- Leandro Herrero - https://leandroherrero.com -

The curious (anthropology) case of once a year Employee Satisfaction Survey Tsunamis. (Don’t be put off, I could not find a better title)

The cult of Employee Satisfaction surveys is fading.  Companies are doing less or less frequent. Perhaps there is some tiredness.

Their use can only be understood as a ritual. Rituals, anthropology would teach us, are very inefficient but extremely effective. Both things are very different. Dancing around a fire is not a very efficient way to obtain rain. Of course, eventually  rain comes  and you can always link it to a good shamanic rumba. If dancing around the fire does no create rain, it does create a sense of belonging, collective hope, good use of hierarchy and power and a fabulous reason to get everybody out of the tent. It’s like an Ancestral Gym.

The ritual is not efficient, but is very effective. Even more, unless you have an alternative to the rain making ceremony, it’s going to be there to stay. Rituals are sticky. Try to suppress them at your peril.

The annual employee survey is effective. It draws people’s  attention. The HR tribe has something to do  (they possess the keys to the questions and the benchmark data). Once it is done, the second part of the ritual kicks off with numerous (cascade down) workshops to understand the scores and figure out ‘corrections’  and ‘initiatives’ in order to convert a 4.7 score into a 6.3 score. At least. Because the Congregation of All Tribes has universal data that says that below 6.3 it is bad.

Effective as it is to provoke conversations and divert significant airtime for a while, it is generally agreed that it is not efficient. The response rate is usually low ( a fact taken for granted and that never seems to shock anybody), the outcomes are subject to hundred interpretations (that managers are eager to use in their benefit) and everybody is unenthusiastically resigned to the annual cycle which extended merit is to the remind everybody that it’s that time of the year for the flu vaccine as well. On top of that, the organization is semi-paralised for days or weeks in a tripadvisorization exercise that satisfies nobody.

But as ritual, it’s  verysticky.  And it will be until we come up with a better way to sample everybody in a large corporation.

There is one sensible alternative to the Employee Engagement rain dancing. And it has not been invented in the traditional management thinking. The answer lays in Political science and political campaigning and it’s called Continuous Sampling. You would not survive 5 minutes in the socio-political arena with once-a-year-tsunami-surveys. If you want data and surveys (and why not) you have to constantly do it and progressively form a picture. Never a one -off top down all things ‘this-time-of-the-year’ Survey. You would do a sample here, a sample there, all spread in time and geographies, all providing partial data, and all discussed locally at small scale and on a person-to-person  dialogue. If you want serious Employee Surveys, be prepared for a 24/7 affair.

One of the (surely) unintended consequences of Annual Employee Surveys is that they have given permission to managers to avoid one on one conversations. The human to human, manager to employee interactions, annoying, stressful and difficult, have been devolved to The Questionnaire.

Employee Engagement Surveys  are corporate rituals. They don’t produce any rain but they are a seasonal glue for several tribes to legitimize their existence.

My sincere apologies to my friends being  annoyed. I did not mean to.

(Draft bits and pieces ffrom my new 2019 book:  ‘Exotics in the Payroll- A-Z  Anthropology Drive Through in the organization to navigate corporate  life’ – Working title)