or threat categories. Most of their topics scored in the opportunities category and some ranked in the strengths category. The staffing company was determined to increase the number of topics ranking as strengths. Not only was this goal met, but the results were phenomenal! When the follow-up survey was conducted, the number of topics in the strengths category had increased by 600%! A topic or item on a standardized NBRI survey must increase by at least 5% to be statistically significant. Many of the topics on the follow-up survey had increased between 10 and 14 percentiles, a very impressive improvement!

The survey used by the staffing company utilized 162 individual items to measure the 32 topics evaluated. A comparison of individual items on the first and follow-up surveys revealed an increase from 11 items in the strengths category in the first survey to 71 items in this category in the follow-up survey! In addition, the percentile rankings on these items increased as much as 35%! Looking at these results there is no doubt that it is possible to bring about positive change and obtain WOW! results from employee research.

But how is it done?

  1. Make a commitment to change.
    You can’t give lip service to change and expect to get results. You must be committed to taking action. After receiving survey results a task force should be quickly mobilized to plan a course of action. The commitment to change must also exist at high levels of the organization. If upper management is not supportive of change, the lack of commitment will have a trickle-down effect and change will not occur.
  2. Inform employees that their voices have been heard.
    Employees become discouraged when they provide feedback by participating in employee surveys, but see no results. After a survey is conducted there are two ways to communicate to employees that their feedback has been taken seriously. First, tell them. Secondly, show them. Communicate to employees either verbally or in writing that their comments have been taken seriously. Next prove it by initiating change.
  3. Take action in a timely fashion.
    Employee perceptions and attitudes are dynamic and influenced by many factors. It is important to act quickly on survey results so that employees will know that upper management is committed to making positive change, and so that action will occur while it is still relevant. If a company waits a year to take action, by that time some employee perceptions and attitudes are bound to have changed and thus the intervention will not be as effective as it would have been had it occurred within weeks of obtaining the survey results.
  4. Trust the research, not intuition.
    When presented with scientifically sound data from their employees, some companies ignore the data and make changes that make sense intuitively. Why is relying on intuition a bad idea? It is a bad idea because no matter how positive the change may be perceived by upper management; it may have no bearing whatsoever on employee perceptions and attitudes. For example, I know of a board of directors that was surprised by poor employee survey results. One board member commented, “But we made some good changes to the health insurance benefits.” While that may seem like a positive thing to do if health insurance benefits are not driving employee attitudes such a change will not have any positive effect on survey results. Listen to what the data tell you and make changes based on the factors driving employee perceptions.

To achieve WOW! results in your company you must begin with scientifically sound data and then follow the suggestions above. For information on how to conduct a scientifically sound survey contact NBRI at 800-756-6168.

Ken West
Organizational Psychologist
National Business Research Institute, Inc.