employee engagement survey
Employee Engagement, People & Culture, People Analytics

Employee engagement and the art of questioning: You get what you ask

When it comes to perception measurement (be it culture assessment, employee engagement, learning needs, feedback forms etc. – you name it!) we often feel eased by introducing surveys as an objective way of conducting research and as an objective way of actively listening to our employees.

Poorly written questions will return bad data

A lot of business decisions are made based on the data pulled from surveys. Take the example of job descriptions: so many organizations are looking for data-driven candidates since data-driven decision-making is one of the values so many companies are guided by. And this is great! Regardless of how small or big your company is, or what industry you operate in, the sooner you start making decisions based on data, the better for your long-term business success. 

However, do it carefully – a poorly written questionnaire will return bad data and irrelevant input to actually make the decision, failing to accurately reflect reality. So how to avoid misleading information? 

 
A poorly written questionnaire will return bad data and irrelevant input to actually make the decision.
 

In this article we want to share with you some of the best practices that we discovered during our research:

Learn how to write better questions

Keep the questions clear, use common and simple language and avoid any room for assumptions or interpretation.

Avoid leading questions or statements that might influence respondents’ answers. It’s unethical and it’s creating a lot of background noise for your future action plan. 

Assess one thing at a time – 2 in 1 questions or statements are problematic to answer and might be misleading to the respondent. 

Test your questions with several people, gather feedback and re-iterate. This practice will also help you avoid unconscious bias and might open your eyes to the things you don’t know you don’t know.

 
Test your questions with several people, gather feedback and re-iterate.
 

Identify your why

Pause and think: why do you need an assessment? Set a clear research objective. Repeat after me: Set a clear research objective. 

What do you want to accomplish? What’s actually the problem you are attempting to resolve? What are you aiming to assess? Are you assessing behaviours or are you collecting feedback?

Answering these questions will help you identify what are the most important areas of focus, as well as the type of the assessment that needs to be done.

 
Set a clear objective and stay focused on what really matters to your team and company.
 

But don’t stop here – communicate transparently the why behind your campaign. Trust your employees’ ability to understand your business needs and let them contribute to growth and innovation.

Identify your tone of voice

It is extremely important to design and launch surveys and assessments that fit your company’s culture. During the design process, think of what values, principles and behaviours you intend to encourage. And plan thoroughly how you will communicate it to your employees.

 
Design and launch surveys and assessments that fit your company's culture.
 

What language does your organisational culture speak? What is your dominant language of choice when deploying surveys to your colleagues?

Beware of the tense

During our research we discovered that people respond better when the statements are formulated using the present continuous tense (‘be’ verb [am, is, are…] + present participle), focusing on the action happening now (or on a newly acquired behaviour). Help your respondents be more present in the process, transpose into the situation and assess its impact on their end, if any. 

 
Help your respondents be more present in the process, transpose themselves into the situation and assess its impact on their end.
 

Focus on assessing the current state, especially when surveying behaviours. Avoid hypothetical questions or statements – they will lead to hypothetical answers.

Perception is key

When possible, we encourage questionnaire creators to design statements that express the respondent’s individual perspective towards the team and/or the company. 

Questions like:

“The work I am doing contributes to bringing innovation into the company.”

“Most of my colleagues are effectively communicating within the team.”

help the respondents to transpose themselves into the specifics of the statement, assessing either behaviours and/or giving feedback, as well as (very important!) reminding them to embrace this behaviour.

Final thoughts

People tend to learn and create memories or change behaviours when they feel an emotion. So when designing the questions for the next questionnaire think what emotion would you like your employees to feel? What values would you like to share and encourage your employees to embrace?

Ground rule for launching a survey is, of course, to actually create initiatives resulting from the feedback and data collected – it is crucial for boosting employee engagement and belonging, since employees feel the need of being listened to, of knowing that their opinions are taken into account and that they actually can make a difference. And this is the most valuable advantage of quantitative and qualitative research. 

 
Ground rule for launching a survey is to actually create initiatives resulting from the feedback and data collected.
 

At Nestor we create culture and leadership assessments based on thorough research. And this is what we encourage you to do. Even if surveys are delicate, once you start researching and  understanding what’s the desired output, things will get clearer and easier to follow. 

Happy surveying!

This is an introductory article from our data made easy series. We’ll continue with guidance on how to interpret your data and make it actionable. Stay tuned!  

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