8 Ways to Give Feedback Effectively

A Manager Giving Feedback To Your Employees

All of us, at one point in time, have received feedback that made a significant difference in our behavior or outlook on life.  But what is the difference between feedback that causes change and feedback that goes unnoticed?  Effectively giving feedback is a disruptor – it makes us think differently about our behavior.  Most times, we have gained something from feedback even if it was painful to hear at first. Some of your experiences with feedback may have even changed the direction of your career.

Receiving feedback is tough, but giving feedback makes most of us even more uncomfortable.  This article will help you learn how to give feedback effectively – in a way that encourages positive change and minimizes discomfort.

 Which Would You Prefer? (Select One)

  • Tell your boss that she needs to be less of a micromanager?
  • Tell a coworker that his jokes are offensive?
  • Tell your direct report at work that they have a “noticeable aroma?”
  • Get a root canal?

Did you choose the root canal? Giving feedback is hard for most people. As a manager, it can be difficult to call out poor performance with a direct report. And our survey data shows that most managers even struggle to recognize employees for good performance on a regular basis.

Why is Giving Feedback So Hard?

There are several reasons why giving feedback can go wrong. A common problem is that we mistakenly assume poor intent, known as the Fundamental Attribution Error in social psychology. This is when we attribute a mistake to someone’s attitude or disposition. For example, “Craig didn’t get his project done because he is lazy.”

There could be several reasons for Craig’s delay. But if we begin the conversation with an assumption that he is lazy, the feedback will be tainted and probably make Craig defensive.  Instead, effective feedback givers assume people have a good reason, and they work with them to overcome the obstacles.  They assume people are doing the best, but they know there is always room for improvement.

Fallout from the Fundamental Attribution Error is also compounded when we think in binary terms (black and white, right and wrong). This bias also increases when we are under pressure and do not take time to pause and think about the most productive way to interact. By starting with a conclusion (Craig is lazy), we look for evidence to support our assumption instead of trying to gain more understanding and create the best outcome.

Role of a Feedback Giver

Think of your role in giving feedback as a motivator and a guide. People are more receptive of your feedback when they feel like you are standing by their side and describing a better way forward. You want to create a safe space to have a conversation where the person receiving feedback does not feel attacked and values your advice. Remember that you are trying to reach a better outcome and not just vent your frustrations. This is not necessarily about you. It is about influencing someone to act or change for their benefit.

Reaffirming and Redirection Feedback

We normally talk about feedback as either being positive or negative. I prefer to describe giving feedback as reaffirming or redirecting. Reaffirming feedback recognizes good behaviors and outcomes. We want to acknowledge and reinforce the positive behaviors and contributions that people make so they will be more committed to doing the same.

Redirecting feedback describes the intent to nudge the person in a better direction. Think of how spacecraft reach their destination. Rocket systems are designed to continually provide redirecting feedback to spacecraft to keep them from veering off course.

8 Best Practices for Giving Feedback

Here are eight ideas that will make giving both redirecting and reaffirming feedback easier and create better outcomes:

  1. Do it Quickly: The sooner you can provide feedback after the event the better. Waiting a week or even a day can dilute the message and make it harder to remember the experience. Also, people appreciate hearing about something soon after it happens.
  2. Do it Privately: Find a safe private space where you can talk. No one likes to get redirecting feedback in front of their peers and the others in the room probably do not want to hear it either.
  3. Meet Face-to-Face: If possible, try to talk in person. Video or voice calls also work but it can be harder to read faces and check emotions. If you need to communicate in text format, describe the issue and schedule a time to talk.
  4. Give the Context: Describe specifically and factually what you observed.  Try not to rely on the opinions or observations of others. Focus on the behavior (missed deadline) rather than a character trait (laziness).  Do not say things like, “You really blew it with the customer.”  Instead, say, “You were late in meeting the client’s deadline, and you rushed to fix the problem, which created confusion for the client.”
  5. Express Good Intentions: This can be hard to express if you are disappointed in the person’s behavior. Determine why giving this feedback is in their best interest. Share that you are trying to help them succeed.
  6. Share Your Perspective, but Do Not Pass Judgment: This is the subjective part. You observed a behavior that had an impact. Share how that behavior impacted you, your team, or the organization. But stop there! Don’t add a value judgment to your feedback.  Let the receiver process the impact. 
  7. Ask for Their Perspective: Ask about the behavior and listen. Ask for clarification. Repeat what you have heard.
  8. Decide What to Do: Together, decide a plan forward to mitigate problems in the future.
  9. Follow Up: Check to see if they are sticking to the plan. Changing behaviors can take time and sometimes there are setbacks. Be patient and recognize progress. Help to remove any barriers.

