Recognize Personal Biases When Interpreting Employee Engagement Survey Results

How to Interpret the Employee Survey and Prepare to Be Objective

And the survey says!

No. That can’t be right. That’s not me. They just don’t understand. It must’ve been a confusing question. Phyllis in accounting, she’s always had it out for me.

Interpreting the results of an employee engagement survey can be a tricky, and uncomfortable thing, especially when the organization or management is in the hot seat.

A critical part of understanding the results of an employee survey is looking into causes, but that isn’t easy. When leaders react, assign meaning to results, it’s not surprising they’re prone to biases and, in turn, vulnerable to making the wrong action plan based on results.

So, instead of finger-pointing at Phyllis, we have some recommendations to set bias aside and really get at what’s causing employee disengagement, motivating your employees, and driving your organization.

1. This isn’t the DaVinci Code. We live in a world of intrigue and hidden meanings – great stories and mysteries abound. It’s too easy to slip into The Knights Templar mode when scanning through survey information. Before looking into the why just take the information as is. Look at the results. Write down emerging themes (personal expression, autonomy, communication, vision and mission).

2. Observable behavior is the key. A legitimate survey is always asking about observable behavior instead of thoughts or motives. Themes emerge and this minimizes potential for distortion. This goes back to issue one. What behavior have your collaborators observed about you as a leader, about the organization as a whole?

3. Compare information with objective measures. This is a great way to dig in. Look at, for instance, employee retention. Is it high, medium, or low? Now, compare that verifiable information with responses to issues like loyalty and enduring relationships. One informs the other.

4. Beware of Cognitive Dissonance (CD). Cognitive dissonance happens when the story you tell yourself, as a leader, doesn’t match survey results. The external and internal don’t align. This is when you hear yourself saying things like: the results aren’t accurate; the question was confusing; collaborators don’t understand my methodology.

5. The Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE) also causes bias. FAE is when a leader accepts the scores about another area but excuses those of her own. For instance, another director’s explosive behavior is because he’s bad tempered, yours is because you were defending yourself.

6. Perception versus intention. This is key to bridging the gap. Understand results of an employee survey are employee perceptions and can be totally different than your intentions.

7. Negative scores serve as a guide. There’s something fantastic about continued growth, perpetual development. These scores that are lower are a guide to what you, or your organization, need to develop and improve upon. Take the mystery out of the negative. Model receptivity and reasonable responses.

8. Celebrate the positive! We’re naturally drawn to bad news, negative information. This is human. Focus, first, on the positive. Celebrate what you and the organization are doing well. Recognize your personal improvements in key leadership skills. Then, get to work!

Getting to the truth in surveys, as Harvard Business Review recommends, means setting bias aside when you interpret the employee survey results. (At least be aware of your personal biases). These tips will help you get to the bottom of the results and create action plans that address what motivates your collaborators. Poor survey results are something to learn from, not defend against.

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