Employee Pulse Surveys, What You Need to Know

Are you thinking about employee pulse surveys for your organization? Few would debate the notion that keeping fingers on the pulse of employees is critical to business success. At DecisionWise, we’ve been focused on employee pulse surveys for over 20 years, and never has it been clearer that business results can be directly tied to the employee experience. In fact, we go as far as to say the Customer Experience (CX) is a direct result of the Employee Experience (EX). In other words, CX = EX. Understanding that experience, then, becomes an important priority in business success.

We recently completed our annual survey of Human Resources executives, in which we asked about their employee engagement feedback practices. This DecisionWise research of over 200 global companies found that two-thirds of organizations claim to formally measure employee engagement on a regular basis via an organization-wide survey, and have specific initiatives to address their findings. This research also found that 85% of organizations indicate that they are either currently measuring employee engagement or have plans to do so in the near future. The question is not one of if an organization should gather feedback, but how the organization gathers feedback.

How Are We Measuring the Employee Experience?

With the advancement of technology, gathering feedback is easier today than it has ever been. But, with this advantage comes concerns. First, are we really measuring what is going on in the organization? Or are we, as one HR Executive commented in our annual review of HR practices, “just measuring for the sake of measuring, because we know we’re supposed to, with no real intended results?”

According to our study, traditional employee surveys, despite what some survey firms may claim, don’t seem to be going away anytime soon—at least according to Human Resources professionals. Yet, at the same time, many indicate that gathering feedback more frequently would allow them to address current concerns. In addition to (or in place of) the annual survey, a number of the organizations in our yearly review indicate that they have considered either replacing or supplementing the annual employee engagement survey with what has become known as an employee pulse survey or spot survey. However, according to the study, many of these HR professionals had not considered the implications.

You can find the results of the study’s HR survey practices in this whitepaper, titled Best Practice Guide: From Always-on to Annual Employee Engagement Surveys. However, let’s do a brief review of the concept of employee pulse surveys below.

What is an Employee Pulse Survey?

We refer to these instruments as “employee pulse surveys,” because they measure employee engagement levels on a frequent basis, or “take the pulse” of an organization or group.  Essentially, the pulse survey definition explains that it is a quick survey sent out to employees on a regular, shorter basis. The employee pulse surveys are helpful tools in gauging progress, warning of potential dangers, understanding trends in the employee experience, and promoting action.

In the quest to provide more frequent and valuable employee feedback, employee pulse surveys often ride the coattails of an annual employee survey (we refer to these annual surveys as “anchor surveys”), in that they serve as a great way to drill down for more specific information. Pulse surveys occur at regular or planned intervals, with planned groups, and generally involve large segments of the organization’s population.

For example, if an employee engagement survey occurs each year, and results clearly show managers aren’t taking the time to give employees feedback about their performance, the organization may implement processes that encourage (or demand) managers to provide feedback more often. Rather than waiting for the next annual or semi-annual employee survey to understand whether these actions have been effective, a pulse survey can be administered more frequently to address a specific question, as well as other critical items identified by the annual employee survey.

Many organizations that focus on understanding their Employee Experience (EX) use the results from annual employee surveys to identify three to five specific actions that need to be undertaken to improve the overall employee experience. They create and execute action plans, and follow up with a pulse survey to gauge progress. Pulse surveys take the value obtained from the annual employee engagement survey and break it into smaller, actionable chunks. However, due to their limited length, employee pulse surveys may not provide the comprehensive, complete insight that an organization desires.

Are Employee Pulse Surveys Right for Your Organization?

Employee pulse surveys are effective tools for determining progress on specific initiatives undertaken as a result of a larger survey. By comparing the results of one employee survey to a previous survey, an organization can effectively measure whether a change has occurred and whether the actions taken are getting results. Employee pulse surveys are designed to get specific about items identified by the annual employee engagement survey. Because they are assessing the same general population (or sub-sets of that population), an organization can identify changes or trends for specific manager groups, teams, functions, or divisions.

Employee pulse surveys can be tremendously effective in your feedback arsenal. However, before implementing pulse surveys, there are 2 questions to ask:

  1. Are we prepared to act on the employee feedback?
  2. Is the employee pulse survey positioned as a supplement or a replacement for our annual survey?

Are We Prepared to Act on the Employee Feedback?

Perhaps the greatest advantage of employee pulse surveys is also its greatest disadvantage—frequency. Through pulsing, an organization is asking for employee feedback, while telling its employees, “We heard what you said and care enough to see how we’re doing.” Employees hear, “The company intends to act on the feedback we provide, so we can expect to see some changes.”

