Episode 34 – I’m Sorry I Asked

The Details

Employee surveys can be a great source of information.  They can provide an intimate perspective of certain facets of the organization which may go unseen or unexperienced by leadership. 

However, sometimes organizations are not prepared for the insight they receive.  They may feel that certain initiatives or decisions should be met with affirmation and positive accolades, only to find out that part of the employee population feels differently.   

What do we do now? 

Some organizations view the insight as a humbling experience and use it as an opportunity to improve.  They may reach out to specific individuals and ask clarifying questions or seek additional information.  They may pull project teams back together to discuss the feedback and determine how best to utilize it in future endeavors.  While it’s no guarantee that leadership will make changes (nor should they unless they determine it’s appropriate to do so), employees have visual and concrete evidence that their voices were heard.  

Other organizations opt to refute or outright ignore the information.  They make excuses for the information, challenge the source(s), or downplay the insight as insignificant complaining from a few select or disgruntled employees.   

This begs the question, why ask for the information in the first place?  

It seems as though some organizations are comfortable with the message that simply executing a survey sends.  Hey, we asked.  Many organizations don’t do that much. 

The message which goes unrecognized, however, is the one that tells employees their insights are wrong or just don’t matter.  If the survey is conducted annually, the exercise is reduced to an irrelevant tradition which ends up eliciting less insight each year and more confusion over why the organization continues to ask for it. 

Such organizations need to ask themselves, where is this frustration or inactivity coming from?  Is the survey simply a means of checking a box?  Is there a denial (or directive) in place which says things are fine the way they are?  Does leadership not want to admit they got something wrong?   

It’s hard to acknowledge our mistakes.  It’s even harder when there are high expectations for making as few of them as possible.  However, the hardest thing to overcome is a stubborn or inflexible culture.  Effective leaders and organizations don’t necessarily like to fail or admit they got it wrong.  Yet, the more they acknowledge and learn from what they did wrong, the more they eventually start to get right.   

Our advice to leaders is to recognize that there is still work to be done after the survey is sent and the feedback subsequently collected.  Be deliberate and intentional about discussing what the feedback is or isn’t telling you.  Be curious and seek out answers to fill in the gaps.  Give employees the opportunity to have a voice and then show them that their insight is both appreciated and valuable. 

If you’re only willing to accept certain answers to your questions, you may want to reconsider asking them.  

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