This week I joined a webinar hosted by Questa Agency with Matt Stephens and Dominic Walters of Heartbeat Ltd on: “Top 10 reasons to ditch the annual survey and to choose the pulsing approach”.
They were certainly preaching to the choir in my case.
Last year Heartbeat were predicting the death of the annual employee survey in favour of more regular thermometer check surveys within 10 years. More recent conversations with business leaders suggested the annual survey might be gone in half that time.
Even with this shift I wondered why any business felt that the annual survey is a worthwhile investment?
Perhaps the (misplaced) loyalty stemmed from a reluctance to abandon decades of trend data. Heartbeat understand that Executive bonuses are often tied to survey results and, until that link is broken, these businesses will still doggedly favour the annual survey.
The wealth of data from the lengthy and broad-ranging annual surveys is a commonly quoted reason for continuing them. When challenged by Heartbeat about what they do with all this data, even the Executives who sponsor this activity struggle to give a good answer.
I believe that the annual survey doesn’t tell anyone in the organisation anything they don’t already know.
The 10 Reasons were a useful summary of the benefits and relevance of regular pulse surveys compared with the annual employee survey. The most interesting aspect to me was that the presentation identified a critical success factor that any business moving to pulse surveys should have in place before implementation. That is, the ability of line managers to ‘own’ the results and engage their teams in conversations about what these results mean for them and their activities.
This might seem counterintuitive. One of the benefits offered by tools like Heartbeat’s pulse survey is results that are immediately available to all staff simultaneously. If that’s so, how and why should line managers have any greater ownership of the results than their team members?
In my view, one of the benefits of a centrally managed survey is the ability to provide a consistent and committed response to any controversial results; e.g. those that may undermine corporate strategy or values.
Without this support from the centre, there is a danger of line managers making it up as they go along by suggesting a plan of action that is not forthcoming or going to ground and refusing to discuss the survey results at all if they feel too exposed.
I raised this topic. Heartbeat quite rightly said that, in tune with the modern workplace, pulse surveys are more about enabling meaningful conversations between line managers and their teams and less about cascading corporate responses to pre-determined questions.
It’s clear to me that for businesses to reap the full benefit of moving from an annual employee survey to more regular, transparent and accessible pulse surveys, the capability of the line manager is critical.
Line managers have two key roles to play in this process:
- Using the insights provided by the survey to have two-way conversations with their team members so all team members feel informed, energised and included. This is a real skill and it should not be assumed that it’s one all line managers naturally have.
- Feeding any concerns or queries raised in these conversations back up the line to keep senior leaders aware of the grassroots dialogue. Without this feedback there’s a danger that the surveys are operating in a slight vacuum.
If the shift from annual surveys to pulse surveys is accompanied by a focus on the organisation’s capability for meaningful, shared conversations it will be a win all round.