A Guide to Help Leaders Act on Employee Survey Insights

A Guide to Help Leaders Act on Employee Survey Insights

Table of Contents




The way we communicate and the expectations of those we communicate with is changing. Think about it. We can order a coffee on an app and pick it up on the way to work. We can order something through Amazon and not only get it next day but with VIP privileges, get it in hours. We can even buy vehicles online and have them delivered “mouse-to-house”.

In the workplace, employee expectations are changing too. They’re way different than they were even a handful of years ago. Call it actualization; the expectation for things to move fast.

  “The age of hyper-connectivity combined with the influx of millennials in the workforce has led to a gradual change in how work is done.”

The shift in how companies understand the sentiment of their people with the goal of creating a better employee experience is only one of the major shifts that business and HR leaders are facing.

But it’s tough to change things we’ve been doing for a long time. A fair number of HR departments came of age in a business world where long-term thinking ruled the thinking of business leaders and employees. Five-year business plans and clear-cut career paths were preordained. But that was then.

Now it’s all about transformative agility. Survival hinges on how to anticipate what people want – whether they’re customers or employees and doing something about it, quickly (oh, and by the way, they’re the same people). 

Over the last decade or so HR has been pushing the fact that employee engagement is important. But it’s only been recently that companies are starting to understand its value. The c-suite has woken up and is saying, “alright, well yeah, this may not be just an HR strategy that sits in isolation of the business, this is a people strategy that influences all of our employees and leaders.”

They’re also starting to realize that a better job needs to be done ENABLING action from others because HR can’t possibly do it all. That’s where people analytics, a data-driven approach to managing people, comes into the fray.

In many businesses, CIOs and CFOs and their teams are the ones tracking and trending data to find out how to reduce costs and increase productivity… And let’s not forget marketing. Think how much data is used to define a business sales funnel: leads coming in and the actual distribution of where they come from, ties to consumers, and their feedback. Marketing is looking at that data. Each. And. Every. Day. Piles of it. HR has that data on employees, but we’ve not been looking at it as frequently as we do customer or finance or operations data.

Would you literally look at your customer data once a year? Their feedback? Nope.

Would you look at your financial statements once a year? Not a chance.

Yet many HR departments initiate and look at employee feedback once a year.

“People analytics need to be as real-time as other important metrics like revenues and margins.”



You Really Need to have a Better Approach


Annual engagement surveys on their own aren’t working. The reality is that it’s not the actual survey itself, it’s the inability to get continuous insight into the sentiment of employees to spark the right actions.

Think of the annual or biennial process.

Data is collected – now it’s time to act, right? Nope. Not usually the case.

Here’s the experience that many of us have experienced:  

  1. HR gets the data from a third party.
  1. Organizes it in a way that will speak to each department.
  1. Addresses leaders and managers about what the issues are specific to their teams.
  1. Then mandates programs to ensure the organization reacts to the engagement drivers that really need attention

 HR, leaders and employees aren’t tolerating getting insights from employee surveys in three months, only to wait another few months to get it into the hands of leaders that can make an impact.

 In the time it takes to do all this, the insights become less-applicable and employees justifiably feel like they’re not being heard.

And what’s the purpose of this information going directly to HR to filter the data and messages for each department? The important voice of the employee needs to go directly to the source that has the biggest impact on employee engagement: leaders and managers.

Think about it: when companies conduct an annual engagement survey, if leaders aren’t going to track and trend their scores or see the sentiments of their employees until some 364 days later, they’re not likely to do anything. The level of accountability goes down because no one’s accountable for their actions.

The infrequency and time to get results leads to inaction and a lack of accountability.

 Let’s say you set a goal for the year. Weeks turn into months. You don’t talk about that goal or even check in to see if you have the course correct. And then *wham* you realize it’s not even the right goal, it isn’t even relevant anymore.

“Companies move way too fast to listen to the sentiment of employees just once a year.”



Experiences are a lot more frequent and agile in the workplace. It’s not a moment-in-time, once-a-year kind of thing. It needs to be a fluid, ongoing conversation. At WorkTango we work with companies that take the pulse of employees quarterly, monthly, even bi-weekly.

The data that comes from these snippets of feedback are more manageable in chunks. It gives leaders something they can focus on. It becomes a shift from measurement to action.

People talk about survey fatigue. But lots of companies are actively listening to their employees every two weeks and there’s no issue at all. In fact, a ‘lack of action’ fatigue is the real problem.





