Employee Surveys: Should You or Shouldn’t You?

People who care about their personal health often see their physicians for regular checkups. During these visits, the doctor will take your pulse, listen to your heartbeat, and check your weight. The idea is to catch anything that might be brewing before it becomes a bigger, potentially irreversible, problem.

Leaders who care about the health of their companies would be wise to go through the same process on a regular basis. Take the pulse of your organization, listen to the internal workings of the team, and check to see what things might be weighing them down.

The goal of organizational check-ins is to catch any unhealthy symptoms before they have a chance to spread and get worse. If you uncover some unpleasant things happening in your business, you’ll need to start working on a cure.

Looking for symptoms

There are many ways to go about getting important feedback from your team: during performance reviews, through exit/stay interviews, and in meetings and focus groups. These kinds of mechanisms can provide great information, but mostly in the form of anecdotal stories. If you want aggregate data, you’ll need to ask everyone the same questions in the same format.

Attempting to do this one-on-one is a grand idea, but depending on the size of your organization, it could be virtually impossible to conduct and document these sessions in a timely manner. And depending on what’s going on in your organization, it could be literally impossible to get people to tell you what they really think in a face-to-face format.

This is where employee surveys can be extremely useful. As long as you’re committed to getting them right.

Methodology matters

When done well, employee surveys can gather important information, even from a large group, quickly and anonymously. And, because everyone is being asked the exact same questions in the exact same way, you’re getting apples-to-apples responses as opposed to nuanced stories and answers.

Unfortunately, many organizations are conducting employee surveys that aren’t done well. They’re asking questions that are irrelevant, misleading, or confusing. They’re designing surveys that are obviously slanted toward a particular outcome. They’re creating “anonymous” surveys that contain key identifying questions. And sometimes, they’re just asking WAY TOO MUCH.

There is a right and a wrong way to conduct employee surveys. If you’re going to go through the trouble to do one, you’ll want to make sure your efforts are fruitful, not futile.

How to design an employee survey that works

Slapping together a random survey will yield random responses and random results. To get the most out of your information gathering, design your research in a way that maximizes participation, honesty, and reliability.


Define the goal of the survey – What do you want to measure? What indictors will you use? How will the results be analyzed? (NOTE: Employee surveys should never be used merely as a vehicle to pat leadership on the back. If that’s your main purpose, stop right here and save yourself the time and money.)

Check your toolbox – Have you conducted similar research before? Do you have benchmarking data? Can you pull questions from previous surveys?

Think design – Will the survey be conducted in-house or outsourced to a third party? Are you committed to keeping results anonymous? Is it strictly an online endeavor or does your staff require other options?


Create your questions – Will your questions be open ended, multiple choice, or a mix? No matter what format you choose, there are some basic rules you’ll want to follow:

  • Make sure each question serves a distinct purpose. Irrelevant questions will give you irrelevant data.
  • Arrange questions in a logical sequence. Avoid jumping back and forth.
  • Keep it simple. Each question should addresses one thing only. Avoid multiple-part questions and complicated jargon. Make each question clear and concise. If you must use complicated terms or acronyms, include an explanation for each one.
  • Keep it positive. Avoid negatively worded or biased questions.
  • Keep it neutral. Toss out any partisan language or leading questions.
  • Keep it short. No one wants to answer a 75 question survey. Or even a 25 question survey. Research has shown that the more questions you ask, the less time respondents will spend on each one. Strive for a 2 – 8 question range, or a completion time of 10 minutes or less.
  • If you’re going anonymous, go all in. Avoid any personal and/or identifying questions, and use a system that doesn’t track response dates and times, or respondent email and IP addresses.

Explain the why, how, and what – You’ll need to communicate with your employees about the survey prior to sending it. Tell them the purpose of the survey, why it’s important, and how they will benefit. Give them details on when it will arrive, what it will look like, how they should fill it out, when it needs to be returned, and how the results will be used. If you’re going incognito, explain that all results will be completely anonymous and confidential. Thank them in advance for their time and effort.

Test it out – Never send an employee survey without running it through a test group first. You’ll want to make sure there is consensus on what the questions mean, how to fill it out, and that it actually works. You’ll also want to check all spelling and grammar, not only to avoid confusion and loss of credibility, but because there are always plenty of people who love to send emails pointing out these kinds of mistakes. Bottom line: If there is any kind of problem with your survey, you’re going to create significant frustration and a flurry of unwanted questions and comments.

Send it out – Because you’ve explained why the survey is being conducted, what it looks like, and how it should be filled out, this process should be smooth. Remember to include all of this information again with the survey so respondents have all of the information they need in one place.

Now what?

