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How to Get Your CEO to Care About Employee Surveys

By Mark Murphy

Here’s a question for you.

How much does your CEO actually care about the results of the company’s employee survey?

In fact, more to the point, how much do they care about engagement surveys when compared to the likes of market surveys, financial results, competitor analyses, and the like?

When put like this, it probably won’t surprise you learn that the reason less than a quarter of companies see meaningful action result from their employee surveys is that, outside of HR, most C-level executives completely undervalue these results compared to other KPIs.

But… if you’re willing to add a few questions to your survey, you’ll quickly see the CEO (and the rest of the executive team) place far greater importance on the results.

Here’s how:

Put yourself in the shoes of the CEO.

For many CEOs, it’s the company’s strategy that takes precedence over workplace issues.

So, you’ve got to add a few questions about the company’s strategy to your survey.

Here’s an example.

Imagine your company’s strategy is predicated on delivering best-in-class quality. In other words, when your firm steals business from a competitor, it’s because your quality is better. Now, who delivers that quality to your customers? Who makes those top-quality products or services?

It’s your employees, of course, so you’ll want to add a few questions to your survey about quality.

For instance, Leadership IQ regularly uses these questions about quality:

  • Delivering high quality is this company’s top priority.

  • Delivering high quality work is recognized and rewarded in my department.

  • I can raise serious concerns about quality without causing problems for myself.

How this works in practice:

I recently worked with a data company where quality was, in fact, their top priority.

But by asking the above questions, we discovered a problem that instantly captured the CEO’s full attention.

On a seven-point scale, they scored 6.2 on the question “Delivering high quality is this company’s top priority.”

That’s great, and it meant that the company’s strategy was well understood.

But they scored a 4.3 on the question “Delivering high quality work is recognized and rewarded in my department.”

Moreover, the question: “I can raise serious concerns about quality without causing problems for myself,” scored even worse, at 4.1 out of seven.

What was clear from these results was the fact employees clearly understood the company’s quality-driven strategy.

But they didn’t feel their focus on quality was being rewarded. Nor did they think they could raise concerns about quality without damaging their careers.

And the roughly two-point gap between the top and bottom scores is absolutely huge on an employee engagement survey.

So what caused this breakdown?

We looked at the scores for these questions broken out by various managers. Some departments did a great job of recognizing quality and listening deeply to quality concerns.

But other managers’ departments scored ones and twos on those questions, pinpointing serious problems with quality.

This wasn’t conducted as a witch-hunt. Exercises like these are not about punishing dissenters but rather identifying root causes and coaching managers.

Here’s some of the things we found:

In one case we actually found that a manager had been told by their vice president that profitability was to be prioritized above quality (that was quickly corrected by the CEO).

In a few situations, managers had never received training on recognizing employees (or positive leadership in general). Here, just a bit of coaching solved the problem.

And the best result?

What was amazing was how quickly the organization solved these problems when the CEO was fully invested. There wasn’t any budgetary approval nonsense when the CEO wanted those managers trained on how to recognize employees for delivering quality. Nor did it take a series of meetings to correct the VP who thought profitability overrode quality.

So, here’s what I think we can all learn.

When the CEO cares deeply about the survey results, it’s head-spinning how quickly actions are taken. That’s why it’s well worth your time to add a few survey questions that directly address your CEO’s hot-button issues. It might not be quality; it could be innovation, efficiency, customer service, safety, or dozens of other issues.

The point is that, whatever the issue, it should find its way onto your next employee survey.

Just be ready for your CEO to read the employee survey results like never before.


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