In a 2018 Forbes article, AI Meets HR: Planning Tomorrow’s Workforce, author Mike DiClaudio wrote how the potential of artificial intelligence to transform the workplace is no longer the stuff of science fiction. It’s a today reality that companies—and especially their executive teams and HR leader —are meeting head-on.

Dynamic technology innovations including machine learning and artificial intelligence, he points out, are already changing the way companies operate and redefining the very concept of work in the process. Workforce automation, when thoughtfully designed and intelligently deployed, offers companies and their employees new levels of innovation and growth. AI and intelligent automation feature a wide spectrum of potential business applications to guide executives and HR leaders in their planning for an empowered workforce.

“When you buy technology, you’re buying a popcorn kernel that will pop into greater capabilities and keep popping all over your organization”

Mike DeClaudio 

According to BMO Chief Transformation Officer, Lynn Roger, “Speed is the new business currency.” And a 2017 Deloitte survey backs that up with 79% of global executives surveyed rating agile performance management as a high organizational priority.

It isn’t 1985 anymore – we have the technology to leverage insight in a more real-time way and remove the manual intervention of reporting.

To bolster agility one of the fastest growing HR trends is investing more in employee data. It’s easier, now more than ever, to integrate technologies and data to produce actionable insights for better people decisions. In industry jargon we call it “people analytics”. In other words, companies are asking their people for feedback, tracking, trending, learning and reACTing to data in real-time. Technology is the friend that makes it all happen.

2017 has seen people analytics arrive “with a vengeance”: … 69% of companies studied have been actively taking steps to improve the way they look at people data, compared to only 10-15% before.

Josh Bersin





It’s a fast-moving business world out there. Hurdling distances and time zones, seeing customer expectations and industry trends shift with the wind. Agile action is a must if companies want to remain competitive. Employees have their ear to the ground through their own networks, their own contacts with customers, their own experiences with processes, procedures and management. Give them a voice to share these insights on a regular basis and you’ll find a better ability to ACT with agility. 

“Corporate survival today requires the capacity for rapid change, and forward thinking.”

Adi Ignatius, How Tech is Transforming HR

For many businesses soliciting employee feedback follows a bit of a crawl-walk-run approach. You’ve done an engagement survey or two. You start thinking about the occasional pulse survey, what you might ask and when. WorkTango has seen businesses solicit the voice of employees on myriad issues throughout a given year. The focus can be reflective or as immediate as the morning news:

  • Leadership feedback
  • Performance check-Ins
  • Change management initiatives
  • Project effectiveness feedback
  • Inspiring and nudging leaders
  • Pre and post-acquisition assessments
  • Culture assessments
  • Business transformation feedback
  • Employee feedback / brutal facts
  • Onboarding and exit surveys
  • Predicting the future (using predictive analytics)
  • Recognizing/celebrating employees
  • Testing & gathering feedback on
  • employer brand messaging
  • Identifying employee net promoter scores (eNPS)
  • Collecting ideas for the next social event
  • Collecting feedback/questions from the Town

Hall (or large company meeting)

  • Action planning
  • Diversity and inclusion assessments
  • Generating innovative ideas

and so many more…




STEP 1 | Adopt Active Listening

An active listening approach supplements employee engagement questions by discerning what’s happening in the business in more real-time.

This is where the first signs of action kick in. Where the rubber meets the road.

When you get pulse results, you can (and should) acknowledge feedback. You can say, “hey, we heard you last week. We realize that recognition was low, and we have a couple more questions this month about it. Oh, and by the way, here are a couple of things we did last month…”.

You’re actually committing to and communicating action.

Consider the impact that has on the mind of the employee. It’s not unreasonable to imagine them thinking, “wow! they’re listening to me. I’m going to continue to give my feedback.”

When a company uses active listening, that’s when you see response rates go up.

That’s when more people get involved because they realize, “hey, my voice is actually being heard” which is contrary to “ jeeze, I didn’t get any feedback this year, no one’s talking about results, I won’t likely see them in six months, so I’m not going to participate again.”

Active listening is an agile, action-oriented approach. Dig into issues Another thing to keep in mind is the one-size-fits-all approach is starting to leave the workplace. Companies have different visions, sector-specific language, and objectives that adjust with the shifting needs of the business. More companies are using surveys for what’s happening in their business; to ask about something that’s relevant in that moment in time.


STEP 2 | Customize and Personalize

In our personal lives, we have the same Android or iPhone that everyone else has, but the apps we use and the way we use them is completely our own.

When it comes to listening to employees, companies are moving away from a contrived/structured way of asking survey questions. When companies combine ‘BEST practices’ with the ‘RIGHT practices’ specific to their organization, that’s where you can gather insightful feedback.

