Is The Employee Survey Dead? Nope. It’s Becoming Smarter By The Minute.

I recently read an article in the WSJ (a magazine I am trusting less every day) that claims employee surveys are dead. Well, I really have to disagree, so let me explain what’s going on.

First, in today’s Pandemic and wildly changing work environment, it is essential to understand what employees think.

Employees today are suffering the stress of the Pandemic, work from home, family worries, and economic uncertainty. If a company doesn’t listen to what employees are worried about, it’s impossible to run a company well. In our Big Reset Research we found that more than 80% of companies are now having open town-halls, regular surveys, focus groups, and other methods of eliciting employee input. Willis Towers Watson’s recent survey found that employee feedback and communications are the #1 area of response to the Pandemic.

Second, the survey industry is on fire.

While the original idea of an annual employee survey has become less popular (40% of companies still do this, by the way), a whole new industry of listening tools have evolved. As I describe in the chart below, we’ve gone from annual surveys to pulse surveys to intelligent action plans (real-time survey feedback) to real “action platforms.”

Products like Medallia, Glint, and Qualtrics can elicit feedback from employees in many forms (Medallia can capture video sentiment, for example), immediately analyze the data for managers, and provide action plans or even triggered alerts if something bad occurs. And this market is so hot that these companies all $billion or more valuations.

employee survey market ex

Third, a new era of intelligent survey tools have arrived.

And these tools are getting smarter by the minute. We can get feedback information from the performance management tools (check-ins), goal management tools, engagement tools, and recognition systems. Every time you say “thank you” to someone and give them a kudo or thumbs up, you’re essentially providing a form of feedback. 

And the vendors are getting shrewder by the minute. For example, Waggl has an algorithm to measure “voting reliability” so you can crowdsource ideas in minutes. PepsiCo crowdsourced ideas for their “Process Shredder” and got over a million comments and ideas for new business processes in the company in days, which then led the company to radically simplify the performance process and also start a crowdsourced new beverage product!

Medallia can infer feedback from cases in a case management system, popup surveys at the end of a transaction, or even where you click on a website. And tools like Cultivate, Glint, and many others can read mood and cultural topics in an open feedback form, making it even more actionable to “write what you think” online. And Vault, the leader in a new category I’d call “misconduct reporting tools,” can capture harassment, ethics, or compliance problems and immediately locate them and create confidential cases for resolution.

Fourth, a new breed of integrated systems is coming.

As I like to think of it, everywhere you go at work there’s an opportunity to give feedback. Imagine if you’re in Microsoft Teams or Slack and you say to someone “don’t you hate our vacation policy?” Well, the system will likely recognize that comment and the HR department (or an automated system) might give you a call and ask you for more suggestions to make it better.

I was talking with Farmers Insurance a few weeks ago and when they rolled out Workplace by Facebook they immediately found people commenting on leave policy, benefits, and other pay-related issues that didn’t seem to come up on traditional surveys. The HR team could immediately respond to these issues and then tell the company what they planned to do. That’s the best kind of “feedback to action” I could imagine, and it wasn’t done with AI.

Another new product (Eskalera) has built a set of diagnostics and listening tools to identify bias and diversity issues at work. I won’t give you the details here but this is a new form of employee assessment and feedback system, one that I know will be popular with many big companies. Workday is introducing some standard metrics in this area as well, and SuccessFactors has had such technology for a few years.

The way I think about it, surveys are just one of many forms of feedback. In any organization, there are many places to see what employees are thinking, their issues, and their complaints. What we can now do in HR is develop a whole strategy for listening, very similar to what we do with customers. This is the essence of where Employee Experience programs are going: a continuous listening approach.

enterprise feedback architecture

And in today’s environment, this is a business-critical issue. If an employee has a grievance or workplace safety issue, you want to hear about it immediately. I remember an electric utility that suffered an enormous explosion told me they later found employees complaining of poor maintenance on pipes for years. Nobody wants to suffer that type of issue in today’s high-risk environment.

And whatever HR software you buy (performance management, recognition, HRMS, employee communications) I can guarantee there’s employee feedback involved. Performance management systems like Glint, BetterWorks, Lattice, and 15Five now all include employee survey and sentiment analysis in their platforms. Recognition platforms like Workhuman, OC Tanner, Achievers, and Fond all give you feedback information. And if you need enterprise-wide feedback, products like Perceptyx, Gallup, Willis Towers Watson, Peakon, Humu, and CultureAmp all provide amazing enterprise-level analysis. 

Yes, someday we’ll have enough AI to tell you what people think at work. But right now I suggest it’s time to just open up our ears and listen. Employees are the most valuable source of information about what’s working (and what’s not) in a business. If you create a wide variety of channels for feedback, you’ll get an enormous wealth of help making the company perform better.

Surveys are still one of the hottest parts of business – they’re just getting smarter and more intelligent by the minute.