Get the pulse racing

“It’s the Little Things in Life…” – The Value of a Pulse Survey

As the pace of business accelerates and the focus intensifies on making HR tools, systems and processes more real-time, responsive and relevant, pronouncements of the death of the annual engagement survey seem to be more and more prevalent. Those who claim the engagement survey is obsolete are countered by those who insist it still has a place in employee engagement; however this place needs to sit within a holistic and multi-faceted approach. Enter the “pulse” survey.

The name itself is a reflection of the idea. Just as many individuals chose to have a yearly check-up with their doctor, in reality they are constantly aware of how they feel and if unwell, go to see their GP before their check-up is due. The pulse survey represents this more continuous monitoring of the health of your organisation. The value of a more regular ‘pulse’ survey is the ability to obtain relevant, real-time feedback on what employees’ views are right now. Pulse surveys provide a snapshot of where engagement levels are at a given point in time. They don’t need to be focused on individual’s work experiences – although it’s always important to make questions relevant to the individual employee – but can be used to gain feedback on specific initiatives taking place in the organisation. For example, companies going through a change programme can use a pulse survey find out how the change is impacting their people’s day-to-day roles (if at all), whether individuals understand the change and the degree to which they buy into it. Organisations with graduate programmes can tailor their pulse surveys to gain feedback on graduate rotations and use that feedback to modify their rotations if needs be.

Just as importantly, regularly requesting feedback from your employees sends the message that you want to know what they think more often than once a year. Limiting feedback requests to the yearly engagement survey could mean that it’s viewed by employees as a tick-box exercise, and if the survey is convoluted and painful to complete the impression will be even more negative.

Like the yearly engagement survey, there are pitfalls to avoid and doing a pulse survey wrong could be more detrimental than not doing one at all. Below are some things to consider before rolling one out:

  1. Purpose: be clear on what the aim of the pulse survey is. Is it to test the water during an organisational change programme? Is it to find out employees’ views on elements of their daily work lives? The aim of the survey should inform the questions. One of our recent clients reflected that being clear on the desired output of their research project was vital in shaping the questions.
  1. Make it relevant: questions on strategy are interesting but when it comes to filling out a survey people want to be asked things that are relevant to their daily working lives. If the pulse survey is focusing on an organisational change, the questions should examine factors such as whether individuals understand the reasons behind the change, whether it is impacting the jobs and how.
  1. Make it measurable: changing all the questions in each pulse survey might provide you with some interesting data however it will mean you cannot measure factors over time. It is a good idea to keep one or two questions the same so that you have a continuous measure of engagement levels.
  1. Develop a strong project plan that is also realistic – and try to stick to it. What’s great about a poll survey is that there is the option to be more responsive to changes in the business as well as feedback from the previous month’s poll. However, as with any internal project if it’s going to be launched smoothly with minimal stress, it’s important to start planning well in advance.
  1. Be clear on what actions you are taking off the back of each pulse survey. Remember, if this is monthly it will be tough to both take action and communicate it in time for the next pulse. It’s very important to do though because otherwise, response rates will drop month on month.

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