Now you wait. And collect. And send out multiple reminders.

Once you have a good portion of the surveys back, you can begin to analyze the data and results.

There is one caveat here. And it goes back to the old saying, “Be careful what you ask for.”

If you don’t like the results you’re getting, you can’t just shove them in a drawer somewhere. You’re too far in now. You did your homework, you set your goals, and you designed your questions carefully. You (and your employees) committed to this process and you need to follow it through all the way to the end.

Staff will be expecting to see something from leadership about the survey responses and what changes they should anticipate as a result. Don’t let them down. Share what you learned and how you plan to incorporate that information into organizational processes moving forward.

After all, wasn’t that the whole point?


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How Employers Can Offer Dependent Benefits

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With skyrocketing healthcare costs, how can employers afford employee coverage and still offer dependent benefits? This is a very real challenge facing employers today. 

Most companies follow a similar pattern when offering employee benefits. They start off with health insurance, paying 50% or more of the employee premium, and allow employees to add their dependents at their own cost. Some employers will also pay for dental coverage, life insurance, vision insurance, and disability coverage – usually in that order, though it can vary based on what benefits the employer thinks are important or believes the employees will appreciate.  

Due largely to costs, most employers no longer pay for dependent coverage. The employees’ family members don’t work for the company, and providing benefits to the whole family would be really expensive, so they leave that up to their workers. Plus, we’re even seeing a new trend developing among larger companies to limit participation of spouses in the health plan when other employer options are available.

But, let’s remember most employees get up in the morning to provide for their families. Not including benefits for the ones they love most can leave hard-working employees feeling like an adult stuck at the kids’ table. If a company can figure out ways to extend a few of the benefits to family members, employees will appreciate those benefits even more, which means the company will see a higher return on its investment.

It’s probably not practical for most companies to pay 100% of the cost of health insurance for employees, their spouses, and their children. But then again, health insurance isn’t the only benefit out there. Here are a few ideas for companies that want to provide some cost-effective benefits for the whole family…

1. Contribute to a Health Savings Account

Employees can use their HSA funds on themselves, their spouses, and their tax-dependent children, even if they’re not on the health plan. This is a point that brokers and employers should emphasize during the annual enrollment meeting. With the employer HSA contribution, parents can take their kids to the doctor or the dentist, get them glasses, or pay for monthly prescriptions. They’ll appreciate the employer’s benefit plan every time they use their HSA card.

2. Pay for Ancillary Benefits

For some reason, employers get it in their minds that they have to be consistent in the way they pay for the various benefits they offer. However, the truth is that they can leave the dependent health insurance costs up to the employees and pay for lower-cost benefits like dental or life insurance. Dental insurance is about one-tenth of the cost of health insurance and people value it almost as much, so it’s a great benefit for a company to pay for (one with orthodontia benefits for the kids will be especially appreciated). And group life insurance is cheap, so employers can provide a base level of benefits for the employee, spouse, and children and then allow them to buy up if they want.

3. Allow employees to purchase voluntary benefits

Even with no employer contribution, there’s value in offering voluntary or worksite benefits like accident or critical illness insurance. Why? Because it’s a lot less expensive than health insurance and can help to offset high medical bills. This means that an employee who can’t afford to cover his family members on his health plan can still reduce their exposure with these relatively inexpensive products.

4. Educate employees about CHIP

The Children’s Health Insurance Program offers quality coverage to low-income families at a very affordable price. The cutoff level, costs, and benefits vary by state, but here’s a quick example of how it works. In Texas, families with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level, or $50,058 per year, can qualify for CHIP. For those who qualify, they can cover all of their children for just $50 per year or less. Spending a couple of minutes explaining the Children’s Health Insurance Program during an enrollment meeting and handing out a free brochure is a great way to help employees at no cost and with almost no effort. Why wouldn’t an employer want to do that?

5. Offer telehealth!

While almost all employee benefits have an additional charge for family members, telehealth benefits are often good for the employee, spouse, and tax-dependent children (and/or tax-dependent parents). This is especially important for employees who can’t afford to cover family members on their health plan. While telemedicine is not insurance and not intended as a replacement for insurance, it does provide family members with access to health care.

For example, an uninsured spouse can pick up the phone and call a doctor (for herself or her child), get a prescription if necessary, and then save on the cost of that prescription at the pharmacy. She can also email a specialist to get her medical questions answered, consult with an advocate when searching for lower-cost providers, and get help reviewing, organizing and negotiating medical bills. That’s a lot of benefits!

Ultimately, employers offer benefits to attract and retain employees, and for this to work they need to provide benefits their employees truly appreciate. Any benefits that the employer can make available not only to the employees, but also to the employees’ family members, will be doubly appreciated.

