Employee satisfaction surveys have evolved from being something of a touchy-feely add-on to a key tool for businesses that want to improve their performance, new research suggests. But are organisations making best use of the information they collect?
A study by organisational improvement body the Corporate Research Forum has found that surveying employee attitudes is now considered by many businesses a critical part of improving performance across the board.
Where such surveys were once "nice-to-have" but not considered a prerequisite when it came to improving performance, they are now increasingly being used to gauge how successfully people are engaged, whether they are implementing strategy or "going the extra mile".
They are also increasingly forming part of regular internal performance reporting, said CRF, alongside more rigorous use of data analysis to demonstrate the cause-and-effect relationship between the way people are managed and operational results.
Employee surveys can be a useful measure of improvement – for example in internal processes, service and behaviours – as well as a stimulus for improvement, said CRF.
This particularly occurs where follow-up action planning and problem-solving becomes part of how business plans get re-shaped.
This is the case within teams from the top executives to the front-line, and is coupled with recognition and sharing of effective practices across the organisation, it added.
Similarly, the most progressive organisations, such as Royal Bank of Scotland and Standard Chartered Bank (both CRF members), are starting to include employee survey results in their reports to external stakeholders, it said.
This, unlike much accounting information, helped to predict future performance, CRF added.
But worryingly for the wider economy, the CRF study found that only a relatively small number of progressive organisations are using human capital data to drive organisational performance.
Those that do make use of this data are doing so because they are consciously competing in a global market place for share of markets and profit, and to recruit and retain talent.
While most organisations do now conduct surveys, the great majority have yet to "get serious" about using them to improve performance and strategy implementation, warned CRF.
"They either need to wake up to this gap in driving competitiveness, or they will lose out to smarter and more efficient businesses in other countries," it warned.
It added: "Employee surveys should now form part of a holistic system of managing performance, from individuals and teams to the whole organisation level.
"They are at their most effective when used as part of a continuous feedback and learning loop.
"However, organisations need to start by using the information to encourage improvement and developing managerial skills, rather than assessing how individual managers are doing. Moving towards the latter too soon results in a fixation on improving scores, rather than behaviours and processes," CRF added.
But rewarding managers for achieving good employee survey scores was usually unwise, as there was a temptation to try to "fix" the results, it cautioned.