Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

10 Common Findings from Employee Surveys

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[tweetmeme source=”jeffreysaltzman”]“The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are often more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.”

Niccolo Machiavelli

I sometimes think of my job as holding up a mirror to an organization so that it can see not what it wants to see but what it has to see. While people in almost every organization like to think their organizations are unique, most organizations really fall within a few common patterns, with some nuance, when it comes to employee survey findings. Here are some common patterns:

  • In most organizations there are virtually no differences to be found when the data is cut by gender, ethnicity, or generation. While there are some slight differences to be found, (e.g. females are often a hair more positive, as are traditional part-timers), on organization performance items like customer focus, quality, leadership, communications, decision making, cooperation and teamwork, looking for differences is like searching for a meaningless needle in the proverbial haystack. When differences are seen it is usually indicative of significant underlying organizational issues.
  • The largest differences are most reliably found on an employee survey when you cut the data by occupation or level within the organization. Managers are generally between five and 15 points more favorable (the more senior the more favorable) on survey items than non-managers, depending on the item. They are typically less favorable on customer service/focus, resources and product quality. When the differences are larger it is usually a sign that senior management is living in a different organization than the other employees experience, and that each group would have difficulty seeing the world from the other’s perspective. It is not unusual though for administrative groups to be more favorable than their level suggests.
  • The most favorable group completing the employee survey will very reliably be the employees that you just hired. Specifically, those with less than 12 months tenure. It takes the typical organization about 12-18 months to beat that positiveness out of the new employee. Disillusionment with organizational effectiveness, training, advancement opportunity, pay and other frustrations as well as the sense the organization is not as was advertised, drive the numbers down.
  • The least positive will be those with around 3-5 years tenure and in many organizations there will be a gradual recovery in positiveness over time, but it usually never gets as positive as the newly hired employee was again. A small number of organizations can buck this trend and what they do in order to accomplish that is very interesting.
  • By geography the least positive employees in the world are pretty reliably the Japanese (with a few exceptions). The most positive are those in Latin America and some other parts of Asia (e.g. Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam). The USA is below Latin American, with the UK trailing the USA and continental Europe lagging behind the UK. Russia and the USA look remarkably similar on a large number of items.
  • The best way to predict turnover with an employee survey is by asking the employee directly if they are going to stay or leave. They tend to answer very honestly. If anyone tries to sell you some mumbo jumbo predictive index, walk away. There is nothing better out there than simply asking that one directly.
  • The best way to predict customer loyalty is to ask the employee about whether customer issues are resolved quickly.
  • The best way to predict accidents is to ask about the safety environment and the emphasis placed on safety. Are you getting the idea yet?
  • Employees are generally more critical of product and service quality than your customers are. They see how the sausage gets made.
  • Employee Engagement is no magic bullet and is rarely predictive of many critical organizational performance metrics.

While not every organization out there is as unique as perhaps they think they are, there are certainly some organizations that are performing better than others in various aspects. And there are some organizations out there that could really benefit from a well done employee survey, focused on the right things, aimed at improving effectiveness and performance and monitoring employee sentiment and insight. Sometimes all sorts of excuses are given to avoid having to look at the organization squarely in the mirror. “We just had a bad quarter, or are in the middle of a reorganization, or we are unveiling our revamped strategy and vision, or we are rolling out new products” etc.

Organizations making excuses like that, I would bet, would be extremely reluctant to use those same arguments with respect to tracking financial performance stating, “we had a bad quarter so we are going to skip tracking the financials this quarter. We will start again perhaps next quarter when we believe the numbers will look better.” They simply would not be able to get away with it. If people are truly an organization’s most important asset, as is so often stated, how can their opinions, observations, insights, and emotions be ignored?


© 2012 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

November 2, 2012 at 7:43 am

2 Responses

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  1. thanks Jeffery,

    Nice points and blog is a great place to get these sorts of insights out.


    charley morrow

    November 5, 2012 at 7:55 am

  2. Whenever supervisors have to talk about issues or offer comments in a critical manner, it’s recommended to balance the positive with the bad and always provide comments by one-on-one coaching. Make an attempt to support staff know this by learning how they believe regarding work by means of employee surveys.

    Ross Adams

    November 27, 2012 at 3:47 am

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