The Employee Survey: 5 Steps to Avoid Failure

In Leadership, Organization & Strengths


Last week I spoke with a friend who is planning the first-ever employee opinion survey for her company, which has been through significant change in recent years. This first survey – and more importantly the process preceding and following the survey event itself – will provide a great platform for employee engagement, culture-shaping and leadership development … if it is managed thoughtfully and responsibly.

There are five things leaders can do to set up their employee opinion survey to create positive change … and conversely, if not done, that can doom it to failure.

  1. Know Your Purpose. Understanding why you are administering the survey is the foundational step. If you are simply checking it off a list of “HR things” you read about in Harvard Business Review, you will likely fail. You must understand the real outcomes you are hoping to create and how these outcomes link to the larger purpose of your business and what you are trying to achieve.
  2. Be Prepared to Act. If you are not willing to make changes or honestly address the results of each question, then you shouldn’t ask the questions. For example: You ask your employees if they have good work/life balance but know in advance that your leadership team will be unwilling to consider alternatives to your current policies. Not good. Be open and willing to change – and communicate this genuinely – to set the survey process up for success.
  3. Communicate Your Purpose + Plan. Before you ask employees to invest their time and share their feedback, tell them why you are asking, when they’ll hear from you and what you’ll do with what you learn. Be clear and ensure all leaders are consistent with their messages, including the most important: the level of privacy employees can expect. Is the survey completely confidential? To avoid losing trust, be clear and stick to it.
  4. Share the results. As soon as possible after the event (and within the time frame you previously committed to) share the results of the survey and how you plan to address them. Four weeks ago I took a survey from a service provider and delivered some very tough feedback. I have yet to hear back, or to learn how or whether they will take my complaints seriously. They may be working diligently in the background to address my concerns, but as a result of their silence my willingness to share honest feedback and my belief in their desire to hear it are significantly diminished.
  5. Commit to Action. As soon as possible, coincident with the sharing of the results if possible, commit publicly to actions you’ll take as a result of what you’ve learned. This may seem daunting for an inaugural survey, but it is critical to ensuring that credibility, trust and optimism are engendered as part of the process. Some actions will be easy: in one company I worked with the call center operators complained in their survey of severely uncomfortable chairs, and a relatively small investment in new ergonomic chairs both improved working conditions and significantly increasing engagement. Some solutions may not be as clearly defined, even when the problems are. In these cases, leaders should commit to investigate further, outline how that investigation will occur (by focus group, employee committee, etc.) and commit to a time frame for reporting and action.


The survey is one event in a larger and longer process of seeking feedback and improving as a result. Be grateful for the feedback you receive, and thank your employees for their candor and participation. In the end, what will determine the success of your second survey is how well you manage and act on the commitments stemming from your first.

This article may be reprinted when the copyright, link to article and author bio are included. ©2015 Storyforge, LLC. Please contact us for inquiries.

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Haley Boehning is a principle at Storyforge. Building on 20+ years driving change for Fortune 500 clients, non-profits and start-ups, Haley has developed a pragmatic approach to change through storytelling, developing relevant, consistent and emotionally compelling messages and targeted communications strategies that help brand and culture triumph in times of great change.