Practice Makes Better

I don’t know if there is a perfect way to deliver feedback, but we can all get better at it. As we practice these principles, we will find that it is not as scary as we thought it once was. We learn that giving feedback helps to strengthen relationships and creates better outcomes.

Understand that feedback is disruptive, and some people will need time to process the information and their emotions. You may need to reconnect later to decide next steps if the individual reacts negatively or shuts down. That’s okay. Give them time. By offering feedback you are also committing to help and follow through with them.

Ideas for Managers to Give Feedback

Think About

  • How often do you provide feedback to help employees better meet expectations?
  • Does your company have a formal feedback structure? If so, are you using it?
  • How do each of your employees prefer to be recognized?
  • How do members of your team react when you give them critical or redirecting feedback?

Ideas for Action

  • Hold frequent and regular one-on-one meetings with employees to discuss current workload, provide feedback, and offer support.
  • Identify appropriate opportunities to provide in-the-moment feedback on performance and recognition.
  • Consider informal feedback opportunities, such as giving feedback while taking a walk or getting coffee.
  • Set clear expectations for performance.

Give Effective Feedback For Your Team with Our 360 Degree Feedback Platform.

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The Difference Between Employee Satisfaction, Engagement, & Experience

employee engagement and the employee experience
The difference between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and the employee experience

What’s the difference between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and the employee experience? All sound like they fit together, but all have key differentiators necessary to an organization’s success.

A well-known business proverb is that a client wants three things from a service provider:  quality, timely service, and a good price. The service provider typically responds in exasperation, “Pick two, because you can’t have all three.” As someone who is both a service provider and a person who hires them, I relate to both sides of the fence. Yet, I don’t think this advice holds true in all instances. Consider these three HR hot buttons:

  1. Employee Satisfaction
  2. Employee Engagement
  3. Employee Experience

In my view, there is no reason why HR leaders cannot deliver stellar results in all employee satisfaction, engagement, and experience. However, it requires a clear understanding of how these areas differ and how they are related.

What is Employee Satisfaction? Are Employee’s Needs Being Met?

Let’s begin with Employee Satisfaction. The Employee Satisfaction definition is to measure whether an employee’s needs are being met at work and how satisfied they are with their overall work experience. The focal point in Employee Satisfaction is on the employee’s individual feelings, positive or negative, about their employment relationship. Thus, Employee Satisfaction is subjective in nature and is internally-focused on an employee’s emotional state of happiness, which is often fleeting.

Download Your Employee Satisfaction Survey Sample

What is Employee Engagement? Do Employees Feel Committed?

Employee Engagement differs from employee satisfaction because it goes beyond happiness or those temporary feelings of euphoria and is focused more on commitment.  While it still centers around emotions, the emotions at stake are lasting, and they provide direction and purpose.  My business partner, Dr. Tracy Maylett, has defined Employee Engagement, in my view, better than anyone else:

Download Your Employee Engagement Survey Sample

Employee Engagement is an emotional state where we feel passionate, energetic, and committed toward our work.  In turn, we fully invest our best selves – our hearts, spirits, minds, and hands – in the work we do.

