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The common mistakes employers make when gathering employee feedback

This article is brought to you by Culture Amp.

Human Resources talks to Chloe Hamman, Director People Science, and Didier Elzinga, CEO, Culture Amp, about how employers can get feedback right (and wrong), the latest trends in delivery, and how the rise of technology is impacting feedback.

Q. What are some common mistakes employers can make when gathering employee feedback?

1. Asking for feedback too often (or not often enough)

With advancements in HR technology, we’ve seen a trend towards continuous or always-on employee feedback. While these approaches can yield interesting data, they certainly have some downsides.

While the uptake might initially be high, it soon falls as employees see little action taken on results. This is typically because it can be difficult to effectively act on “always on” type feedback. The reason being is that it is not always clear what the core issues are and therefore any action taken tends to be reactionary or misguided, rather than strategic.

To understand your core people and culture issues, it is often best to dig into a broader range of areas together and assess their relative impact on driving important outcomes such as engagement.

An equally-common mistake is leaving too much time in between surveys - setting an annual survey cadence could mean that you miss out on important shifts in the employees’ experience and by the time you find out, any issues could be well ingrained and much more challenging to fix.

We know that “intention to stay” questions are strong predictors of attrition – so you may lose valuable employees while you wait for the annual survey period to come back around.

And, as you take action on employee feedback, it is important to check-in on progress to see if you are on track, or in case something else has crept in - this may be a shorter engagement survey.

A good rule of thumb for survey cadence is that once a year is likely not often enough, whereas every month is probably overkill. Plan to survey only as frequently as you can respond.

Tip: We often recommend to clients what we would call a hybrid approach. Don’t just survey once a year, but also do not try to survey every week. Instead do a broader-based diagnostic type survey two-four times/year to understand what you don’t know, and then use more frequent pulsing to follow up on the things that you have committed to changing.

2. Asking the wrong questions or questions that you have no intention to do anything about

It is vital to consider your unique situation and context. While many standard employee engagement driver questions are relevant across a broad range of industries and company sizes, it is still important to consider every question you ask your employees in the context of your organisation.

Tip: We often recommend that companies add a few of their own questions to capture anything unique that is going on or to emphasise what they want to focus on, such as innovation, a new leadership team, shifts in the market, or perhaps a merger and acquisition.

Asking questions that you have no intention of acting on: Employee feedback is not an exercise in curiosity - the questions you ask in a survey serve as a communication tool and set expectations about what you value as an organization.

Tip: A good rule of thumb is “Don’t ask a question if you don’t want to know the answer.” So every question you ask employees should be something that your company would be willing to consider acting upon.

It is important to share employee feedback in some form with the entire company and, ideally, as soon after it has been gathered.

3. Keeping employee feedback an ‘HR responsibility”

One of the biggest mistakes we see is keeping employee feedback within the confines of only the people teams. It is important to share employee feedback in some form with the entire company and, ideally, as soon after it has been gathered. While we don’t expect every company to share all of their results openly (although we are seeing more companies taking a transparent approach) - we recommend companies challenge their assumptions about what is appropriate to share and try to push the envelope.

Tip: Ensure that you make the feedback relevant. Use storytelling and examples to illustrate why the feedback is important and what it means - in real terms - for employees and managers. For example, if a division has poor retention scores and is low on innovation - spell out what this could mean. For example, “It is quite likely that four out of 10 engineers here could exit in the next year” and “More than half of the team feels stifled when it comes to executing on new ideas.”

The main issue with keeping employee feedback within HR walls is that if it is seen as an HR responsibility only then doing something about the results will remain solely a job for HR.

4. Missing the action piece by:

Trying to do too much

 We frequently see companies trying to take on too much when it comes acting on feedback. It is really difficult to make change in a company which is why focus is key. We see much more success in companies that choose to focus on improving one thing at a time.

Tip: Narrow down your choices for action and then choose one thing to get started on straight away.

Avoiding tough issues

Some companies avoid tackling tough issues, always opting for quick wins. While there is nothing wrong with addressing something that you know will be swift to make progress on - watch out for this least-resistance strategy so as not to create a detour in avoidance of more challenging issues. These challenging areas are often where the most gains can be realised.

Not planning for action

Many companies underestimate what it takes to make meaningful change in a company, which is why it is even more important to narrow your focus. Employers make the mistake of assuming people can organise themselves into action.

Tip: In most cases, some shepherding is required and it is best to have a rough plan for action before you ask for feedback – this might be as simple as each region choosing their own more-localised focus and generate ideas, while the global people team will choose a company-wide initiative to drive forward.

5. Obsessing over the numbers or getting stuck in the details

A final mistake we see companies do when it comes to employee feedback is unnecessarily obsessing over the scores. Questions such as “We are .5% points below where we were last time, does that mean we’ve failed?” or “How many percentage points do we need to move until it is statistically relevant?” – can sometimes miss the point.

At Culture Amp, we believe the purpose of employee feedback is to give insight to help you make better decisions about where to focus attention. To reduce uncertainty rather than provide an exact science After all, human beings are way too complicated for that.

About Culture Amp

Culture Amp is a powerful employee feedback platform that helps make companies better places to work. The platform makes it easy to collect, understand and act on employee feedback, enabling organisations to turn company culture into a competitive edge. Culture Amp is a certified B Corporation used by over 1600 culture-first companies, including AirBnb, Lyft, Mercy Health, Slack and McDonald’s. Based in Melbourne with offices in San Francisco, London and New York, Culture Amp has raised $76.3M USD from Index Ventures, Felicis Ventures, Sapphire Ventures and Blackbird Ventures. Learn more at cultureamp.com and @CultureAmp.

Contact info: Michele Gallagher Director of Global PR & Communications michele.gallagher@cultureamp.com | tel: +001 917-497-5114

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