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Seven Steps Toward Conducting Actionable
Employee Research

by Bob Beaulaurier, Research 13


Savvy CEOs think of employees like customers, because they are, and they can leave just like customers. Many companies estimate that it costs 7 times an employee’s annual salary to replace a skilled worker. Most organizations have had a lot of cost cutting measures as of late because of recession pressures and budget constraints.  This has meant that employees have lost budgets, and perhaps wages as a result. Managers are worried because some of the best talent may be about to leave because they have to do more work to take up the slack for budget cuts and trimming staffs.

Add it up and that’s why we recommend that CEOs conduct ongoing employee research. Over the past 20 years, I have conducted numerous employee surveys for hospitals, utility companies, software companies and high tech firms both locally and internationally and I firmly believe that the critical thing to keep communications going with employees is to listen and take action. In many cases, identifying who feels under-appreciated and “appreciating them” can keep them happy and in place.  

Surveys can help to identify when and where this might happen so that we reach out to employees before they leave. 

In a customer service environment, if the employee is blaming “corporate” in front of customers and feels over-worked, less than appreciated and poorly trained, this may mean that your customers will go to your competitors where they find happy, well appreciated and trained employees.  Or, in this day and age, they will go online instead.

Think of it this way. You may be paying them, but they’ve already left in spirit because they don’t think you care about them. So ask them what they care about? Why are they working for you? Would they recommend working for your organization? Why? 

If you know why they would work for you, you have part of the recipe to communicate with them because you can reinforce things that the employee values. This may vary considerably by employee group.

The challenge? Employees may fear repercussions for sharing honest answers.  

A nurse may not want to say that Dr. so and so in Cardiology is a jerk -- even though all of the other nurses would agree and find dealing with this Doc is stressful. Some training and intervention with this Doc might help many others. 

So, step by step, I’d like to suggest the following 7 steps toward conducting actionable employee research:

7 Steps

1) Make sure surveys are conducted anonymously.  Even though we favor electronic web surveys in most cases -- to save paper -- sometimes a good old fashioned paper survey will generate more candid responses than a web survey because people don’t think “big brother is watching” and that they may be free from consequences.  

2) Hire a third party moderator to conduct one-on-one interviews. He or she can also help shield the employee from the Cardiologist or whomever they feel will make their life miserable because of an honest answer.

3) Often the best and most actionable surveys are very simple with ten or fewer questions.  This allows you to make actionable comparisons by type of employee (union vs. non, or by geographies or managers).

4) Employee research can be conducted on site, off site and electronically. The best, and most expensive approach, is often in-person and off-site research.  This is because the employee will be the most comfortable knowing that there will be no consequences to what they say if they arrive at a neutral site. It’s far easier speaking to someone who does not work for their organization who could “rat them out” for something they might say.

5) Focus groups are often a really great way to get information about how employees might talk about certain issues. Unfortunately, the results are often terribly misguided because employees fear consequences and are afraid to say how they really feel in front of other employees to another employee. Also, conducting focus groups yourself can often have a negative. Instead of making employees feel their opinions are valued, they are often left with the feeling they are being “sold the company line.” This is partly because corporate communications are often mixed in with the collecting of research information. This can come off as “they are not listening, they are telling.”

One solution? Again, consider a 3rd party moderator.

6) Show and demonstrate you are listening to employees by teaching managers and supervisors to understand the importance of the research. I recommend a special session where managers and supervisors review the research openly and candidly -- no finger pointing and no “blamestorming.” There should be a collective responsibility about how and why employees feel the way they do.  All can make changes. Their troops will be more happy and well adjusted if managers communicate with them after they learn where employees are.  Make sure managers understand that you, the CEO, expect some negative feedback. Consider it a gift. As my grandfather used to say: “We can deal with anything if we know what it is.”

7) Once you have determined what employees want, then managers and supervisors need to understand specifically what the direction is for each  employee personally. Many employees are stressed out because they do not know what their focus should be. Reduce stress and reduce turnover.

Bottom line?  Strive for aligning employees with the corporate mission and show them how they add value and quality.  Quality is the number one way to increase an organization’s market cap and deliver value to clients and customers.


The Author

Bob Beaulaurier

Bob Beaulaurier has been designing mail and phone surveys, moderating focus groups and conducting in-depth interviews (IDIs) for nearly two decades.  Bob’s focus group moderating experience includes work for city and state governments, the world's biggest retailers, Fortune 5 sporting goods and apparel manufacturers, the world's top high tech and software companies and leading designers.  Bob is comfortable with and has moderated focus groups with a wide variety of audiences including Physicians, Dentists, Pilots, Building Owners, Commercial Realtors, Custodians and leading conservation groups.

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Many more articles in Motivation & Retention in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2010 by Bob Beaulaurier. All rights reserved.

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