The difference between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and the employee experience

I like his definition because it demonstrates that Employee Engagement is focused on the potential of an employee’s emotional state as opposed to the mere nature and classification of the underlying emotions. His use of the terms “energetic,” “passionate,” and “committed” suggests that engagement is a powerful motivating force and that it compels a person towards positive contributions in the workplace.

There is also something else interesting about Employee Engagement and Employee Satisfaction that he has taught me: sometimes they do not overlap. In other words, engaged employees occasionally lack employee satisfaction, but they remain engaged because they are driven by values that are more important than mere contentment with one’s job. So, when dealing with engagement, it is important to address the drivers of engagement rather than working on employee satisfaction measures.

Perks address happiness, but they fall short in other key engagement themes, such as providing meaning or personal growth opportunities. This is one reason why perks such as Taco Tuesdays might increase employee satisfaction, but they don’t drive engagement forward. Of course, engagement will decline over time if the overall team satisfaction isn’t present, but engagement is typically strong enough to overcome the traditional “bumps in the road.”

These definitions, however, do not explain how the measurement of an employee’s emotional state, whether in terms of employee satisfaction or engagement, relates to an organization’s Employee Experience. This is because they are not the same thing and cannot be compared on an apples-to-apples basis. Discover the difference between employee satisfaction vs employee engagement.

What is the Employee Experience? Are Employee Satisfaction and Engagement Present?

Employee satisfaction and engagement are outcomes of the Employee Experience. What ultimately drives workplace satisfaction and its more powerful cousin, engagement, is the Employee Experience that an organization’s leaders have either designed and built or haphazardly accepted along the way.

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Our definition of the Employee Experience (EX) is the following:

The Employee Experience is the sum of the various perceptions employees have about their interactions with the organization in which they work.

Distilled to its essence, EX is the organization’s cultural environment that produces those critical employee perceptions, which in turn drive employee satisfaction and engagement (whether good or bad).  A simple way of thinking about EX is that it answers the proverbial question, “What’s it like around here?” Imagine, if you will, a current employee explaining to a recently on-boarded recruit how things work in their department, including the current gossip and the well-trod stories from the past. That’s EX.

What Creates Employee Satisfaction and Engagement?

For years, we have fastidiously measured both employee satisfaction and engagement. We have even learned what themes drive engagement, but we never really stepped back and asked the following question: at a fundamental level, what actually creates these two emotional states of employee satisfaction and engagement. The answer? The Employee Experience.

Okay, so let’s go back to my premise that you can simultaneously improve Employee Satisfaction, Employee Engagement, and Employee Experience. Again, I reiterate – the answer is yes!  You can build all three areas at the same time because it should be evident that you only need to focus on the one independent variable, which is EX. Employee satisfaction and engagement are dependent variables, or outcomes, that ebb, and flow on how well your organization’s EX is functioning.

The difference between employee satisfaction, employee engagement, and the employee experience

Of course, this is all fine and well from a theoretical standpoint, but where should a practitioner start? Unfortunately, there is no universal guide on how to build your EX – that’s like saying there is only one way to parent a child. Your EX depends on your organizations’ unique strengths, challenges, needs, and goals.

A simple thought experiment, however, might be of some use. Using my example from above, think about all the questions that might arise as a new employee asks a seasoned veteran for advice on “how things work around here.” What are some of the questions that might come up?

Questions That Might Arise About Your Employee Experience

To get your creative mojo flowing, here are some suggestions to prime the EX pump:

  • Is creativity rewarded around here?
  • Will my boss be mad at me if I make a suggestion?
  • Is there a well-defined chain of command?
  • How long before I must respond to an e-mail?
  • Is the customer always right?
  • Will I be thrown under the bus, and, if so, who’s most likely to do the throwing around here?
  • Will people steal my ideas and claim them as their own?
  • Is it better to come in at 9am and work to 9pm, or could I work from 6am to 6pm because I coach my kid’s soccer team?
  • Is it all about “face time?”
  • When do performance reviews take place?
  • Are performance reviews brutal, or do we not take them very seriously?
  • Is it more important to be on time to a meeting or to actually contribute in the meeting?
  • Is the dress code Dockers and polo shirts or jeans and flip-flops?
  • What if I swear?
  • What if I tell a joke?
  • What if I make a mistake?

