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Engagement surveys: A definitive guide for buyers and beginners

It’s the time of year that many organisations start considering ways for measuring employee engagement. For the uninitiated, and even for the more experienced, this can be an arduous and daunting process.

It needn’t be though, and this guide should make it easier for you by prompting you to think about a number of key questions and considerations before you do anything else.

What should you look for in an employee engagement survey provider?

Naturally, what you look for in an employee survey provider will depend on the experience and expertise you have in this area, and the complexity of the project you’re looking to undertake.

Typical considerations might include:

  • Does the provider have a reputable client list – ideally with experience with other companies of a similar size and/or in the same industry?
  • Is the provider a survey or employee engagement specialist?
  • Are you looking for the technology to run an employee survey yourselves, or a partner to help you run it?
  • Can they support you post-survey with analysing results and helping managers to identify actions?

How much time should you allow to find an employee survey provider?

The timescale needed will differ depending on whether you’ll go through a rigorous request for proposal (RFP) process with multiple stages or a less formal approach.

As a rule of thumb, 10-12 weeks is a good timescale to allow from the initial search for a provider through to getting your employee survey live. The caveat to this is if your organisation has a more complex chain of command and decision-making process. If this is the case, it’s prudent to allow a little more time – at least an extra month.

What do we – the employee survey supplier – need from you?

The short answer is as much information as possible. It’s really beneficial for you to have consulted with your internal stakeholders before speaking with suppliers to ensure you have a complete list of requirements and are clear on what you need.

Here are just a few things to work out before you go out to market:

  • Do you know the timescales you’re working to – when you need a survey to be live?
  • Do you already have an agreed budget for the project?
  • How many employees will take part and where they’re based – on one site, in multiple offices across the world etc?
  • Will the survey need to be translated into different languages?
  • What survey methodology will you need – online only, mixed media etc?
  • Who will be managing the survey project within your organisation?
  • Who is the project sponsor and who’ll be signing off any materials and budgets?
  • What type of reporting do you want at the end and for whom in your organisation?
  • How do you plan on communicating the survey and then its results and your actions?

How can you secure the necessary buy-in?

Running an employee survey is a large-scale project to undertake. You’ll need to secure both the budget for the survey technology and any additional support you anticipate needing.

Your firm’s MD, CEO or whoever is ultimately signing the cheques may want a business case for running an employee survey. They’ll likely want to know the expected business impact or return on investment of a survey though so you should be prepped to field such questions.

Fortunately, there’s plenty of evidence on this – the business impact of increased engagement something we’ve summarised in an infographic using case study examples from our clients M&S, ITV and EE. You should also refer to the Engage for Success website where there’s lots of supporting resources.

What’s a good budget for an employee survey?

In terms of how much an employee survey should cost, this is not a straightforward question to answer. The scope within surveys is enormous and this means they can cost as little as several thousand pounds through to well over £100,000, depending on the complexity involved.

For more details on how far you should expect your budget to go, read our blog on how much an employee surveys costs – a buyer’s guide to pricing.

What does ‘free demo’ actually mean and should you try before you buy?

The sophistication and value of free demos tend to vary wildly. Most commonly, free demos will take the form of watching someone else click around in the survey platform, enabling you to see key functions and tools.

While it can be useful to get this insight, be wary of drawing too many conclusions or making decisions based solely on such a trial, particularly if you’re trying to compare two or more different providers.

How much do you know about measuring employee engagement?

If you don’t have knowledge or prior experience of measuring engagement, you’ll probably be best-served looking for a provider that does. They’ll be able to guide you on best practice when it comes to the wording of questions, which rating scale to use, creation of an engagement index (EI) and how to ensure the survey is aligned with business priorities.

Will you develop survey materials in-house or do you need the provider to do this?

An employee survey doesn’t just consist of a survey. There’s usually lots of other supporting materials to put together, in addition to the questionnaire itself. So, who’ll be doing this?

To get you thinking about it, here’s a list of some of the materials you’ll likely need to create yourselves or ask your employee survey provider to assist with:

  • Questionnaire design – deciding on what questions, rating scale etc to use and getting the right wording
  • Branding for the survey, including coming up with a suitable name and identity
  • Stakeholder communications such as emails, newsletters and intranet pages for pre, during and post-survey
  • Survey reporting documents including guidance for managers or others who need to interpret these
  • Action plan templates and guidance.

Do you know about your technical requirements for a survey?

Of course, you needn’t be a technical whizz yourself but it really helps to know the basics of what you’ll need in terms of the survey platform. Consider speaking with your IT team or advisor early on to get their help with listing any technical or security-related restrictions or preferences. Technical considerations might include:

  • Where the survey data will be stored and in what format it is provided to you
  • Whether the survey will be hosted by you in-house or externally
  • How the survey platform will be accessed – via a unique or open link or password-protected
  • Whether the survey needs to be integrated in any way with other HR systems or a company intranet.

What time of year is best to run an employee survey?

There’s no best time, only the right time for your organisation. You should consider how and where the survey results will be used. For example, if you set new budgets and strategies in January, ensure you have the survey results ready beforehand. This would mean running the survey no later than September or October. The first and fourth quarters of the year are when most companies tend to survey, but the most important thing is to run it at the same time each year.

How do you decide on the questions to include in your survey?

You’ll probably want to include a mixture of benchmark and organisation-specific questions.

The former those questions that most organisations will use a variation of. These are rightly a fixture within an employee survey as they enable you to get an external comparison of your results with other organisations. They’ll also form the basis of an engagement index allowing you to understand what factors have the greatest influence on employee engagement for your people.

Organisation-specific questions, meanwhile, will help you identify and act on strategic issues and really drive business improvement.

In terms of the topics to cover, companies usually choose to split these by areas like: the company, my role, my manager, career and reward and communication.

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