Are shorter employee surveys really better?

The super-sized annual survey is dying out; long live the pulse survey! Or so the some in the HR industry seems to have declared. Many complain that that annual surveys take too long, respondents drop off or just click through without thought, and by the time results are sliced and diced, the insights fall behind today’s fast-paced businesses, critics say.

Are Shorter Surveys BetterBut before we bury the annual survey, let’s talk about a few reasons why it should actually live in harmony alongside shorter pulse surveys:

  • A holistic view: An annual census is a chance to find out what everyone in your company thinks about a wide range of issues. If you want your whole company culture is working together to carry out your business goals, you need to know if the whole company understands, accepts and is motivated by those goals. A broad survey allows you to avoid blind spots in this knowledge.
  • Streamlining is possible: Annual surveys don’t have to be cumbersome if you use the right questions and the right platform. At CultureIQ, our typical annual surveys are  40-50 questions, and take employees around 10 minutes to complete.
  • Transparent results: In an annual enterprise survey, managers at all levels can see results, identify challenges, and take meaningful action. Because pulse surveys typically are administered only to a sample of employees, only leaders at higher levels in the organization generally are able to receive reports. This strategy doesn’t allow for reporting and tailored action plans at the local level.
  • Matching the business pace: Annual surveys align with other annual procedures like business planning, goal setting and budgeting. Tracking survey results annually like other key business metrics puts them on the same level as other key metrics.

These benefits don’t mean you should skip pulse surveys; in fact, your annual survey can inform which groups you should pulse and how often. If, for instance, your survey showed that your sales team’s knowledge of your mission had some gaps, you might create an action plan to communicate your mission more thoroughly, then pulse your sales team at a later point to determine whether their understanding increased.

Annual and pulse belong together

Pulse surveys also are essential in a changing business environment, where you need to quickly understand and respond to what’s happening in your workforce—as quickly as real time.

There is no limit to what can be asked in a pulse survey. You may use a pulse survey to get input on an emerging issue, get employee sentiment on new programs or changes to existing programs, explore a topic that didn’t “make the cut” for inclusion in the company-wide survey

And with pulses, your organization doesn’t have to wait a full year (or longer) to see if improvement efforts are having an impact. Pulse surveys help you to know when you need to tweak and pivot.

The two types of surveys are complementary to each other; and if you eliminate one or the other, you will lose your chance for better, deeper insights into the culture and operation of your organization.