WorkTango works with many organizations that start with a baseline of recommended questions to understand sentiment around employee engagement, but then customize their original baseline to add more focus and insight into components of their People Strategy (i.e. upskilling leaders, improving understanding around mission/vision, and recognition). 

Active listening is a diagnostic, a way to dig deeper to find out what employees really mean when they say something. You can identify themes and sentiment, what people are thinking, and then customize your approach. The latest advances in customization mean you can be asking a lot of different things.

There’s also a measurement component to what you do. Rotate your questions from the baseline, digging deeper. Understand changes around what you ask. Many companies will do an engagement survey annually and then in the next month take two or three questions for trends. The month after that, they’ll ask different questions for different real-time trends.

A customized active listening model helps companies understand their people and culture on an ongoing basis to serve leaders with insights in real-time and facilitate a more proactive approach to people and culture practices organization-wide. The model entails frequent follow-ups that not only dig deeper into weak areas, but also ask questions on how major changes in the business are impacting employees.

Below is an example of what the Active Listening Model looks like. The length of a survey is customizable based on the frequency of the active surveys, but offers a consistent measurement, more frequent trends of important engagement questions, and the ability to dig in deeper where sentiment for employees is low to learn more. It also offers HR the ability to leverage the cadence in getting feedback for other important reasons throughout the organization, such as what employees may be feeling about the latest open enrollment rollout.

This approach eliminates the ‘set it and forget it’ approach to general pulse surveys that get fairly redundant. The customized focus on more frequent moments in time translates into employees feeling as if their voices are heard, and questions are relevant to what’s happening in the company at that moment in time so their voices are heard in a more relevant way.



STEP 3 | Give Leaders Direct Access to Real-Time Feedback

 CEOs and other c-suite executives are rarely experts on workplace issues. HR can show leadership what they should care about and why. That means articulating a point of view on every people-related topic relevant to the business. But as William Edwards Deming, American statistician, professor & management consultant asserted “without data you’re just a person with an opinion.”

That said, there’s no real advantage for employee survey data to first go to HR for filtering. The important voice of employees needs to go directly to the source that has the biggest impact on employees: leaders and managers. HR’s job is to enable leaders by making that happen.

Platforms with management access to insights help shift HR from gatekeeper to empowering partner. People leaders get feedback straight up in an easy to understand format, in real-time. And when leaders access insights in real-time, the level of accountability goes up, along with increased, measurable actions NowTHAT’s meaningful kind of data.

Not being a filter offers leaders feedback in real-time. That real-time two-way feedback is critical to improving engagement and relationships 

Align leaders with their team – when done frequently, knowing the pulse of a team is key towards making decisions that help a team be successful. 

Advances in HR technology include self-serve snapshot analytics that can be segmented by management level, manager results, question type, positive/negative/neutral responses. Whatever categories you have or want to create, it all comes full circle back to customization. That customization also means being able to choose different self-serve reporting formats. Whether it’s heat maps, averages, benchmarks or word clouds, with just a few clicks leaders and people managers get the kinds of information that guide next steps and establish outcome accountability.

Make leaders accountable – whether they like it or not, having this feedback delivered to them and knowing that the data is public to the executive team builds accountability for them and how they run their teams. It’s a great constant reminder. And there is more accountability when insight is more frequent. When a leader sees what their scores are, how it’s trending, where it’s moving, their own personal results in real-time, they can do something about it.


STEP 4| Coach With A Gentle Nudge

We all arrive on the business stage bright eyed and bushy tailed with our own set of skills. To advance into positions with more challenge, more responsibility, at one point or another we inevitably need some sort of skills upgrading. Most companies have big databases of content, or Learning Management Systems for their employees, a learning library where people can look for courses. The problem is, people must go there to choose (or are forced for compliance reasons). But learning preferences are changing. In Deloitte research among 700-plus business and HR professionals, corporate learning and development received a net-promoter score of -8. That’s a pretty negative sentiment.

Peter Capelli, Director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources, doesn’t mince words in his exposé Why We Love to Hate HR…and What HR Can Do About It. No other group in the business world, not even finance, he says, bosses us around as systematically as HR does. Trying to get managers to follow procedures and practices without having any direct power over them can feel like nagging to those on the receiving end. Capelli goes on to say how we get defensive when we’re instructed to change how we interact with people, especially those who report to us, because that goes right to the core of who we are.