While this is all very positive for an organization inclined to act on the feedback, a company that continues to survey on issues, but does little to create change, might be doing more harm than good. Surveying too frequently, particularly with little or no action, is more detrimental than not surveying at all. The key? Employee pulse surveys should not be administered any more frequently than you have the ability to implement action plans.

What is the Purpose of Your Employee Pulse Survey?

Some organizations, often survey providers, propose replacing the annual employee engagement survey with a more frequent employee pulse survey. Can this strategy work? Sure, and for some companies, this might be the right answer. But, while pulse surveys have gained increasing popularity, due largely to the availability of technology, there are limitations. Remember, employee pulse surveys are not comprehensive, in that they are limited in the number of questions/items addressed, or the groups being surveyed. The response data should be considered as additional insight into understanding the overall employee experience.

We recommend that a pulse survey “supplement” the annual employee engagement survey in order to gauge progress on engagement initiatives. Although regular pulse surveys address the need for more frequent feedback, organizations that replace the annual employee engagement survey with more frequent employee pulse surveys generally sacrifice data quality and lack the ability to completely understand the employee experience.

Getting the Right Survey Balance

When implementing your employee engagement strategy, remember that balance is key. Your employees want to be heard, and pulse surveys provide the necessary frequency while the annual employee engagement survey provides the depth. Be strategic in your approach, keeping in mind not to survey any more frequently than you can take action. Remember, your employee experience will drive your customer experience. That makes understanding the employee experience all the more important. When your employees take pulse surveys, they feel more heard and respected in your team, which drives higher productivity and improved team performance.

Employee Pulse Survey

Webinar: Employee Engagement Best Practices for 2021

Date: Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Time: 1:00pm Eastern / 10:00 am Pacific

Presenters: David Long, VP of Assessment, DecisionWise

Cost: Complimentary, with free registration

One question to consider as you think about whether to put effort and investment into employee engagement: “Is engagement worth the effort and investment we put into it?” The short answer to this question is “yes,” but depending on the type of organization you are, engagement may be more critical or less critical to your success.

During this webinar we’ll share the best methods for preparing, administering, and rolling out the results from your employee engagement survey based on over 20 years of experience conducting surveys around the world. We’ll also identify the most common mistakes organizations make when conducting an employee engagement survey and how to avoid them.

This Webinar qualifies for SHRM and HRCI credit.  

The DecisionWise 360 Degree Feedback Platform

Supervisor and employee discussing results of a 360 degree feedback survey one-on-one

DecisionWise has been helping organizations create world-class employee experiences for nearly three decades. Over this time, we have witnessed a meaningful evolution in how we measure, interpret, and act on employee feedback. One thing that has not changed is the tremendous influence the manager has on creating a positive or negative employee experience.

Leader experiences (their own experiences and the experiences they create for others) are foundational in creating world-class employee experiences. 360-degree feedback is vital to this process as it establishes, measures, and monitors critical leadership competencies and behaviors.

Sadly, 360-degree feedback tools (360s) sometimes carry a bad reputation. Some organizations have used 360s as a weapon to punish less-effective managers or establish evidence to discipline employees. The misfortune in this approach is that many now avoid what is perhaps the most powerful tool available in creating a positive leader experience. 360s effectively drive the overall employee experience as they are specifically targeted at the key intersection of the employee and the manager. Organizations that fail to embrace 360-degree feedback as part of building a rich employee experience will be left behind.

DecisionWise has spent the last two years honing and revising our leadership competency library to reflect today’s leadership practices and has invested millions of dollars into building the strongest multi-rater technology in the world. Traditional survey technologies are unable to effectively setup, administer, and report on multi-rater assessments. The value behind this purpose-built technology and the science behind it, is that it is simple. Simple to set up, simple to administer, and simple to create reports and coach. Whether you need to assess 10 leaders or 10,000 leaders, the DecisionWise 360-Degree platform makes it simple!

Defining Expectation

Leadership competency models are foundational to the effectiveness of the DecisionWise 360-degree feedback platform. Whether you are using the DecisionWise competency model or your own, these competencies create the baseline for setting leadership expectations with your leaders. Our assessment builder functionality enables organizations to create targeted assessments based on the desired competency model. Assessments can vary between leadership function or organizational structure. Create leadership expectations that will drive successful organizational culture, whether for Executive Leaders, Vice Presidents, Team leads, or individual contributors. 

Measuring Leadership Competencies

We all agree it’s difficult to improve that which you do not measure, which is why DecisionWise has made measuring easy. A 360-degree feedback assessment is a specific tool that enables organizations to measure the individual strengths and opportunities surrounding their competency models. Assessment administration is incredibly simple on the DecisionWise 360 Platform. Rater selection can be quickly set up by an uploaded list or you can allow participants to actively participate in the process by choosing their own raters from pre-populated employee lists. Critical oversight into the process is maintained through a simplified rater approval process.