Expectation Gaps and The Employee Experience

What is the common element to each of these questions? At their core, they all involve an expectation, whether by the employee or the organization. This observation suggests that a key to a successful EX is to align your employees’ expectations with the organization’s requirements that are crucial to helping the organization win.

You should realize by now that it will take some time to create your list. That’s because your list needs to be hundreds of questions long to be effective. So, keep a notebook handy, and jot down those questions whenever they come – even if it’s in the line at the dry cleaners. Be diligent, and be patient.

After a while, you will see themes start to develop within your questions. As you categorize those themes, you will see those areas that need attention. These are those areas where your employees’ beliefs and what the organization expects are no longer aligned. We call these expectation gaps. The starting point in improving your EX is to close your expectation gaps. When you focus on bettering your company’s EX, employee satisfaction and engagement will also improve because they are a direct result.

Again, this is just the starting point. But, it’s a great place to get going! Don’t delay – things will stay the same or deteriorate if you don’t start focusing on your Employee Experience.  It’s rare, if not impossible, for positive organizational change to occur spontaneously.

For more information on how to build the right EX for your organization and further improve employee satisfaction and engagement, consider reading our most recent book published by WILEY, The Employee Experience, How to Attract Talent, Retain Top Performers, and Drive Results (2017)

Want to Strengthen eNPS? Give Employees a Voice and a Future

In the American West, cattle ranches have long been identified by their livestock brands, the symbols seared into the hides of their animals. Ranch brands were primarily created to help identify lost or stolen animals, but over time they took on a larger meaning for the cowboys employed by the ranch. The phrase “ride for the brand” became a call for all employed by the ranch to work for something larger than themselves, to positively represent their employer in all that they do.

Feeling a deeper sense of connection and purpose with your work is not only important in ranching. It is critical to any organization seeking to foster employee engagement. The Employee Net Promoter score, or eNPS, is one technique organizations use to understand monitor, and improve this sense of purpose. This simple metric is based on a single survey item, “I would recommend this organization as a great place to work.” To calculate eNPS, a score between -100 and 100 is derived which can indicate to leaders how favorably employees feel about their overall employee experience, based on employee responses. In other words, do they ride for the brand?

The eNPS is a helpful lag indicator of the high-level health of the employee experience. But how does an organization strengthen their eNPS? Based on our (DecisionWise) experience surveying and consulting thousands of organizations, two consistent strategies emerge: give employees a voice and give employees a future.

leader increases eNPS by showing his team he cares

Give Employees a Voice

At DecisionWise we define Employee Voice as the extent to which employees believe their thoughts and opinions are heard and reasonably considered in organizational decisions. Voice is a key component, along with growth, belonging, and organizational commitment, of the DecisionWise framework for measuring Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI). Employee voice is a core component of an employee’s overall experience. How does voice impact eNPS results?

When we run statistics on our pool of employee survey results, a database of over fifty million responses, we see which items are most positively correlated to healthy eNPS results. One of the strongest correlations is the item, “This organization cares about employees.” Employees reciprocate the level of care shown for them by the organization. Further correlations tell us that employees feel cared for when they feel they are heard. Some of the employee voice items we include in organization surveys include:

  • This organization values employee input, feedback, and suggestions.
  • I feel that I can speak up without fear of retribution or negative consequences.
  • Senior Leaders know what is going on in the organization.
  • My opinions are sought on issues that affect me and my job.