Step back for a moment and imagine getting a simple, non-threatening nudge. An email *nudge* that recommends actions in your department based on where the sentiment of employees is low. And then, on top of THAT, you start receiving curated content. Let’s say real-time feedback reveals coaching leaves a lot to be desired. You’ll get content about how to improve your coaching, or whatever your training need might be.

Automated self-service tools will be among the top new HR technologies across 2019.

Let’s be honest, natural born leaders are few and far between. With machine learning and AI, it’s now easier to help enable leaders in more powerful ways. Companies are leveraging this technology to help nudge leaders with key content and recommended actions all relative to the feedback from their teams and hierarchies.


STEP 5 | Support Anonymous Conversations 

When employees are asked to fill out open-ended questions in surveys, they usually feel that their feedback is going into a black hole. It’s like no one’s listening. No one’s reading. On the flip side, management’s hands are tied when it comes to acting on feedback they don’t understand; when there’s no opportunity to circle back on important comments sitting in their survey results. You can’t go back to the employee because it’s anonymous. Or can you?

Actually, you can! More and more companies are enabling leaders in their organization to read, acknowledge and respond to comments – while keeping the identity of the employee completely anonymous.

With one click, a leader, let’s call her Andrea, can read and acknowledge a comment. In turn, the employee gets a notification saying something like, “Andrea thinks your idea is great.”

Or let’s say Andrea gets a comment she just can’t decode. Maybe it’s a negative comment, it’s difficult to grasp the sentiment around it. There are options not just to acknowledge but to actually respond. Andrea might send a note saying, “this is a concerning message, I don’t fully understand, and I’d love to dig a little deeper.” In turn, the employee receives a notification saying “Andrea just responded to your anonymous comment. Andrea doesn’t know who you are. If you click this link and enter this code, you can respond.”

This kind of anonymous conversation supports action because the leader can dig deeper, clarify a response, understand it better and do something about it. Or, HR can dig deeper and have conversations with leaders to enable follow-up actions.

Just one click and a simple acknowledgement or response shows employees people are listening and they care. It’s recognition that they’re providing valuable feedback. And the next time they’re asked for feedback the propensity to do so goes through the roof. They believe, no, they KNOW people are reading what they have to say. They’re making a difference.

Show employees they’re making an impact, so they build confidence in offering their feedback.


STEP 6 | Keep Employees In The Real – Time Loop (It Helps Reinforce Leaders Accountability)


Companies that practice active listening, typically generate response rates of 70 to 90 percent for their biweekly or monthly pulse surveys. That’s pretty good.

Participation rates like these come from keeping people in the loop, being transparent and agile.

When an employee finishes a survey, give them the real-time ability to see the averages from everyone that’s responded to the survey already. People are really interested to know what their peers are saying right off the bat rather than waiting six months to finally hear filtered results. And it also promotes leader accountability; the actions of their manager indicate the voice of employees is making a difference.

It’s super easy to get in front of your employee population when you have the right tools.

According to Deloitte’s 2017 Human Capital Trends report: ‘It’s about HR teams taking up the dual challenge of transforming HR operations on the one hand, and transforming the workforce and the way work




It’s amazing how HR departments are told to use data to make better decisions, but their executives don’t allow more frequent active listening of their employees. They don’t get that better data and deeper insights lead to better people decisions and greater accountability. They want agility but don’t understand how active listening and real-time insights lead to action.

A lot of companies also think action is this big major program when oftentimes it’s a conversation. An acknowledgement is as simple as, “hey – I’m concerned about the sentiment of the team right now. Let’s talk about it.”

For many businesses soliciting employee feedback follows a bit of a crawl-walk-run approach. You’ve done an engagement survey or two. You start thinking about the occasional pulse survey, what you might ask and when. WorkTango has seen businesses solicit the voice of employees on myriad issues throughout a given year. The focus can be reflective or as immediate as the morning news:

Three in four surveyed companies (75 percent) believe that using people analytics is important, but just eight percent believe their organization is strong in this area.

The competitive business survivors of tomorrow are the companies that realize when they can instantly see an issue – within a specific department, location, team, type of employee or a specific leader – it allows them to dig deeper, to deal with the smoke before there’s fire. They listen. They never stop asking for feedback, and they ACT.

At WorkTango, we’re revolutionizing how the world’s most forward-thinking companies engage and inspire their people. We offer the only Employee Experience Platform that enables meaningful recognition and rewards, supports alignment through goal setting and feedback, and offers actionable insights through employee surveys

WorkTango is built for the workplace we all want to be a part of–where priorities become clear, achievements are celebrated, and employees have a voice. So if you’re ready to make work lives better, schedule a demo today.