3 Rules for Gathering Employee Feedback — and When to Break Them
Employee studies are one of the most valuable assets in a company’s arsenal. Employee beliefs, perceptions, and intentions (also known as experience data, or X-data™) have a powerful influence on virtually every element of business success.
Companies that don’t meaningfully gather this data fail to create forums for their people to share feedback. They lack critical insights into the current health of their organization and have blind spots of which leaders may be unaware.
But it’s not about gathering data more frequently. Companies need to be thoughtful about how they request feedback, when they request it, and how they take action on it.
Here are three rules for gathering employee feedback that HR leaders and managers should follow:
Rule #1: Only ask for feedback in areas you can take action on
Employees who say their company responds to their feedback “extremely well” are 5x more likely to say they intend to stay with their company. When leaders or managers ask for feedback, the assumption is that they will take action on it. When they don’t, employees may lose trust and be less likely to offer their feedback in the future.
Rob Edwards, Ph.D., Senior Director of Talent Management at Epiq, said, “Asking for feedback is going to be a counterproductive effort if you’re asking questions that you can’t do anything about in terms of listening and response.”
For example, if a company asked for feedback on their parental leave program, employees will assume that their leaders are open to making adjustments. However, if employees never hear about the program again after giving their feedback, then their perception may shift negatively.
When to break rule #1: Company leaders can gather feedback on a topic to benchmark employee sentiment over time, even if they can’t make any changes in the near-term. Take employee benefits: it’s difficult to make ad-hoc changes to benefits programs throughout the year. But organizations can elect to get feedback over the course of a year so once they are able to make changes, they know which areas of the benefits program to focus on — especially if they know benefits are top of mind for employees.
Rule #2: Studies should be long enough to gather quality feedback but short enough to maintain a high standard of quality responses
We often hear about survey fatigue if they are conducted too frequently or are too lengthy. Rob said, “Survey length is an important consideration. It’s not definitive across the board, but if you have one that stretches beyond 50 questions or 15 minutes to complete, for example, that’s a good indication employees are going to have survey fatigue. Employees won’t give you the quality response that you ultimately want to get.”
Additionally, companies should solicit feedback at meaningful moments rather than haphazardly. If they introduce a new employee benefit or a significant company event just occurred, then companies may want to gather short-term opinions rather than wait for a quarterly employee pulse.
When to break rule #2: A survey does not always have to be comprehensive. If companies are seeking a quick opinion that they can take immediate action on, then two to three questions may be enough. For example, if a company wants to know whether introducing new snack options are a hit, then a quick survey would be sufficient.
Rule #3: “Do what you say you’re going to do”
It’s not uncommon to hear that employees are afraid to provide transparent feedback for fear of their managers pinpointing who had which opinions. However without that transparency, managers and leaders can’t take action on driving impactful change and results. That’s why it’s critical for companies to be direct about how the data will be reported out — and stick to it.
Marquam Piros, Director of HR Analytics at Seagate Technology, a Qualtrics customer, recently told me, “Do what you say you’re going to do. That’s how you create effective feedback.” Seagate defines the intended use of survey data ahead of time with employees and with managers, including who will get to see it and at what level of aggregation. This sets manager expectations and instills confidence in employees that no individual will be exposed and that feedback will be a collective voice versus a singular one.
When to break rule #3: Never. It only takes one miscommunication or mishap for employee — employer trust to be broken. Employee feedback can be a very personal process, and it should be treated carefully and with confidentiality. This is a simple way to create and maintain trust among employees in an organization, regardless of its size. As SAP CEO Bill McDermott has said, trust is the ultimate human currency.