How can we get the information we want from a survey AND leverage the survey as a strategic tool? For starters, use the KISS principle: Keep it short and simple. Have you ever taken an online survey from a restaurant or hotel? How engaging was it when you completed the first page of 20 questions only to see the progress bar crawl to 10%?

The secret to constructing an engaging survey is understanding what you want before you start. The next step is framing the questions or statements so they match your company’s vernacular, cultural norms, and sense of humor. For example, if you encourage your people to be collaborative problem solvers, write the survey’s statements or questions to reinforce that outcome. Let’s look at an easy example. Here are two questions that seek the same information. Which one sends the right message?

Scale: Always – Frequently – Sometimes – Never

  1. I know where to find the information I need.
  2. My manager is a good communicator.

If I’m taking the survey and give Question 1 a low score, my focus is on ME acquiring information. If I give Question 2 a low mark, my focus is on my manager’s shortcomings. If you’re the boss, which would you rather have swirling around in your head?

Keep in mind that survey findings are always the first layer of the issue onion and serve as a jumping-off point to deeper research. Low marks often uncover performance gaps and consistently high scores almost always point to a good leader.

Again, topics should be framed to focus participants on issues relevant to the organization’s goals and direction. It’s also a good idea to provide summary findings to everyone that took the survey along with any prioritized action items that came from the feedback. Surveys are most powerful when participants see the link between their feedback and organizational progress!