Anyone can send out a survey, but how do you ensure you get what you want out of it? Learn how to successfully conduct an employee survey.

How to prepare an employee survey

1. Identify your goals and objectives

Before you try to measure anything with a survey, ensure you understand what you’re hoping to accomplish. Wide-ranging or goal-less surveys will not help you come up with meaningful actions in response to survey feedback. And without an appropriate response to survey feedback, employees will be less likely to share meaningful feedback in the future. Ask yourself what you wish you knew that you don’t currently know about your team, and use the answer(s) to that question to come up with your goals and objectives.

2. Write survey questions aligned with your goals and objectives

As you write each survey question, ask yourself which goals or objectives are served by the question. If the question doesn’t help you attain a goal or objective, you either need to re-evaluate the question or re-evaluate your goals and objectives.

3. Test the survey before sending it to your entire team

Before you send the survey to anyone else, take it yourself to ensure it makes sense and is easy to answer. Also run the survey by a few trusted team members and ask them for feedback on the survey experience. Do the questions make sense? Does the wording sound impartial? Do the questions encourage people to answer truthfully? Ensure someone other than you validates that the survey is reasonable and comprehensible.

How to conduct an employee survey

1. Set a timeline

Your employees need to know what to expect from the survey process. Setting a deadline for completion is one of the most important aspects of the process. Employees need to understand that there is adequate time to respond, but that you can’t wait on them forever. Intentionally close out the survey at a predetermined date and time. This will encourage employees to respond in a timely fashion. Generally, five business days should be sufficient for an employee survey.

2. Tell everyone what to expect

In addition to sharing the deadline for completing the survey, share your timeline for reviewing, sharing, and responding to the survey feedback. No one wants to take a meaningless survey. That’s why we recommend only issuing surveys as frequently as you can respond to them. If you can only meaningfully respond to feedback once a year, you should only issue a survey once a year. However, if you can form a meaningful response within 3 months, you should issue a survey every quarter.

Your plan should also explain to team members what you can’t do. For example, a specific complaint does not guarantee action. There may be things people want that you are either unwilling or unable to provide. However, what you do owe at a minimum is a response to people who voice concerns. If, for example, an employee asks that you raise the minimum salary to $500,000, you can take a moment to explain why that’s not a sustainable business decision.

3. Send the survey to the entire team

Once the expectation for the survey process is clear, it’s time to actually conduct the survey. Send the survey to team members and await their responses. Again, it’s generally sufficient to give employees five business days to complete their survey. This accommodates employees’ work schedules while encouraging them to respond rather quickly.

How to respond to survey feedback

1. Look for trends in survey feedback

Once the survey results are in, review the data to see if any trends stand out. Do several employees share the same concerns? Are there areas of work that are dissatisfying or demotivating to people? What do they enjoy about the company? What aspects of their jobs do they appreciate? What do they wish they’d see more of from company leadership?

2. Share any interesting insights from survey feedback

Team members will want to hear what you’ve found from your survey, and it’s important to share your analysis with them. While you may not feel comfortable—nor feel it is appropriate—sharing all of the raw survey feedback with everyone, you can schedule a brief meeting to cover the highlights. Your honesty and candor about survey feedback will increase the team’s trust and confidence in you as a leader. Additionally, people generally want to know if what they think or feel is shared by their peers. If you share trends that reflect their feedback, they will feel as thought their feelings and perceptions are a valid way to view the world. This fosters a sense of rapport and belonging among team members.

Even if the shared feedback is negative, that’s okay. Your next step is to form a response to improve team perceptions and build a better place to work. Acknowledging that there are shortcomings is a first step in addressing problems and improving your work environment.

3. Prioritize actions in response to the feedback

Determine which actions are most impactful and actionable for your team. Focus on improving high-impact areas and taking care of low-hanging fruit before moving into less impactful or more complex areas of need. You want to demonstrate that you are focused on the things the team cares about. Just as importantly, you want to quickly demonstrate that you can make positive improvements (thus the focus on low-hanging fruit). For example, if someone complains that lights in their area of the building are out, immediately install replacement bulbs. Such simple things may not feel like a big deal, but improving the small stuff demonstrates that you are listening to employee concerns and want to personally focus on giving them a better place to work.

4. Communicate your response plan to the entire team

Once you know what actions you will take, share that information with the team. This is validating for them. You are demonstrating that you heard their concerns, are interested in improving what they care about, and that you have a plan to make things better. Communicate your priorities based on their survey feedback. Also communicate your expected timeline for implementing changes. If it will take weeks or months to accomplish some things, commit to regular checkpoints or smaller milestones so people won’t be left wondering whether you are on track with your plan.

5. Follow through with your plan

Above all else, people will notice what you actually follow through with and what you fail to do. Once you commit to your plan, follow it as best as you can. Set timelines for yourself, and block off time on your calendar to address your response plan. As you accomplish items on your list, communicate the accomplishments to your team. These regular checkpoints will remind people that you have their interests at heart. Also, it gives team members an opportunity to positively reinforce your behaviors. As you make positive changes they care about, they will likely thank you and praise your good efforts. If you have a long-term response plan full of difficult work, this positive feedback will give you the motivation you need to continue working for your people.