Keep this in mind when you’re designing your organizational benefits package. If your goal is to get the most out of your benefits dollar while keeping your employees and their families happy and healthy, considering these options is a great strategy.


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Do You Need Executive Coaching?

It’s universally accepted that athletes need coaches. Depending on the nature of the game and the size of the team, there could be one single coach or an entire fleet of them. But at the end of the day, we expect those coaches to call the shots and to bring out the best in each player.

In business organizations, it’s the leadership team that acts as the coaching staff. They’re the ones who are expected to make the big decisions and mentor staff and employees as they work toward their shared goals.

But who coaches the coaches? How do they know they’re doing what’s best for the organization?

Many times, it’s the owners who take on the role of making sure the coaches are bringing about the results they want to see. Unfortunately, both in sports and in business, they often do this by simply firing coaches who aren’t producing enough wins. Sometimes, this is done hastily and without consideration for the various obstacles the coach is trying to overcome.

Owners and shareholders can get so focused on winning that they don’t care about helping their organizational coaches improve. They just send them on their way, assuming that the next person coming in will perform better.

Eventually, these coaches get picked up by other organizations to come in and save their programs. But because they have been tossed around without any real coaching themselves, they aren’t necessarily any wiser or better equipped for the job.

Being fired doesn’t necessarily create stronger leaders, but it can definitely create more fearful leaders. These leaders operate knowing they are in danger of losing their jobs for any failure at any time. It’s almost impossible to effectively mentor your team when you’re primarily focused on your own survival.

Time for a game plan

It seems like basic logic. If your employees benefit from having coaches, then your leadership team should, too. But when should you bring one in? And how do you know which one to choose?

Here are some tips to help you determine a.) if your organization needs executive coaching and b.) how to find a coach that’s a good fit.

You may need executive or leadership coaching if:

  • You want to support your top performers
  • Your industry or business model has shifted
  • Key roles and responsibilities are changing hands
  • Individuals or teams are no longer performing to standard
  • Team members are dissatisfied with current culture and leadership styles
  • A leader wants to develop core strength areas or improve areas of weakness
  • Your company lacks effective policy, processes, teamwork, or communication
  • There is active tension and conflict within the leadership team or the organization

A word of warning

Just because your organization needs executive coaching and you’re willing to consider it doesn’t mean it’s going to work. A couple of key things have to happen in order for it to be successful.

  • Your leadership needs to be coachable. If owners and leaders perceive coaching as a hostile act of criticism, they aren’t going to get anything out of it. And neither will the organization. You might as well throw your money out the window.
  • You need to be committed. If you don’t dedicate the time and resources necessary to allow the process to work properly, you’ll end up with a lot of intention and no results. Building a great team requires a significant amount of time, work, and practice. And yes, good coaches cost money. If you’re going in on coaching, you’ve got to go all in.

Finding a good coaching match

Coaches come in all different shapes, sizes, and flavors. And they specialize in a variety of skills and industries. If you don’t hire the right one, you won’t get the right advice. Or the best outcomes.

Here are a few things to consider in your search:

Experience: You want your executive coach to have experience being in a leadership role. Even better if he or she has worked in or is very familiar with your specific industry. Keep in mind that years of coaching experience isn’t necessarily the best indicator of fit or success. Depending on your industry and needs, someone coming in fresh from the field can be very effective. Just because someone is new to the consulting gig doesn’t mean they can’t offer valuable information. Whether they’ve been doing it for 30 years or just getting started, the most important thing is to find someone who is the right fit for you and your team.

Results: Ask for examples of specialty areas and key problems the coach has been asked to help with or address. Does the coach have ways to measure and track progress? Cover results, outcomes and learning lessons. If they have other clients, ask for references. Any good executive coach will be able to provide you with at least a couple of relevant people to talk to.

Approach: Does the coaching style align with your leadership style and company culture? How are organizational goals determined and what does working toward them look like? What processes will the coach take you through? Ask how long an engagement typically lasts and what the sessions will look/feel/be like. Choose a coach with a philosophy and style that will be well received by your team.

Victory is yours for the taking

Many teams are quite averse to bringing in consultants, especially at the executive or ownership levels. But if no one is coaching your top leaders, how can they possibly be at their best? Or bring it out in others?

Think of your leaders as the professional team that they are. Invest in their growth and development so they can do the same for your organization.


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Afraid to Try Anything New? Get Ready to Become Irrelevant.

We tend to avoid things that scare us, and this can be a good thing. Steering clear of bears, for example.

And yet we often avoid “scary” things that are really quite good for us. Like going to the dentist. Or putting spinach in our smoothies. Or, even scarier still… adopting new business technologies and processes.

