Are Surveys Evil?
I am slowly catching up with blog posts after my travel last week, but I have to point to what is among my top 5 favorite posts of the year: Chris Bailey’s suggestion that Employee Surveys are tools of the Devil!
It is a beautifully written rant about why employee surveys do not actually deliver the value that so many of us assume they do. Check it out:
You’re supposed to ask your employees if they are satisfied. You’re supposed to ask your employees if they know their jobs. You’re supposed to ask your employees about their managers. You’re supposed to ask a lot of things…
Here’s the problem: a survey is a craptacular tool for determining any of this in a meaningful way. What these survey questions aim to understand, on a surface level, is satisfaction, but on a deeper level the purpose is to understand the relationships between an employee and his or her work…which, if you think about it, is rather absurd. Would you send your spouse a survey to measure their satisfaction with your relationship? How about your kids…they’d love that, right? So why the hell do most organizations continue with this shallow and increasingly pointless exercise?
Whoa, Chris: don’t hold back! He is spot on here. I know measurement is important, and sometimes you need to show people data for them to understand something or even to convince them you need to take a particular action.
But don’t lose sight of what we’re doing here. Organizations are small communities of actual people whose effectiveness depends on the quality of their experience while they are working. This experience will vary based on somewhat fuzzy things like relationships, personal growth, what work really means to people, etc. So what do we do? Chris has a good answer:
If you really want to know what your employees think about their work, their managers, their colleagues, and most importantly, their relationship to the organization, step out from behind your desk and start asking questions face-to-face. Stop relying on surveys and making ritual sacrifices to the gods of quantitative measurement. I won’t lie. If this is a new practice in your organization, it’s going to take time and effort to cultivate an open dialogue. Conversations about work and meaning and individual purpose are hard, but the fruit of these conversations will be a hell of a lot better than yet another spiral bound survey analysis report gather dust on the corporate bookshelf.