3 Reasons Why Taking Action on Survey Feedback Is so Hard (and What to Do about It)
It’s now a common best practice to regularly gather feedback on work, culture, and leadership through employee surveys. This practice matters because feedback is at the heart of learning and growth within an organization. It’s essential to know about the health and happiness of your employees—and have better insight into their engagement. But capturing feedback is about more than listening. The real value comes when your organization improves as a result of those insights. At a basic level, that means finding a sustainable and scalable path to taking action in your organization and across your teams.
3 Reasons We Don’t Take Action
Many organizations struggle to move from feedback to action for three main reasons.
1. Ownership of action is unclear
Everyone agrees that acting on feedback is important. But it’s often unclear who is responsible for action taking—or the necessary actions are unequally distributed.
In some organizations, taking action on engagement results is seen as HR’s responsibility. Glint data shows that employees typically expect HR and leadership to own action-taking on survey results, and that’s because in most organizations front-line managers don’t receive results for their teams, let alone, have the training to take action. As a result, HR teams feel responsible for addressing all the feedback that has surfaced during an engagement survey, which can be overwhelming. Additionally, HR is often not in the best position to meaningfully change the employee experience in ways that will impact engagement survey results. Finally, the limited interaction between senior leadership and employees means that employees have less visibility into actions being taken at that level, and the impact of that action on their day-to-day experience.
When taking action is primarily an HR and senior leadership responsibility, employees may not see the connection between their feedback and the changes enacted to improve their experience. It’s not uncommon for organizations to wait weeks after a survey closes to communicate results to give HR and each level of leadership sufficient time to synthesize results and prepare their response. This practice alone signals that it’s someone else’s data to own and act on. As a result, managers often abdicate the responsibility of following up to leadership and HR. All in all, managers don’t recognize that engaging their people is foundational to achieving business goals.
Even in organizations that have successfully shifted some of the responsibility of taking action to front-line managers, there are challenges. When managers are involved in the action-taking process, they often bear the entire responsibility. Instead of feeling empowered, they may feel overwhelmed by the expectation of fixing everything.
2. Lack of training
Managers play a critical role in fostering engagement and learning within an organization, but many lack the tools and support they need to contribute effectively to team performance and development. First-time managers on the front-line manage nearly as much as two-thirds of the workforce, and over half of these managers don’t get adequate training to prepare them for these roles.
As we mentioned earlier, some survey processes create a big gap between when employees give feedback and when results are released to managers and action can be taken. The result is a disconnect between the feedback and the impact it is actually having.
Additionally, a majority of action-taking processes over-index on planning. If 80% of action-taking effort goes to developing action plans, the process can feel cumbersome, which makes it easier to de-prioritize. Unless people are enabled to build good and simple habits around responding to survey feedback, and those habits integrate into other business priorities the action-taking process is likely to run out of steam.
3. Feedback can feel hard to act on
Whether giving or receiving feedback, people shy away from a being direct because it feels hard and uncomfortable, especially on teams that might lack psychological safety. Research shows that feedback that is perceived as negative often falls flat because most people want to avoid it. Receiving feedback feels personal for managers who may see it as a reflection on them and get defensive. Some will assume it’s their responsibility to fix all the issues while others may feel like the issues are not under their control and defer the responsibility. Rather than feeling empowered to make change happen with their teams, they may end up feeling deflated or helpless.
Change the Game on Taking Action
So how can you change your organization’s approach to acting on feedback to make it more agile, sustainable, and meaningful? Here are three ways to support your organization’s ability to take action:
Empower teams to own results and actions
It starts with awareness and education, about the role everyone plays in making your organization a great place to work. Show that everyone can participate in productive conversations about survey results and feel ownership over action. At a practical level, start by releasing results to managers as quickly as possible. Then, outline clear expectations for everyone, define prescriptive yet straightforward steps, and equip your HR teams to coach and guide managers and leaders to embody the right behaviors. No one person should be solely responsible for creating an engaged and high-performing workplace.
Supplement with great technology
Unfortunately, much of the advancement in analytic technology has focused on insights at the expense of impact. It’s common to assess technology based on what it can do for a small group of highly-invested stakeholders—talent analysts, executives with specific needs. Instead, evaluate a solution based on how it can enable managers of small teams to understand data and move quickly—at scale. An intuitive solution removes the friction of moving from insights to action. A great solution takes the guesswork out of the action-taking process and empowers managers to fulfill their potential as engagement leaders through frequent conversations.
Outline a simple process aligned to strategy
You need a sustainable, and simple process to move from one-way listening to effective action in an organization. Start by rethinking how you invest your time. Instead of improving your listening strategy, shift your focus and develop a conversation strategy. Fostering conversations between managers and teams provides an opportunity to use data to fuel action and change behaviors. Here are some key elements of a simple, agile process for taking action:
- Share feedback more frequently; timely, relevant data informs important business decisions and priorities.
- Reduce the time between feedback and action; get the data out as soon as possible in the hands of teams so they can get started working on it.
- Have a laser focus on one impactful shift at a time; don’t focus your team’s energy on creating long action plans.
- Make adjustments and learn together; evaluate what’s working and what’s not. Course correct along the way.
- Create a simple check-in process; help teams to collaborate and hold each other accountable—this can be a 30-minute check-in when the results first come out and 10 minutes on your monthly weekly team meeting agenda.
Get on the Sustainable, Scalable Path
In this post, you’ve learned how to improve how your organization takes action on survey feedback: adopt a more agile strategy and process, empower your team to engage with survey data and have ongoing action-oriented conversations, and implement technology that acts as a partner to your whole organization. In upcoming posts, we will explore the core elements of an effective engagement program further— people, strategy, and technology. Once you address each of these elements, you can fundamentally shift how you use people data and feedback to fuel business decisions and organizational success.
Learn more about how Glint’s People Success Platform supports and empowers managers by reading our Action Taking datasheet.