Employees are constantly looking for evidence that they are heard and valued by their employer. Small moments matter.  A one-on-one with a manager where an employee can share concerns, questions, and ideas, or a communication from a senior leader that reflects an understanding of the realities of their role can have a tremendous impact on an employee’s experience. These moments influence perceptions around employee voice and organizational care and ultimately the eNPS results.

woman feels she has a future with her company

Give Employees a Future

One of the best things leaders of an organization can do to spark engagement is to build a strong sense of optimism about the future of the enterprise. Another primary correlate of a strong eNPS is the survey item, “I am confident that this organization has a successful future.” This survey item also frequently shows up as a statistical driver of employee engagement. When employees feel like they are part of a winning team or organization, they naturally want to align themselves with that success. Interestingly, when this happens, engagement goes up and the company’s success is magnified. It becomes a virtuous cycle of engagement building success, and success building engagement.

There is another component necessary to paint a compelling future for employees – the role of the employee in that future. It is not enough for the entity to win. Employees must win with the organization. A compelling future must also hold a role for the employee. A leader or manager must be able to communicate, “We’re doing big things as a company, and you have an important role to play in these efforts and future success.” Growth and development conversations must be tied to the future success of the organization. When this happens, an employee’s sense of meaning, impact, and connection increases and they become more likely to engage. This has a tremendous impact on your eNPS.

The Employee Net Promoter Score is an important measure to track. It is tied to the experience of real human beings. Giving employees a voice and a share in a bright future improves their experience and will, in turn, inspire them to do more to build and promote the organization’s objectives. In other words, they will ride for the brand.

Infographic: The ROI of Employee Engagement

View the PDF of this Infographic

Employee engagement drives individual performance in an organization, but do companies with more engaged employees outperform those with a less-engaged workforce? Can the company show a stronger financial performance and operational efficiency with engaged employees?

Scholars, consultants, non-profits, and companies have been researching the ROI of employee engagement for quite some time. The correlative data revealed in their research initiatives is significant. View some of the findings in the infographic above.

Read our blog, “The ROI of Employee Engagement: Show Me the Money!” for more.

Employee Engagement Survey Sample Download

The Why Behind Company Core Values

The Problem

For the past few decades, organizations have felt compelled to issue various statements to describe their organization’s aspirations and ideals. Originally, it was limited to just a single statement – the mission statement.  But now, such statements include an organization’s mission, vision, corporate social responsibility viewpoint, purpose, principles, and company core values.  Leaders are then asked to align their people to these aspirational statements.  Yet how can alignment take place if leaders are puzzled about what these statements mean and do in the first place?

In addition, these aspirational statements are layered on top of the organization’s objectives and key results (OKRs), which are then measured by a myriad of complex metrics (key performance indicators, or KPIs).  It can be an alphabet soup of overload that leaves managers wondering which piece of guidance is the most important. 

Are such aspirational statements necessary? What are the differences between them and do the differences matter?  Do leaders understand why these concepts exist and how to use them properly?  This article will answer these questions and help leaders understand why one of these elements is far more important than the others.  

Key Definitions

To begin, let us take a moment and define each of the various concepts:

  • A mission statement tells the world what the organization does. 
  • A vision statement strives to paint a picture of what the organization wants to be when it grows up (the organization described in a perfect future state).
  • A corporate social responsibility statement (CSR) outlines the organization’s goals and values in its role as member of society, often focusing on issues of equality, human rights, working conditions, etc.  
  • An organizational purpose explains the problem(s) the organization is trying to solve for its customers. 
  • Finally, company core values and principles describe the organization’s culture.  These serve as the moral compass for the organization. 

This article will explain why company core values are the most important of these various tools and how a solid culture is built on the backbone of organization/company core values.  We define culture as:

A set of values, norms, guiding beliefs, and understandings that is shared by members of an organization and is taught to new members as the way to feel, think, and behave.

In other words, culture is “the way things are done around a particular place”.  The challenge is that culture exists whether you want it to or not.  It grows organically, and, if left unattended, it will absorb some good things, but a lot of dysfunction will find its way into the mix.  Deliberate culture, on the other hand is carefully cultivated and reflects deliberate attention to how the organization fulfills its mission, purpose, vision, etc. 

