Five Steps for Telling Better Stories with Employee Surveys


Organizations spend millions of dollars each year measuring things like employee engagement, job satisfaction, perceptions of safety, managerial effectiveness, and likelihood to recommend.

Data of this nature provide leaders with useful information about their employee population. However, if that knowledge isn’t acted upon or put into practice, then what’s the use in collecting it? Part of the problem is that leaders don’t know how to turn data into useful information or meaningful stories. In fact, many leaders lack the basic statistical competence to confidently and competently tell compelling stories about the data they’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars collecting.

Here are some helpful strategies for telling better stories with your employee survey data:
Step 1: Get Your Survey Learn On.

  • Telling better stories with data begins with basic attitudinal survey competence. What does a mean tell us? Why should we use means instead of percent favorable (i.e., the proportion of respondents who answered “strongly agree” and “agree” on a five point scale) when interpreting the findings from an employee survey? Knowledge is power. Get some.

Step 2: Transform Data and Information into Knowledge.

  • Put current findings into context for key stakeholders such as managers and front line staff. What is the substantive meaning of the employee survey? What’s the headline? Why should we care?

Step 3: Craft Different Stories for Different Audiences.

  • Not all stories are created equal. Executives want and need to hear different stories than front line managers. They need you to share the meaning of the survey in the context of the “Big Picture.” Are we trending up or down? How do we compare to other organizations in our industry? How are these results related to our bottom line? What are we doing to maintain or improve our results?

Step 4: Motivate the Elephant and Shape the Path.

  • Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch offers a useful framework for behavioral change. Use simple, unexpected, concrete, credible and emotional stories to motivate behavior change (motivate the elephant). Use metaphors, pictures, and visual aids to support your story. Equip and enable leaders with the tools for getting better results, and a clear path to follow (shape the path) so that adopting the change is easier. Finally, reinforce positive changes.

Step 5: Messages Don’t “Cascade,” Stories Do.

  • “Rolling out” results by sharing them at the top of the organization and then hoping that they “cascade” is an ineffective strategy for leveraging employee survey data. However, telling compelling stories about what makes your organization great can spread like wildfire to potential customers and top talent. Use video, intranet, youtube, corporate blogs, and social media to amplify the powerful stories about your organization.

If organizations are to become more strategic about evidence-based change, then their leaders have to get better at making employee survey data meaningful and telling better stories.

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