Trying something new is always a little unsettling. Maybe we don’t understand why we should do it or how it could possibly end well. (Spinach?!?! In my smoothie?!?!)

Or maybe we do understand, but still find it to be intimidating. (What if I can’t choke it down? Six dollars wasted!)

Yes, it takes courage to overcome our fears. But at the end of the day, it’s those who dare to try new things who will find themselves at the top of their game.

Are you playing to win?

Many organizations are having difficulty staying on the leading edge when it comes to technology. But sticking with the same old plan isn’t an option. Integrating new workplace technology into your sales, marketing, customer service, and communications processes is imperative, not just to become more competitive— but even to remain relevant.

Organizations who continue to live in the world of what they currently know and the way that they’ve always done things are eventually going to disappear, because someone else will jump in and fill the void of “what could be.”

This is a time of opportunity and innovation. Your customers are looking for it and you should be, too. Relying on outdated or conventional ways of selling, operating, and communicating will not capture the attention of the technology-savvy buyers of today and, more importantly, the potential buyers of tomorrow.

You need to engage with customers, clients, and prospects in ways that they want (and need!) you to connect with them.

Are you working to solve the problems they want solved? Are you communicating in ways they want to communicate? Are you making your interactions as easy, streamlined, and pleasant as possible? This is impossible to do if you’re still using the equivalent of dial-up technology and rolodex processes.

It’s time to eat your spinach

Integrating new technology and processes into your organization can be scary. Maybe even terrifying.

But can you think of anything more frightening than watching your business decline year after year after year?

The fear of trying new things has been many a company’s downfall. Don’t let it be yours. Find the courage to turn that fear into opportunity.


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Are Critical Conversations Still Critical?

Once upon a time, there were very few ways to effectively communicate. And most of them involved actual, real-time conversation. Now that we have a plethora of ways to send and receive messages, you may think real, live, in-the-moment discussions have gone the way of the dinosaurs. But don’t be a dodo bird.

Critical conversations are still very necessary, both in business and in life.

Yes, there are plenty of occasions where alternative methods of communication will do. But there are also a ton of instances where interactive conversation is a superior way to work things out and get things done.

But we can just write, right?


Written communication can be great for quick messages, how-to explanations, and documenting specific details, but it leaves a few key things missing. Vocal tone, expression and delivery are conspicuously absent, as are any signs of facial cues or body language. Emojis may try to fill in the blanks, but when it comes to critical conversations, they are no substitute for genuine emotions.

And speaking of emotions, written communication removes a couple of key ones: fear and accountability.

Communicating electronically or in writing makes many people much more willing to say things they would never say in person. And, because this medium allows the writer to continue uninterrupted and on their own schedule, it’s really more of a one-way conversation as opposed to an open, collaborative dialogue. So while messages may be streaming back and forth, they aren’t necessarily resulting in a constructive conversation.

Conversations still matter

Yes, talk can be cheap, but it can also be communication gold. True conversation is a two-way interchange, where information is both given and received. It’s not just about talking. It’s about connecting.

If you’ve got an important problem to solve, issue to discuss, or situation to deal with, it could be well worth your while to talk it out.

Here’s how to make the most of your next critical conversation:

Prepare ahead of time – Collect your thoughts, determine key points of discussion, check your facts, and have some positive outcomes in mind.

Encourage new ideas and different points of view – Acknowledge and be open to what others are thinking and feeling. Recognize that people come from different situations. Viewpoints may depend on a multitude of factors including, age, race, gender, past experience, etc.

Ask questions – Good conversations require good information. Make sure you clearly understand what others are saying. The following questions can help:

  • Tell me more
  • Can you give me an example?
  • What do you mean by that?
  • How would that work?
  • Why is this important?

Listen – Constructive conversation requires a little bit of talking and a whole lot of listening. Listening does not mean waiting for your turn to talk. It means being patient, having empathy, and making a concerted effort to understand what others are saying—and feeling. Pay attention what is being said verbally as well as what is being through body language and tone.

Stay on track – Listening is important, but if someone gets too far off topic, they can take your entire conversation with them. Sticking to specific details instead of painting broad generalities will help keep things focused. Example: “You’re not performing well.” vs. “You’ve missed your last two project deadlines.”

Maintain a balance – The goal here is information sharing. Not information dumping. If any one person is monopolizing the conversation, it’s going to affect the integrity – and the outcomes – of the conversation.

Make your next conversation count

The next time you’re tempted to blast out an email or send a quick text, think about the effectiveness of the method based on the outcomes you’d like to see.

Investing in some constructive conversation might actually be the quickest, most effective way to accomplish your goals. 


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