Leveraging Surveys for Organizational Change

Trying to get your hands around organizational change is a difficult challenge for most companies, but it is even more daunting when you are trying to identify the needs of employees that support multiple product lines and span numerous geographic locations. Today, Web-based surveys continue to take on a strategic and instrumental role in the feedback lifecycle process, as it enables an organization to gain valuable information and hear the “voice” of both its employees and customers.

While traditional research methodologies have provided this “voice,” a new dimension in efficiency is achievable through Web survey technology. As a result, surveys have evolved into a fast and accurate method that truly takes into account the pulse of an organization. However, actionable results are not easily achieved as it takes more than technology to make the survey process successful.

At Experian, one executive set out to truly hear the voice of his constituents in order to meet his primary goal of improving customer loyalty and positively impacting his organizational operations through better employee performance.

When Chris Callero joined Experian’s Credit Services Division as President, he immediately began an ongoing effort to survey his employees to determine their attitude toward the company. His goal was to determine if they had the tools needed to be effective on the job, and more specifically, to determine if the company was communicating corporate goals and objectives from the top down. Callero wanted to demonstrate that the division was focused on reaching out and listening to employees, to communicate the corporate objective of ensuring the highest levels of customer satisfaction, and more importantly, to convey how much the company needed employee participation in order to be successful.

A Phased Approach

As a strong advocate of surveys, and with a keen understanding of the value they bring to organizational change, Callero had realistic expectations about the scope of the initiative. Consequently, he began the educational process with divisional managers first. Callero knew that once they were comfortable with the survey process and had bought into the overall value, they could then help drive employee participation and action.

Beginning with business and functional units, such as sales, finance and IT, the survey team began to train managers to learn how to interpret survey data, how to identify actionable results, how to communicate and encourage employees to participate in surveys, and how to implement actionable change as a result of survey findings. The training specifically underscored the importance management played in promoting and embracing the survey process and encouraging direct reports to participate.

Where previously the company had limited or marginal success with outside vendors using paper-based surveys, Callero knew that he had to implement an electronic survey technology that would enable the survey team to quickly design and field surveys and analyze valuable survey feedback. It was then that the team adopted an online survey application from Inquisite, a leading provider of Web survey technology and services.

They chose Inquisite over other online survey vendors, because the application provides the best combination of enterprise power, operational simplicity and measurable value. Inquisite, an online data collection and survey technology provider, also embedded several analytical options within the application, including the ability to download the data in to SPSS. Because the survey technology was easily accessible online, the survey team was able to disseminate daily e-mails that reported survey participation rates to management. This spawned competition among managers who then solicited employees to participate if they had not already done so.

Impressive Results

As a result of educational initiatives and the company’s move from paper surveys to electronic versions, Callero’s divisional survey achieved a remarkable 92 percent response rate among participating employees. In fact, armed with this valuable intelligence, Callero instituted quarterly face-to-face meetings designed to communicate to employees exactly what issues were at hand and what specific actions would be implemented.

For example, human resource and organizational development personnel began to issue their own internal, independent “pulse” surveys (i.e. surveys which consisted of a few targeted questions fielded to a small, select audience), to determine specific challenges facing their respective business units.

Because pulse surveys are designed to solicit immediate feedback, they could be developed within a few days and fielded within a couple of weeks, enabling Experian executives to institute change faster than traditional methods. Because the feedback learned internally at Experian was so valuable, other groups such as marketing services and credit services began applying the same practices outside of Experian and surveyed customers in order to examine and improve customer satisfaction.

Becoming a Fixture

It was at this point that the company-wide survey initiative became an ongoing, year-round process rather than a sporadic standalone event without follow through. As the entire division became immersed in the survey process and success, the Experian North America CEO decided to emulate the credit services division and develop a company-wide survey initiative that would involve employees at all levels within their North America offices.

With the expectation that this phase would be as effective as the first, this larger survey actually produced a slightly lower response rate than the original, which only further demonstrated the importance of achieving managerial support and participation within each stage of the survey process. In fact, Callero’s efforts to educate his managers on the strategic value of survey data paid off, as his direct reports had the highest survey completion rate of any other division throughout the company.

With the organization’s long-term interest in mind, Callero had moved beyond lessons learned and took surveys to the next level by applying the analysis known as “trending,” which looks at how data has changed one year from the next, often because of survey related efforts. As such, Callero plans to identify how customer loyalty has improved as a result of survey feedback related efforts. By performing trending analysis, the organization will be able to effectively measure both employee and customer satisfaction year over year to realize the impact of survey related actions and to identify areas that need improvement.

Despite the lower response rates (78 percent which is still high as the normal is in the 60 percent range), this survey supplied management with valuable feedback that would be used to demonstrate to employees that management was listening to their issues and was committed to making the appropriate changes based on their responses.

Making Survey Data Actionable

Overall, the company-wide survey was successful in that it instituted change across all of Experian’s North American divisions. In fact, during the executive post survey meeting, and to ensure corporate-wide change, business executives were required to present three changes in their business or functional unit they felt would most improve overall employee performance and ultimately customer satisfaction based on survey results. As other business units became aware of the benefits of online surveys, they quickly began to apply the same survey technology and methodology within their respective areas of responsibility.

Experian knew that a successful business is built on successful relationships. As demonstrated by Callero and Experian, surveys can be a powerful management method for engaging employees in organizational change.

Using the survey process as a way to engage in an ongoing dialogue with employees proved successful for the company as it enabled them to leverage accurate and ongoing feedback to implement change — regardless of whether those changes involved customer satisfaction or employee performance. However, before embarking on your own survey initiative, be sure to engage managerial buy-in to understand and act upon this feedback and then to consistently communicate changes to your audiences. In doing so you too may realize a significant increase in both employee and customer satisfaction.

Tracey Carsten Roll, Ph.D., is an Inquisite customer, an industrial and organizational psychologist and is currently an independent organizational development consultant. She is a former employee of Experian, where she was an internal organizational effectiveness manager.

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