As a manager or a leader in an organization do you ever wonder whether your employees are being honest with you? It is a difficult question to answer without the gift of mind reading. So we have to do our best with whatever information we can and by creating the type of environment that will make honesty more likely.
Surveys can play a unique role in the feedback ecology of an organization. A survey can provide a confidential and democratic means for every employee to have an equal vote and say.
We think we see proof of this honesty when we see very negative scores on sensitive topics. Sometimes this will single a few small teams out and sometimes it may be a large base of a company. Sometimes these results are a surprise to the company and sometimes it is confirmation of something already suspected or heard around the water cooler.
However, we sometimes see evidence suggestive of a fear of being honest. We see this where we have many small groups with very low overall response rates or low response rates to particular questions. Sometimes we see inconsistent response rates and a mixture of middle range scores and very few typed comments - again pointing to a fear of being identified or negative consequences.
A confidential survey can provide an opportunity for people to provide feedback without the fear of being attacked or quizzed or pressured. This of course requires trust on the part of the employee that the survey is really confidential. We do everything in our power to assure employees of confidentiality but it often only takes one or two leaders focusing on "who said what" to undermine the whole process.
So, how do you reduce this fear and encourage honest feedback?
Demonstrate that you respect the confidentiality and the democracy. Discuss the results openly and focus on representing the electorate as best you can - whoever they are.