7 Steps to Managing Your Own Employee Engagement Survey

employee engagement survey planning

Given the frequency of surveys in the workplace, HR professionals and in-house survey leads are understanding and becoming more comfortable with the process. For those thinking (or curious) about managing their own employee engagement survey, here are seven steps to keep you on track and on target.

Step 1: Prepare for Action

  • Secure CEO and executive buy-in for this change management initiative (without leadership buy-in survey results will fall on deaf ears)
  • Prepare for objections
  • Set goals

Stonewalling often happens post-survey, when it’s time to act on findings. Tie employee engagement objectives to business objectives and bigger picture strategic goals. Talk about pre-and post-survey plans, how communication will be handled. Define what you’re looking to achieve and the roles needed to get there.

Step 2: Design the Survey

  • What’s the right length?
  • What’s the best frequency? Once every year or two? Quarterly Pulse surveys?
  • Are the questions and format going to produce scientifically credible results for sound decision-making?
  • Should the survey be available in other languages to accommodate a diverse workforce?

Understand there are lots of great survey tools out there. Think about validity and reliability, the science of questionnaires. Build in dependent and independent variables, questions that measure themselves as well as their relationship to other question and their impact on engagement. If you’re running a full survey, the length shouldn’t be longer than 20 minutes to avoid drop-off rates. Keep your survey focused.


In other words, don’t stray from business objectives. Most surveys are on a five-point scale (strongly agree to strongly disagree). Practically speaking, this format fits on the screens of tablets and smart phones and is easy for respondents to complete. And because most employee engagement survey questions are asked on a five-point scale you might be able to find comparative benchmark data out in the market, which is especially helpful if this is your first survey and you don’t have any internal information to measure against. Keep in mind translation can often alter the meaning of questions. To check on this, a trick of the trade is to translate questions into the intended language, then have a different translator translate questions back to English. If the translated English version is the same as your original, success. Finally, test your survey. Are screens legible in all formats? Send it to people who haven’t seen it already and adjust based on feedback.

Step 3: Spread the Word

  • Prepare a communication plan
  • Promote the survey
team meeting

Employee engagement surveys should have an average 80 percent response rate. If you don’t properly communicate, low response rates are the typical outcome. Take the time to describe to managers and employees how the data is going to be used and how results are going to be communicated post-survey.


One of the biggest challenges of a survey handled in house? Rightly or wrongly employees fear their individual responses will be identified. Tackle that lack of trust with assurances of confidentiality. Explain how confidentiality is being handled. Promote your survey with posters, town hall meetings, staff meetings and emails that address frequently asked questions.

Step 4: Launch the Survey

  • Think about the tools you want to use
    • Online – a unique link or PIN for every employee? or an open link, which involves asking demographic information?
    • Smartphone/tablet?
    • Paper?
    • Phones/IVR?
    • Kiosks?
  • Establish a time frame (from launch to closing; two weeks is recommended)
  • Build participation rates (use email countdowns, reminder notices, friendly manager competitions to beat each other’s department response rates)

A unique link or PIN online approach gives better metrics (results by departments or divisions, for instance). An open link, on the other hand, can produce faulty results.


One of the most common problems is incorrect department identification (as an example: an individual who works in the marketing department but is part of the corporate services admin group self-identifies as a member of the marketing team). Other problems are around questions of confidentiality and having to provide demographic information (department, length of service). “IS the survey really confidential?” If employees aren’t happy or there’s a lot of cynicism in the organization, sabotage is a potential issue as well.

Step 5: Analyze Results 

  • One of the biggest challenges for those running in-house surveys is the massive amount of data an employee engagement survey generates. Return to those business objectives identified at the outset and keep that business context front of mind
  • Rank questions from most to least positive
  • Look for themes and connections
  • Use dependent and independent variables to see how different questions relate to each other (you can run simple two-item correlations to compare, say, an engagement score vs a teamwork score through Excel)
  • Focus on the combination of relatively low score areas and themes of high importance to employees to get an idea of key opportunities for improvement
  • Segment data out by department, function or location, tenure or years of service
  • Review comments for themes.
analyze survey results

Step 6: Report Results

  • Decide what kind of reports you want to produce (high level for the CEO and executive team? Reports by division/department? Reports that reach right down to frontline staff?)
  • Share information with everyone within 30 to 60 days of survey close, regardless of results. Otherwise you’ll lose momentum and interest. Be aware too, not sharing results to everyone can lead to less buy-in and lower response rates for future initiatives
  • Roll out results starting with the senior leadership team; cascade findings to different departments or functions and their different teams
  • Be honest about challenges
  • Prepare for tough conversations around issues like low leadership or management scores; if leadership rejects data, remember! - tie results back to strategic goals and business objectives
  • Avoid information overload by understanding and focusing on report details relevant to the organization and its business at an executive level (relevant to functional areas/departments, relevant to locations, management/non-management, level/position in the organization)
  • Guard against identifying who said what despite management pressure; confidentiality reigns supreme
  • Watch how you phrase results; rather than play the blame game, focus on how scores are a catalyst for dialogue around opportunities not a measurement of failure.

Step 7: Develop Action Plans

  • Don’t be quick to rush into action
  • Take the time to have discussions with managers and employees inside your organization; validate what the survey indicates (it’s not inconceivable that important insights might have been missed or misinterpreted)
  • Use larger workshops or smaller focus groups to understand the why behind survey results and to engage employees in the process
  • Categorize ideas and set priorities based on feedback
  • Focus on big issues; the best organizations successfully follow up on employee engagement survey results by picking one or two items to work on, and that’s it
  • Set goals; document strategies and plans to ensure goals are timely and measurable
  • Implement and sustain action plans; incorporate action plan targets into the larger organizational framework; tie performance reviews and bonuses to action plan outcomes


Employee engagement survey reports are often where organizations stop or start to fall off when in fact the survey is the first step in a process. It’s your organization’s post-survey actions, and the action planning that follows, that manage and make change.

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