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In the Rush for an Agile Workforce, Pulse Surveys Emerge

If you’re going to ask, you’d better be listening

Published: Monday, April 4, 2016 - 00:00

Increasingly dynamic workplaces have made organizational change an everyday reality. Demands for workforce agility require a step up from those commanding—particularly in ongoing measurement and making use of feedback during this breakneck pace of change.

There is a definite need for continuous and effective communication. Gallup finds that only 27 percent of workers strongly agree that the feedback they currently receive helps them do their work better. Furthermore, only 17 percent strongly agree that there’s open communication throughout all levels of their company.

Millennials are well-versed in open communication for sharing opinions and feedback. But in today’s highly connected world, all generations of workers are becoming accustomed to constant communication.

Company leaders are seeking ways to track real-time employee experiences and gain insight about issues affecting employees’ work lives and their organizations’ performance. Leaders realize that engaging employees takes more than sending out an annual survey. It requires a year-long, people-oriented strategy aimed at clarifying expectations and maximizing performance. To that end, leaders want a way to gather employee feedback throughout the year.

Thus, the rise of pulse surveys.

A pulse survey is an assessment designed to quickly elicit feedback from employees to address their needs and other work-related topics. Pulse surveys range from in-house surveys to assessments administered using a survey platform, or through research and consulting companies. This approach can quickly target subsets of an employee population, whether it’s a project team, a sample of the employee population, or an audience affected by a specific company change.

The value of pulse surveys

When used strategically and as complementary tools in support of larger initiatives, pulse surveys provide valuable data to companies that want the ability to respond quickly to change or increase employee feedback as company initiatives evolve. Many leaders know the value of regularly tracking financial metrics. Pulse surveys also allow them to monitor crucial people metrics. Companies use pulse surveys in many ways, including to:
• Recalibrate. By receiving insights into what employees are thinking about workplace changes—whether they are reacting to a new rule or policy, a new leader, or organizational restructuring—leaders and managers can use data from pulse surveys to recalibrate actions, resources, and priorities to achieve peak performance.
• Diagnose. Pulse surveys can give managers and leaders insight into the effectiveness of strategic initiatives and focus attention on areas of the company that may require more training or support.
• Monitor. Pulse surveys can be an efficient way to monitor a company’s mood, employees’ workplace experiences, or progress toward achieving key performance indicators. They can also be used to monitor the drivers of employee engagement.
• Create momentum. Pulse surveys can be used to spark focused discussion on relevant topics during group meetings. Leaders can also gain timely data to address problems and invite employee involvement in real time.

Pulse survey considerations

Pulse surveys and other assessments offer companies valuable insights into what employees are thinking. Surveying employees too often, however, could create excessive amounts of overwhelming or unusable data. To get the most from pulse surveys:
• Use pulse surveys as complementary tools. When administering a pulse survey, it’s important to understand that it’s a feedback mechanism. Pulse surveys can provide additional perspectives on existing organizational problems or strategic initiatives, but they can’t solve problems or improve performance on their own. They are best used to support or reinforce other measures and actions.
• Be wary of survey fatigue. Pulse surveys can open the door to survey fatigue among employees. When companies conduct pulse surveys too often, leaders should carefully consider the types of questions to ask and avoid repeatedly asking similar questions. Employees are more likely to perceive pulse surveys as useful if the questions are interesting and relevant to their work and organizational objectives.
• Communicate with employees. Communication with employees about a pulse survey—especially the survey instructions—can significantly increase employee survey participation. Though extensive communication campaigns about pulse surveys aren’t always necessary, sharing a survey’s purpose and the rationale behind it with employees who are asked to participate is best practice.

When leaders determine communication approaches, they should consider their company’s culture, environment, and industry. For example, some employees understand and expect surveys in the workplace and require less upfront communication than employees who have less experience with workplace studies. Other employees, such as industrial workers, may have limited access to the Internet or email in their day-to-day roles, making additional planning and instruction a necessity for web-based pulse surveys.

Determine when to conduct pulse surveys

Consider the survey’s purpose when determining the best time to conduct it. If the survey is designed to gauge progress on an organizationwide initiative, progress checks can backfire if insufficient time has passed since the initiative was launched. Similarly, if the survey’s purpose is to elicit feedback, consider when employees would have enough information to provide useful insights.

Bottom line

Pulse surveys can be a valuable tool for companies, leaders, and managers. When used for intentional and targeted purposes, a pulse survey can serve a vital role in eliciting just-in-time employee feedback on workplace-related topics and organizationwide initiatives. When considering using a pulse survey, determine how to make use of the feedback as well. Also, recognize the limitations of pulse surveys. Administering pulse surveys for the wrong reasons or not to employ the feedback is rapid-fire folly.

First published March 10, 2016, on the Gallup Business Journal blog.


About The Author

Gallup’s picture


Gallup has studied human nature and behavior for more than 70 years. Gallup’s reputation for delivering relevant, timely, and visionary research on what people around the world think and feel is the cornerstone of the organization. Gallup employs many of the world’s leading scientists in management, economics, psychology, and sociology; and their consultants assist leaders in identifying and monitoring behavioral economic indicators worldwide. Gallup consultants help organizations boost organic growth by increasing customer engagement and maximizing employee productivity through measurement tools, coursework, and strategic advisory services. Gallup’s 2,000 professionals deliver services at client organizations, through the web, and in 40 offices around the world.