People who care about their personal health often see their physicians for regular checkups. During these visits, the doctor will take your pulse, listen to your heartbeat, and check your weight. The idea is to catch anything that might be brewing before it becomes a bigger, potentially irreversible, problem.

Leaders who care about the health of their companies would be wise to go through the same process on a regular basis. Take the pulse of your organization, listen to the internal workings of the team, and check to see what things might be weighing them down.

The goal of organizational check-ins is to catch any unhealthy symptoms before they have a chance to spread and get worse. If you uncover some unpleasant things happening in your business, you’ll need to start working on a cure.

Looking for symptoms

There are many ways to go about getting important feedback from your team: during performance reviews, through exit/stay interviews, and in meetings and focus groups. These kinds of mechanisms can provide great information, but mostly in the form of anecdotal stories. If you want aggregate data, you’ll need to ask everyone the same questions in the same format.

Attempting to do this one-on-one is a grand idea, but depending on the size of your organization, it could be virtually impossible to conduct and document these sessions in a timely manner. And depending on what’s going on in your organization, it could be literally impossible to get people to tell you what they really think in a face-to-face format.

This is where employee surveys can be extremely useful. As long as you’re committed to getting them right.

Methodology matters

When done well, employee surveys can gather important information, even from a large group, quickly and anonymously. And, because everyone is being asked the exact same questions in the exact same way, you’re getting apples-to-apples responses as opposed to nuanced stories and answers.

Unfortunately, many organizations are conducting employee surveys that aren’t done well. They’re asking questions that are irrelevant, misleading, or confusing. They’re designing surveys that are obviously slanted toward a particular outcome. They’re creating “anonymous” surveys that contain key identifying questions. And sometimes, they’re just asking WAY TOO MUCH.

There is a right and a wrong way to conduct employee surveys. If you’re going to go through the trouble to do one, you’ll want to make sure your efforts are fruitful, not futile.

How to design an employee survey that works

Slapping together a random survey will yield random responses and random results. To get the most out of your information gathering, design your research in a way that maximizes participation, honesty, and reliability.


Define the goal of the survey – What do you want to measure? What indictors will you use? How will the results be analyzed? (NOTE: Employee surveys should never be used merely as a vehicle to pat leadership on the back. If that’s your main purpose, stop right here and save yourself the time and money.)

Check your toolbox – Have you conducted similar research before? Do you have benchmarking data? Can you pull questions from previous surveys?

Think design – Will the survey be conducted in-house or outsourced to a third party? Are you committed to keeping results anonymous? Is it strictly an online endeavor or does your staff require other options?


Create your questions – Will your questions be open ended, multiple choice, or a mix? No matter what format you choose, there are some basic rules you’ll want to follow:

  • Make sure each question serves a distinct purpose. Irrelevant questions will give you irrelevant data.
  • Arrange questions in a logical sequence. Avoid jumping back and forth.
  • Keep it simple. Each question should addresses one thing only. Avoid multiple-part questions and complicated jargon. Make each question clear and concise. If you must use complicated terms or acronyms, include an explanation for each one.
  • Keep it positive. Avoid negatively worded or biased questions.
  • Keep it neutral. Toss out any partisan language or leading questions.
  • Keep it short. No one wants to answer a 75 question survey. Or even a 25 question survey. Research has shown that the more questions you ask, the less time respondents will spend on each one. Strive for a 2 – 8 question range, or a completion time of 10 minutes or less.
  • If you’re going anonymous, go all in. Avoid any personal and/or identifying questions, and use a system that doesn’t track response dates and times, or respondent email and IP addresses.

Explain the why, how, and what – You’ll need to communicate with your employees about the survey prior to sending it. Tell them the purpose of the survey, why it’s important, and how they will benefit. Give them details on when it will arrive, what it will look like, how they should fill it out, when it needs to be returned, and how the results will be used. If you’re going incognito, explain that all results will be completely anonymous and confidential. Thank them in advance for their time and effort.

Test it out – Never send an employee survey without running it through a test group first. You’ll want to make sure there is consensus on what the questions mean, how to fill it out, and that it actually works. You’ll also want to check all spelling and grammar, not only to avoid confusion and loss of credibility, but because there are always plenty of people who love to send emails pointing out these kinds of mistakes. Bottom line: If there is any kind of problem with your survey, you’re going to create significant frustration and a flurry of unwanted questions and comments.

Send it out – Because you’ve explained why the survey is being conducted, what it looks like, and how it should be filled out, this process should be smooth. Remember to include all of this information again with the survey so respondents have all of the information they need in one place.

Now what?

Now you wait. And collect. And send out multiple reminders.

Once you have a good portion of the surveys back, you can begin to analyze the data and results.

There is one caveat here. And it goes back to the old saying, “Be careful what you ask for.”

If you don’t like the results you’re getting, you can’t just shove them in a drawer somewhere. You’re too far in now. You did your homework, you set your goals, and you designed your questions carefully. You (and your employees) committed to this process and you need to follow it through all the way to the end.

Staff will be expecting to see something from leadership about the survey responses and what changes they should anticipate as a result. Don’t let them down. Share what you learned and how you plan to incorporate that information into organizational processes moving forward.

After all, wasn’t that the whole point?


Photo by niroworld

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