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Business-Focused Employee Opinion Surveys

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Employee opinion surveys are one of the most widely used processes in the HR leader’s toolbox. There are recent findings that show nearly 80% of mid-to-large organizations conduct these surveys on a somewhat regular basis (bi-annually or annually). Yes, there are many advantages to conducting surveys, from discovering areas of concern to pinpointing areas of strength to leverage—however, effective survey execution can be elusive for many organizations, and using the data to actually drive business outcomes is even more uncommon. In this white paper, we will review how to (1) execute a business-focused employee survey effectively, (2) use analytics to build the business case for taking systemic action, and (3) use analytics to make the survey business-focused for mid- and front-line managers.

A Business-Focused Approach to Executing an Employee Survey

Our business-focused approach to employee surveys is grounded in best practices from opinion survey research and has been field-tested in organizations large and small. Below we will outline the key steps in this process, and share a case study example to better illustrate the process and reveal the critical steps for success.

Following the steps in the Business Partner RoadMapTM is the most effective approach to creating a business-focused employee survey.

The key questions to ask at each step in the Business Partner RoadMapTM are:

  1. Determine critical outcomes: On what outcomes/metrics are the senior leaders in this organization most focused?
  2. Create Cross-functional data team: Who owns the specific data/metrics that senior leaders are focused? How do I connect with those individuals to obtain the data?
  3. Assess Outcome Measures: Are the important business data/metrics collected at the appropriate level for me to make “apples to apples” comparisons (i.e. department level/district level)?
  4. Analyze the Data: Do I have the statistical capabilities in-house or do I need to look at a university or consulting firm to help me analyze the data?
  5. Build the Program and Execute: Based on the linkage analysis, what is the highest priority/ROI project that I should execute first?
  6. Measure and Adjust: How do I assess the change that has occurred and make adjustments to maximize effectiveness?

This process is straightforward and it quickly allows you to take the employee survey and immediately align it to the business and demonstrate impact on the business. Below is a case study to show the process in action.

Figure 2 shows us that Career Development and Senior Leadership perceptions are the two survey categories that significantly drive patient satisfaction at this healthcare organization. More specifically for Career Development, it was that employees didn’t think they had much opportunity to learn and grow. As employees were able to see themselves growing in their career, their willingness to get involved with HCAHPS-related initiatives increased substantially. This analysis has allowed HR to be viewed as a business partner in the organization. Having the facts and data to support the improvement of a critical business outcome (HCAHPS/patient satisfaction), and the ability to show the level of impact and specifically what to work on is what creates those “business partner” opportunities for HR.

Bringing Analytics to Front-Line Leaders

One of the great advantages of applying analytics to people data is the ability to show business impact at a high level. However, it is challenging to turn that level and depth of insight into actionable information for leaders on the front-lines. An important approach/tool that will make your employee opinion survey much more impactful is the use of Strategic Survey HeatMapsTM. These HeatMaps provide each leader with an easy-to- understand chart which summarizes their local survey data into four areas that prioritize action.

First, some background—the Strategic Survey HeatMapsTM were created in working with numerous clients that expressed frustration with their other survey vendors for providing them with huge amounts of data and lengthy reports. These clients further articulated that front-line leaders just did not have the time to pour over 60 survey items with average scores, percent favorable scores, benchmark scores and fancy charts, and then make any informed decisions on strengths, weaknesses and what they needed to work on to see an improvement (or business impact). Having worked outside of HR, the feedback resonated with us and we empathized not only with HR leaders who were trying to gain buy-in and have an impact, but also with the front-line leaders themselves who have a full plate every day of the week.

The Strategic Survey HeatMapTM, depicted in Figure 3, allows you to provide all leaders, at all levels with a quick way to prioritize exactly where they should focus in order to drive business results.

The Strategic Survey HeatMapTM, depicted in Figure 3, allows you to provide all leaders, at all levels with a quick way to prioritize exactly where they should focus in order to drive business results.

The Mechanics of the Strategic Survey HeatMapTM

The first step in building the HeatMap is to get senior leadership input into the particular business outcome(s) on which we should focus. In this example, the outcome was patient satisfaction. By using the analytical techniques that we have mentioned, we lined up each manager’s employee opinion survey data with their year-to-date patient satisfaction data. The vertical axis on the HeatMap is the average score that was achieved on each of the categories from the survey. The horizontal axis shows the level of impact that each of the survey categories had on the business outcome (HCAHPS/patient satisfaction). The vertical bolded line near the middle of the HeatMap reveals the cutoff where the impact was significant or not significant. Every survey category to the right of the vertical bold line had a significant impact. Every survey category to the left of the vertical bold line did not have a significant impact.

The horizontal bold line represents the average ‘overall percent favorable goal’ for the entire organization. This was determined by holding a meeting with senior leaders in the organization—it could have been set higher or lower, this all depends on your particular culture and needs. Any survey categories that are above the horizontal bold line are considered strengths. Any survey categories that are below the horizontal line are considered a developmental area.

