Why isn't my team embracing our new sales process? Why isn't the
manager using skills taught in our leadership development program
to inspire people to achieve goals? Why don't customer service
representatives demonstrate the right soft skills after attending
our in-house university programs? These questions are pondered by
sales and marketing executives every day. They sent their crew to
training, but don't see new skills being applied on the job.
Participant feedback indicates employees enjoy training and think
their new skills will make a difference. So, what's the hold up?
The answers might just be found within employee survey results.
Often circumstances in the work environment keep employees from
effectively applying new skills, and a yearly employee survey can
identify those obstacles. A well-prepared and well-executed survey
- The commitment of your workforce to business strategies and
- How ready and willing the team is to embrace future changes and
tomorrow's business needs.
- How your culture, talent, and people practices give you a
competitive edge over your competition.
- High-risk areas such as poor leadership, impediments to
communication, and dysfunctional teams.
Traditional needs analyses identify knowledge, skills, and
behaviors to be developed. Employee surveys take the extra step to
identify organizational changes necessary for new skills to be
applied. Sorting data by departments, locations, and other
demographics will pinpoint populations that require specific
actions and the best approaches for learning, allowing you to
manage costs and effort associated with employee development. In
addition, repeating your survey year after year creates an
objective way to measure the long-term impact of development
Organizations of every size and industry sector have used employee
surveys to identify missing links between training and application
to get better results. Here are some examples:
- Leaders of a residential real estate company knew the key to
growth was attracting and retaining the best independent realtors
in the industry. They had a lucrative commission program and great
advertising, but still lost agents to competitors. A survey in 2000
revealed associates' poor perceptions of managers who didn't
demonstrate the behaviors they felt were essential for employees,
especially leaders. After launching an associate recognition
program based on newly defined core values, they invested in an
intense leadership development program. By 2004, perceptions of
leaders and workplace behaviors catapulted to new levels and today,
that organization is ranked in the top 25 real estate organizations
in the country.
- A customer service program was introduced to all 1,200
employees of a community hospital. The new approach encouraged
employees to "act on the spot" in order to exceed patient
expectations. During the training sessions, employees were surveyed
to identify specific obstacles that kept them from answering
questions and addressing patient needs immediately. Over 100
specific ideas were generated, from facilities and operational
changes to improvements for staff meetings and employee
communications. Goals were established for each department, and
managers' incentives were awarded based on achievement of these
- A fourth-generation leader of a manufacturing components
distributor knew he could no longer compete with his traditional
product and pricing model. The future would require a more
consultative, relationship-oriented approach to solutions selling.
He invested in a widely recognized sales training program,
including workshops and individual coaching sessions. When results
weren't achieved, a formal assessment revealed that some employees
had the right personality for a relationship management position,
while others preferred the routine of a commodity business. He
changed hiring practices and created detailed, objective measures
of individual performance. In three years, the company added five
industries to its areas of expertise and expanded geographically
without increasing headcount.
Similar trends often exist among organizations, regardless of
industry sector. In our research, over 90 percent of survey
respondents are committed to their customers, have a clear
understanding of their day-to-day duties, and have access to the
best techniques and tools for their jobs. Over 95 percent are open
to more learning opportunities, as well as more performance
feedback and recognition from their managers.
Disturbingly, as many as half of all respondents reveal poor
workplace communication. This stems from having ineffective
managers. They also report poor problem solving capabilities in
their organizations, and feel the most difficult issues are not
addressed. These weak links must be repaired before the benefits of
training initiatives can be fully realized.
To maximize the effectiveness of your survey process:
Start with business strategy.
What are your key business goals? How do you create value for
customers? What competencies, behaviors, and people practices are
critical for success?
Ask the right questions.
Go beyond an assessment of needed skills. Evaluate commitment to
the business plan as well as perceptions of leadership, trust,
teamwork, communication, and other critical success factors.
Administer the survey.
Internet survey providers make it easy, but some employees might
not be comfortable with the anonymity of the process. A third-party
survey provider will collect and tabulate results, while adding
confidentiality and expertise throughout the process.
Dig deep into your data to understand perceptions of both strengths
and weaknesses. Identify threats to your training efforts or
problems to be addressed before training even begins.
Plan and prioritize.
Don't bite off more than your organization can chew. Set the pace
with problems that can be fixed within 90 days. Then, tackle one
high-effort problem at a time, or focus in one department or
location to gain ground.
Follow up and evaluate.
Plan to conduct your employee survey annually to assess your
progress, build accountability, and identify new opportunities for
Organizations spend countless hours analyzing data to support new
business ventures, new technology, or even a new copy machine. Yet,
seldom do they analyze the investment they make in their people.
Surveying employees to analyze the missing links between training
and application will yield a much higher return on your training
2006 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.