During the feedback collection process, participants and raters manage assigned assessments through an individualized assessment portal while administrators have control to add and remove raters, open and close assessments, send reminder emails and more.

Individual Reporting

Leaders don’t want to be overwhelmed with complicated reports that require a degree in data analytics to interpret. Our teams have spent years simplifying the individual report to include what matters most. The platform report settings allow organizations to create variations of the standard reports using pre-configured modules. Modules such as gap analysis, radar plots, key metrics, competency distributions can be turned on or off with the click of a button. Individual reports can be viewed online or downloaded into a PDF.

Leaders who wish to compare themselves against others can easily add benchmark data to the reports. With the platform you can use DecisionWise benchmarks or create internal benchmarks in a matter of seconds. You have the option of showing up to 2 benchmarks in the report.

Aggregate Reporting

Organizations that are creating world-class employee experiences rely on data and evidence as they constantly strive to listen and understand. Those organizations using our aggregated data reports will uncover insights about their culture that were previously obscured or hidden altogether. The DecisionWise 360-platform seamlessly aggregates reports based on a participant tagging system. Tags can be based on titles, training cohorts, demographics, and more. Aggregate reports highlight organizational leadership strengths and opportunities while also uncovering internal training successes and needs.

Action Planning and Accountability

Participating in a 360-degree feedback assessment is often an emotional journey. It is common for participants to experience emotions of shock, surprise, anger, resistance, acceptance, and satisfaction. Having a plan to help participants work through these emotions will establish whether the 360 program is a success or not. The DecisionWise 360 Platform RX library tools enable organizations to provide suggestions and resources for strengthening and improving leadership competencies. Your organization can use resources provided by DecisionWise or connect our reports with your internal LMS system. You can also create custom content with available online resources.  Lastly, include the DecisionWise action planning guide with the individual report to help participants design and structure their individual development plans.

Those leaders who engage with another person for accountability are more likely to see significant improvement in how they measure against the leadership competencies. Individual and group coaching sessions, manager one-on-ones, or mentor programs legitimize the importance of action planning and accountability and are facilitated through our platform. 

In summary, creating world-class employee experiences doesn’t just happen on its own. Organizations must deliberately create expectations for leaders to follow.  DecisionWise helps organizations measure, report, and verify that core leadership expectations are being met. Our platform drives accountability and creates discipline in how leaders build experiences that help employees bring their very best to their work and the organizations they care about. 

Infographic: Setting Leadership Expectations Through Competencies

Download the PDF of “Setting Leadership Expectations Through Competencies”

One of the best ways to help leaders provide a great, consistent employee experience is by establishing a competency model. This is defined as a collection of behaviors that are set as an expectation to leaders in the organization. It is also known as a “success profile” or “operating principles.”

Here are 5 ways that having an effective leadership competency model will help your organization.

Define Effective Leadership

Be deliberate about selecting a competency model that really defines a successful leader in your organization, considering your unique culture and the requirements to succeed in your industry.

Set Behavioral Expectations

Create broad accountability for leaders by communicating expectations to the whole organization. Top leaders should model these stated behaviors and lead by example.

In addition to communicating expectations with existing employees, make it a part of your interview or on-boarding process with new employees to say, “This is what an excellent leader in our organization does.”

Guide leadership actions and practices

Use a 360-Degree Feedback tool to measure a leader’s strengths and weaknesses against your competency model. This can be used for individual development or incorporated into a performance review.

This is a great method for building self-awareness and helping leaders understand the experience they’re creating for their employees.

Inform and Train Leaders

Integrate competencies into learning and development programs. Organizations should provide tools and training for managers to help meet the expectations they’re setting up.

Help Leaders Navigate Critical Moments

An employee’s experience is defined by moments that are planned (hiring, on-boarding, performance reviews, etc.) and unplanned (personal issues, workplace conflict, layoffs, etc.).

Having defined leadership competencies and behaviors helps prepare leaders to navigate these critical moments.


For more on 360-degree feedback and competencies:

360-degree platform

Podcast: How 360 Degree Feedback Improves Workplace Culture

Perks of a modern work space

In this podcast episode, Dave Long and Christian Nielson discuss critical moments in the employee experience and how they are shaped by expectations.

Learn about the best practices for setting expectations in your organization, effective leadership competency models, and how the 360-Degree feedback assessment contributes to an improved workplace culture.

For more on 360-degree Feedback, visit: https://decision-wise.com/360-degree-feedback/