Worth reading or viewing
Occasionally, I will recommend a news article, book, blog post, research or a short video clip to view relating to public relations. This “eperini Readview” references a IABC, CW Bulletin about how to conduct an internal communication, or employee survey–mbp
by Peter Hutton
Which channels or sources of information do your employees trust, and which do they treat with skepticism? How many employees read your staff newspaper, use the company intranet and attend team briefings? What do they get from these communications, and how would they improve them? How many staff are aware of your company’s vision, values and objectives? Do they buy into them, see them as realistic, and believe management lives by them?
Does your staff feel that they are listened to and that their views are valued? Is your internal communication strategy working, and how can it be improved? How engaged are your staff with the business?
It would be difficult to answer any of these questions with a high degree of confidence without undertaking an employee survey. A survey can provide powerful evidence to support your communication initiatives with senior management and give you added confidence that your efforts are paying off.
To get the most out of an internal communication survey, you need to be sure to 1) ask the right people, 2) ask the right questions and 3) interpret the findings correctly.
Asking the right people
Who is your target audience? Is it all employees or a particular group—e.g., those in a particular department or location? Having defined your target audience, it is important to get as many people to participate as possible; a low response rate means your sample is likely to be skewed to a particular type of employee, and your survey results will not fairly reflect the views of all staff. Many elements can affect the response rate, including the amount and tone of communication running up to the survey, the involvement of line management and survey champions in encouraging responses, the use of incentives, and the wording of the questionnaire.
Asking the right questions
A well-designed questionnaire will make staff feel their views matter and provide you with information that you can use confidently in making decisions. A poorly designed questionnaire will leave staff wondering why they should bother taking part and provide little, if any, use to management.
Questionnaire design requires specific skills. The kinds of questions you ask in surveys are quite different from the kinds of questions you ask in everyday conversation. Survey questions need to be precise, unambiguous, efficient in the way they capture information and, in most cases, should employ answer categories that can be used to quantify responses. Thus, most survey questions include predefined answer categories in the form of graduated scales (e.g., very satisfied, fairly satisfied, etc.) or lists from which respondents can select their answers. These are often complemented by a few open-ended questions that invite staff to answer in their own words.
Choosing the right question format is important and will vary according to the kind of information you require. Attitudes and opinions are usually measured using balanced scales. The most commonly used is the agree/disagree scale: strongly agree, tend to agree, neither agree nor disagree, tend to disagree, strongly disagree. The advantage of this type of question is that you can ask about almost any topic simply by drafting statements reflecting what a member of staff might say (i.e., ”How strongly do you agree or disagree that…?”) However, be careful not to overuse this type of question in your survey. Just presenting a number of agree/disagree statements will give you a lot of measures but not necessarily the right ones. Such statements often measure symptoms rather than underlying causes, yet it is the underlying issues you often need to understand.
In any case, this type of question is often not the best way of measuring attitudes or opinions about company communications. If you want to know how well your managers are seen to be displaying certain desired behaviors (e.g., involving their staff in key decisions, giving them feedback on their performance, etc.), it is better to use a rating scale such as “very good” to “very poor.” If you want to know how useful staff find different forms of communication like team meetings or the intranet in helping them to do their job more effectively, then a usefulness scale (e.g., “very useful” to “not at all useful”) would be more relevant.
To measure your employees’ knowledge or understanding of company information, you’ll need a different kind of question. You might simply ask staff if they have ever heard of or are aware of a number of items (e.g., the company’s code of conduct or corporate values), or you might employ a more subtle scale that distinguishes between those who know them well enough to recite them down to those who have never heard of them.
Ultimately, communication is designed to influence how people behave, and most internal communication questionnaires can benefit from including behavioral questions. Again, scales can be devised to measure how often staff attend team meetings, access the intranet, have appraisals or read the staff newsletter. These can be followed up by questions designed to understand better what benefits employees feel they derive from these vehicles or why they rarely, if ever, use them. It is important to know, for example, whether they do not access the intranet because they have no means of doing so, they have never been shown how to, or because they do not believe there is anything of value on it.
Prompt lists can be useful here, such as listing possible reasons why staff may not use the intranet and asking them to select the ones that apply in their case. The nature of list questions is that staff can express relevance or priorities. For example, you might list different channels of communication and ask which staff prefer to use for different kinds of information. Alternatively, you might list different online and off-line channels for delivering the staff newspaper and ask which they most and least prefer.
Interpreting the findings
What you read into the findings of your survey depends a great deal on having asked the right people the right questions in the first place. Unless your objectives are very simple, it is usually advisable to draw on expert advice. Often, the obvious way to ask a question is not the way that collects the most useful information. One question might take 20 seconds to answer but could produce either one or a dozen items of useful information depending on how it is constructed. It may be clear and obvious what an answer means or it may raise so many questions about its meaning as to be useless for any practical management purpose.
Peter Hutton is founder and managing director of BrandEnergy Research Ltd., based in the U.K., and author of the book What Are Your Staff Trying to Tell You?