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Maximising of Climate and Culture Surveys

By Dr. Mark Paiker
General Manager of DMSA

March 2008

In the context of increasing skill shortages, retaining your best talent gives you a competitive advantage.  Therefore knowing and understanding how your people feel about your organization and its management practices is absolutely critical.

For the past eleven years I have conducted climate and culture surveys for large organizations within various industries throughout South Africa.  Even with my statistical background, I soon realized the real value-add of the survey went way beyond merely plugging data into a statistical package and producing a number of statistical reports.  The organisational insights derived from the analysis that indicate what to do next, holds the true value.

I will try highlight below various aspects of the survey process below that in my experience have ensured a smoother and effective survey process with more direct benefits to the company.

Employee data is an important asset

Most companies are well equipped to handle data collection and analysis related to the many components of their business.  Instantly one thinks of financial, sales, transactional or marketing data.  Equally, careful consideration should be given to the collection and analysis of another important asset – employee data.

Asking the right questions

Before embarking on a climate or culture survey much care is required in identifying organisational objectives and challenges.  Business strategy knowledge and skills are essential at this crucial stage.

The design of the survey questionnaire should be done with statisticians in conjunction with industrial psychologists or HR practitioners who can design a questionnaire that capture these issues.  This can lead to a highly effective combination of interpretations, focus groups, recommendations and action plans based on sound statistical analyses.

Freedom of expression

A climate survey can only be successful if the participating employees feel free to express themselves. They should feel that their opinions are valued and that the survey is a platform for employees to directly contribute to organisational improvement.

To achieve this trust and improve participation in the process, it is extremely important to ensure the following:

  • Confidentiality is assured, i.e. no individual should be identified in any way from the analysis,
  • Only external consultants who are independent and objective have access to the questionnaires, the data and the analysis thereof,
  • Results are relayed back to the employees highlighting the main findings and
  • Clear interventions as a result of the findings are communicated back to the employees.

Data management skills are often underestimated

The statistical analysis phase can be divided into two main components – data
management and analysis.

Before the analysis begins, it is often necessary to merge different sources of data with different formats and definitions into one data set i.e. responses from paperback questionnaires with internet based survey data.

Once the final data set is created the integrity of the data needs to be checked for outliers, missing or erroneous data.  These data management skills are often underestimated and if not taken seriously they could distort the results dramatically.

Are you measuring what you intended to measure?

Testing the reliability and validity of the questionnaire is also extremely important
and is often not considered in climate surveys.  Using appropriate statistical techniques one can test whether the questionnaire is measuring what it is intended to measure and also if there is consistency in the responses to the questions.

Tool for decision-making

The analysis should also be a tool for decision making purposes.  For example if Business Unit A scores 67% on ‘Management Style’ and Business Unit B scores 69%, the results should indicate if the scores are significantly different and whether attention should be give to the difference.

The statistical analysis should provide a client with various combinations of tabular and graphical presentations of the results.  For example when considering Leadership, it should be possible to compare the ‘Leadership Style’ of a female sales executive in Department A with the ‘Leadership Style’ of her male counterpart in Department B.

Explore further through focus groups

Open ended analysis and focus groups have proven to provide very useful additional insights into the statistical findings.  In the case of open ended responses each response should be evaluated, categorized and then analysed in terms of the frequency of responses.

From the presentation of the statistical analysis, an industrial psychologist should easily be able to identify specifically where further probing into results in the form of a focus group is required.

Report back should translate into a plan of action

After both the quantitative and qualitative analyses have been completed, conclusions on the strategic implications and recommendations can be made. A written report should include:

  • Consolidation and interpretation of statistical, open ended analysis and focus group findings,
  • Comments on strategic implications and
  • Recommendations for addressing key strategic issues.Meeting with management to identify key business issues

Ideally the report back presentation should be interactive and should allow a full discussion with management on the content of the final report.  It should also be an action planning session where the implications of the key findings are immediately translated into action plans.

The survey process should be repeated

The Survey process should be repeated on an annual basis to test the impact of the interventions applied by the organization.  Some of the information gained from the initial survey serves as the ‘baseline’ for further surveys.  It is important that realistic improvements in the survey scores are set for the next survey.

Prioritising three to four interventions is recommended so that a Human Resource team have enough resources to address the most important issues facing an organization.

Link Survey results to other organisational measures

Once the survey is completed it is extremely important to explore the opportunity of linking the Climate Survey’s results within an organization with other sources of organisational data.

Data management techniques could be used to link for example ‘Management Style’ from a Climate Survey with ‘Customer Focus’ from a Customer Satisfaction Survey and Sales data from the company database.   Using the appropriate statistical techniques it will then be possible to investigate how a Manager’s style impacts on both client service and turnover.

In conclusion, talent management is absolutely critical in any organisation.  In this article I have indicated a number of pointers to maximise the impact of using Climate and Culture Surveys as tools in gauging organisational health.

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