The four quadrants of the HeatMap help leaders to determine how to combine the level of impact and the level of strength of each survey category and to turn their results into an actionable plan.

Focus: The bottom right quadrant is labeled Focus. This is the most important quadrant because any survey category that falls into this area is 1) scoring below the organizational average as measured by percent favorable, and 2) a significant driver of patient satisfaction. In a nutshell, these two survey categories (Senior Leadership and Retention) are important and this particular leader is not very good at either of them. It makes sense that this particular leader should put these two categories on his/her action plan. The HeatMap is designed to help the leader get very detailed quickly, by then providing the specific items that make up each of these survey categories so that she can see specifically where to spend her time. Front-line leaders love this approach because it significantly reduces their data analysis time and allows them to get down to building business-focused plans quickly.

Promote: The upper-right quadrant of the HeatMap is labeled Promote because these are the survey categories on which the leader is scoring well, and they are important drivers of business outcomes. For these survey categories, the leader would want to get the word out to her people and ‘brag’ about what she has been doing and the outcomes that her people have achieved. This will help to keep her people focused on that particular area and committed to becoming even more effective.

Monitor: The bottom-left quadrant of the HeatMap is called Monitor because the survey categories that land here represent areas of weakness for this leader, but they are not highly significant to driving the patient satisfaction business outcome. This does not mean that these categories are unimportant, but it does mean that this leader must work on these areas regularly because they are weaknesses. The Focus areas are more important and should be taken care of first, however “Monitor”-ing these other areas will pay dividends.

Maintain: The top-left quadrant of the HeatMap is labeled Maintain. This represents the survey categories where this leader should just keep doing what she is doing. It shows the areas in which the leader is doing a great job, but these survey categories are not highly impactful on the patient satisfaction outcome. Maintaining her approach and intensity on these categories from the survey will keep paying off for this leader.

What the SVP Says:

“Having the HeatMaps allows us to focus our managers across the organization on the factors that drive the outcomes that we want to achieve--HCAHPS. The analytics bring a lot of credibility to the process and takes our survey from an assessment of attitudes to a discovery of new tools to impact our bottom line.” –John M., SVP of Human Resources

Bringing Analytics to Mid-Level Managers

At the large healthcare organization, we have taken the process a step further and created HeatMaps for each hospital leader so that they can hold individual workgroup managers accountable for survey results that drive the business. That HeatMap is shown below in Figure 4. At this level, the hospital leader can quickly see how each of his managers scored on the different survey categories, while paying special attention to the first four categories, (retention, mission/goals, commitment and senior leadership) because these were shown to have a significant impact on a critical business outcome—patient satisfaction.

This gives each hospital leader a quick and practical look at performance results on the employee survey. This HeatMap turns a myriad of data into a practical and focused tool which a manager can easily turn into action and accountability.

Practical Tips

  1. Your Employee Opinion Survey strategy should focus on driving business outcomes
    To get buy-in (and budget!) from the CEO, continue to take the focus off of “engagement” or satisfaction, and put the focus on outcomes that actually matter— retention, customer satisfaction, productivity etc. Employee engagement is not a business outcome, it never has been, so to be a business-focused HR partner, incorporate analytics that will show the value of conducting a survey.
  2. Use data analytics to demonstrate the value of your survey
    Although conducting more sophisticated analysis is complicated, doing so makes the results practical and action-oriented. Use an internal resource with a statistics background, reach out to a local university professor or student to assist with the analysis, or require your vendor to provide these analyses.
  3. Reach out to key stakeholders and gather outcome data early in the process
    Getting the right data in the right place at the right level can be a process in and of itself. Reach out cross-functionally ahead of time so that you can turn around your analyses, HeatMaps, and recommendations quickly upon conclusion of the survey.
  4. Share the linkage to business outcomes with employees at all levels
    Often the linkage analysis (if done at all) is relegated to the boardroom for review with senior leaders. While this is a great place to get started, execution takes place on the front-lines, so, get the word out about how attitudes drive business results. The Strategic Survey HeatMapsTM are a focused and relevant way to show each leader exactly what they should work on to drive critical business results. Again, this will take the focus off of the survey as a “let’s see if they are happy” and puts the focus on using employee attitudes as a means to a (profitable) end.
  5. Link engagement data to more than one business outcome, if possible
    As you know, not all of the leaders in your organization are focused on the same business outcome. So incorporate local, relevant business outcomes into your HeatMaps and senior level presentations so that you get buy-in across the organization. For example, although there may be a strong productivity metric in operations, the focus in corporate IT might be on retention. Provide each function with the data and analysis around outcomes that are most relevant to them—this will drive home the importance of the survey and continue to increase your stature as a business partner.

IRI Consultants partnered with SMD, the leader in predictive analytics for employee assessments, to form IRI Analytics. IRI Analytics is the only provider of patented analytics technology for healthcare organizations
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