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How Human Resource Management Uses Survey Research

The core human resource (HR) functions, as identified by the Society for Human Resource Management, are: strategic management, workforce planning and employment, human resource development, employee and labor relations, and risk management. Survey research is often used in each area to conduct a needs assessment, elicit opinions, and quantify numbers.

Strategic Management is described as working with others in the organization to identify goals and provide quality goods and services. HR professionals use survey research to gather information used to inform strategic direction for functional areas and the organization as a whole. This often includes conducting an analysis of internal strengths and weaknesses as well as an analysis of opportunities and threats from the external environment to inform subsequent action.

HR professionals work with managers to assess whether all necessary resources are available to meet stated goals. Survey Questionnaires are used to gather information about what is working and what is not, what needs to change and how. This results in strategic knowledge.

An organization’s success depends on the degree to which every individual succeeds. Organizations with a strategic approach to HR management view individuals as a vital asset, a competitive advantage to organizational effectiveness. To ensure success, HR professionals and managers use questionnaires (online or on paper or by telephone), focus groups, and interviews to gather and analyze information to plan and implement a direction that aligns with corporate strategy.

Workforce Planning and Employment is described as identifying jobs that capture employee tasks, recruiting, and selecting desirable employees.

The new HR director of a not-for-profit museum employing 150 people used a 32-item questionnaire to discover the degree to which employees and managers were complying with policies and procedures during the recruitment and selection process. The questionnaire provided opportunities for confidential responses and encouraged honest responses, as opposed to an interview, which might have generated responses that were socially desirable.

Were managers posting a position internally for a week before advertising outside?

Were they able to identify illegal questions and legal questions permitted during interviews?

Were managers able to articulate an accurate understanding of key employment laws such as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Family and Medical Leave act and the Americans with Disabilities Act?

After tabulating and reviewing responses, the HR director put together a mandatory Lunch N Learn series for all managers and supervisors that brought them into compliance with policies and procedures for recruitment and selection.

The new director of HR at a $500 million company in the manufacturing industry found that HR practices were inconsistent, at best, throughout the organization. Turnover was high; she needed to find out why. She met with and interviewed each senior director and line manager to learn whether they used targeted or broad scope recruiting, filled positions from within the organization or from outside, and whether they gave applicants a realistic sense of the company’s culture and job demands during the selection process.

Based on the information from the interviews, she then conducted focus groups within functional areas to find out how managers assessed current employment levels, predicted employee movement, and future needs; she also explored how (or if) managers planned external hiring. After analyzing the gathered information and comparing that to staffing reports and production schedules, she was better able to help managers budget, plan for and allocate workload, ensure work flow, and maximize economy of scale throughout the organization while preparing to meet future staffing needs.

HR professionals periodically conduct job analyses to ensure all staff have job descriptions that accurately reflect responsibilities, knowledge, skills, and abilities required for the job. HR professionals methodically collect information about each work task done for each job under analysis and then conduct a job analysis interview of workers to identify duties and responsibilities. They may also interview experts to validate the information and learn of any unique aspects of a particular job.

The job analysis questionnaire contains written questions about tasks performed on the job. There are off-the-shelf instruments developed to provide information about various jobs; survey research firms also work with HR professionals to develop custom questionnaires to analyze specific jobs. Job analysts working with HR professionals also gather job analysis information through observations, watching people work, and documenting tasks performed.

Purolator is the largest courier company in Canada with annual revenues over $1.5 billion. With 12,500 employees moving an average of 1.1 million packages each day, the company processes an average of 2,000 workers’ compensation claims each year due to injuries on the job.

The HR professionals at Purolator use job analysis to both understand the physical demands of various jobs as well as to identify jobs that injured workers can perform during recovery.

Human Resource Development is described as measuring employee performance and teaching employees new knowledge, skills, and abilities.

Managers are usually quite familiar with each job description and the knowledge, skills, and abilities required for each job. Managers, or their designees, are usually involved in the training and supervision of employees on the job. It is only right, then, that managers are the ones to assess employee performance, or work with supervisors reporting to them to assess employee performance.

Many performance appraisals use formatting similar to that used in survey research – open ended items, matrix formats, and ranking. Managers must be educated in the performance management system used across the organization and trained in the administration and scoring of the specific appraisal.

Managers need to know whether they are to observe or count behaviors, simply share their impressions of the employee, or conduct a 360 degree appraisal. Are numerical or narrative ratings desired? Do managers need to rank employees and force distributions into outstanding, average, and unsatisfactory categories or rate employees using a matrix system or graphic rating scale?

HR professionals must alert managers to potential errors related to performance appraisals so that managers can do everything possible to minimize them.

Such errors include subjectivity of trying to quantify performance, rater bias (e.g., giving low ratings to employees from a certain group), comparing the performance of one employee to another, or rating the employee based on most recent memory instead of the past year.

Questionnaires used for appraising the performance of leaders often gather feedback from subordinates, peers, and supervisors, known as 360 degree feedback. The employee survey questions may be developed in house or purchased from a company that will also compile and analyze the feedback. Sample items might include, “takes time to listen”, “makes adjustments to own behavior” and “facilitates teamwork”.

When conducting a performance appraisal, it often becomes clear which employees need additional knowledge or skill training to demonstrate competence on the job. HR professionals also work with managers to provide additional knowledge or skill to designated employees to prepare for a promotion.

Oftentimes HR professionals distribute questionnaires as a needs assessment, to identify which employees need additional training or professional development or continued certifications. Then, of course, the decision must be made as to whether the training can be done in house, be purchased off the shelf as a webinar or online module, or provided elsewhere face to face with behavior modeling or simulations.

Checklists, questionnaires, and interviews can all be used to assess the effectiveness of training once the employee is back on the job. This helps ensure transfer of training on the job. HR professionals also identify any metrics to be used to measure training effectiveness or calculate the return on investment.

Employee and Labor Relations are described as establishing and managing relationships between the company and employees, including working with labor unions. HR professionals spend considerable time maintaining effective employer-employee relationships that support productivity, motivation, morale, and preventing and resolving problems at work.

Human resource professionals work with managers to acquire and/or improve skills in supervision, facilitating change, managing teams, interpersonal relationships, and giving and receiving feedback.

Literature is filled with accounts of HR professionals using survey research to identify and improve employee engagement, satisfaction, and productivity. Employee surveys collect information on both quantifiable issues and qualitative attitudes.

Finally, Risk Management is described as establishing procedures to provide a safe and secure working environment, critical to both employee satisfaction and retention.

While it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure the physical and psychological well-being of those at work, HR professionals and managers are, perhaps, most responsible for ensuring compliance.

HR professionals often take the lead in developing organizational plans which contain policies and procedures related to safety, emergency management, fire, workplace violence, infection control, and an employee’s right to privacy, among others.

They work with managers to enforce those laws, policies, and procedures to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all employees. Managers and/or HR professionals might interview members of a team or conduct focus groups within a functional area to identify areas of risk. Managers identify who or what is at risk, where, when, why, and how often. Knowing these facts, policies and procedures can be developed for minimizing those risks.

Bottom line, HR professionals must be strategic partners with managers to ensure an integrated approach to strategic management, workforce planning and employment, HR development, employee and labor relations, and risk management. Survey research plays a large part in gathering information on which strategic business decisions are made.

To learn how NBRI can work with the HR professionals in your organization to align HR strategy with practice and inform business decisions, contact us now at 1-800-756-6168.

Terrie Nolinske, Ph.D.

Research Associate

National Business Research Institute

Plano, Texas

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