Many organizations believe the best way to define their culture and company core values is through a list of aspirational ideals that are important to the organization.  For example, an organization may state that “Care” is one of their company core values, and they may say something like, “At XYZcorp, we care about our people and our customers.”  What does that statement mean, however?  What should a leader at XYZcorp actually do to demonstrate caring?

Here is another example to consider.  At American Express they proclaim a belief in “Customer Commitment.” Yet again, what does that phrase mean?  Does this mean the customer is always right?  Does it mean the customer gets everything they want?  While values statements sound good and they help with branding and corporate image, these statements often fall short because they fail to teach an employee what to do.

Instead of listing aspirational values, an alternative approach is to define company core values through the process of designing and implementing core leadership competencies that every leader or associate is expected to follow and master.  To continue our analogy, let us examine what “Care” looks like under this approach.  The “Care” competency is defined by the following behaviors:

  • Demonstrates a personal interest in the well-being of others.
  • Makes time for other people.
  • Sympathizes with others meeting personal or professional challenges.
  • Provides help when others are overworked or stressed.

With these four behavioral statements, the leader has a much clearer understanding of what is expected of them, and they can take action to improve or develop in these areas. In addition, behavioral statements are something that can be quantitatively measured and analyzed.   

Preparing for the Unplanned

We made the claim that culture is the most important of the organizational aspiration tools. This is because culture is the way you address the unplanned challenges that inevitably arise.  A strategic plan tells everyone what to do and works really well when everything goes according to plan.  Assumptions turn out to be right, and future events unfold as expected.  If X happens, then do Y.  This is the easy stuff, and it almost never happens this way. 

As the professional boxer Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” In business, we get punched in the face all too often by unexpected challenges.  Assumptions prove to be wrong, markets change, or a pandemic stops the entire world in its tracks.  It is in these unplanned moments that culture takes over and becomes the mission, purpose, vision, and plan all rolled into one.   

The late Harvard business professor, Clayton Christensen, astutely observed:

Once members of the organization begin to adopt ways of working and criteria for making decisions by assumption, rather than by conscious decision, then those processes and values come to constitute the organization’s culture [company core values]. As companies grow from a few employees to hundreds and thousands, the challenge of getting all employees to agree on what needs to be done and how it should be done so that the right jobs are done repeatedly and consistently can be daunting for even the best managers. Culture is a powerful management tool in these situations. Culture enables employees to act autonomously and causes them to act consistently.” – Innovators Dilemma (emphasis added)

We agree with Professor Christensen!  By establishing “Care” as a leadership competency, then a leader will know how to shepherd a struggling employee who is facing a cancer diagnosis, a lost family member, or any other personal crisis.  They will make time to listen, demonstrate both empathy and sympathy, and provide help to keep their employee from being overworked or stressed.  They will know instinctually what to do. 

Find Your Company’s Core Values

In summary, we are not suggesting that mission, vision, social responsibility, and purpose do not matter.  They very much matter; but, in the day-to-day whirlwind of getting stuff done, we believe the better course is for leaders to first focus on the company’s core values and culture by defining for everyone the leadership competencies that each employee is expected to learn and demonstrate.  This route will teach employees how to behave in both the unplanned and planned moments they encounter each day. 

Learn how organizations can use competency models to build their culture through 360-degree Feedback.

360-degree platform

Webinar: How to Build an Effective 360 Feedback Assessment

Date: Wednesday, April 28, 2021

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

Presenters: Christian Nielson, David Long

Cost: Free

A properly designed 360 instrument not only facilitates individual development, it can establish and reinforce effective leadership expectations and behaviors. Learn the key strategies and considerations to build the right tool for your team.

This Webinar qualifies for SHRM and HRCI credit.  

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, looking for actionable insight into what we can improve? 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.

employee pulse survey

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.

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 employee feedback more often. Rather than waiting for the next annual or semi-annual employee survey to understand whether these actions have been effective, pulse survey questions 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. A pulse survey take the value obtained from the annual employee engagement survey and breaks it into smaller, actionable chunks. However, due to their limited length, 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 valuable 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.