Why Employee Surveys Leave You Dead in the Water

Why Employee Surveys Leave You Dead in the Water

Just think for a moment, how many surveys has your organisation carried out in the last two years? How many times have you sampled satisfaction, response times, completions or indeed any key performance indicator within the organisation?

Now think again. Of the surveys that you can remember, how many actually led to real action? What happened to the information apart from ending up in somebody’s report, submitted to somebody’s desk, somewhere in the organisation?

Survey fatigue has led to resentment which has led to rejection of the reasons to survey in the first place: unsatisfying wording, asking the wrong questions, using a general question line that is either too generic or too niche – thereby alienating a percentage of your workforce. Rejection gives way to negativity; which in turn leads to a reduced performance by the individual. Surveys that go nowhere and information that has little relevance to the provider has no result, no action, and no feedback.

Surveys are FAILING to deliver anything positive any more.

In our survey-society we collect data, comment upon it, and file it in the annals of our filing systems, never to be accessed again.

“If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always got.”

Mark Twain

To move on from the survey we need to find a new approach – one that will produce real actions and relevant feedback in response to asking for people’s opinions and feelings. Something that will engage the whole organisation, not simply categorise it. Something that will produce improvement plans as part of its process, not enter the blind alley of surveys and reports. Something that is relevant across the whole organisation, not just appeal to a small section of it.

We need a defined and repeatable framework that will serve to act as a follow on from the survey approach, to behave as a catalyst for change and improvement. We need to be fair to our people and improve their work experience.

In return you will get a shift to more positive attitudes and behaviours, which will lead to an increase in people’s performance, acceptance of change at the point of impact and a unified vision for the company shared by all.

Increased performance equals higher profits, enhanced productivity, improved efficiency and greater savings.

If you are still uncertain you could always carry out a survey of your colleagues to see what they think!

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How Do Others See You?

I am constantly reminded of this question in many different ways in both business and social settings. From early fashion experimentation as young adults, right through to how we currently express ourselves in later life, we all seem to carry this question as a piece of baggage through life.

How do I look?

Does my bum look big in this?

Will I fit the part?

It seems we are all concerned to varying degrees with the same question:

Just how will others see me?

Bringing this back to business then, how are you seen and perceived in business, and how do you know?

Many years ago, in my first “real” job, I was offered some sage advice from my then line manager. He said to me, “If you want to be a manager in IBM, then act and dress as if you are already one now.”

This stuck with me for years as I took this advice and used it to become a manager, a Managing Director, Chamber President, CBI Councillor and the list goes on… Every time I wanted to be something I wondered – How will others see me? – and I just pretended I was one already!

It was great advice, and it works on many levels. If you are feeling less confident, well don’t worry, just pretend you are, it will be fine as people will see you as confident. If you want to be in charge, but have no mandate, just pretend you are, and people will see you in this way and do as you ask.

Then I browsed LinkedIn the other day, and found out that I was busted.

No longer can I simply pretend, as LinkedIn has burst the bubble, revealing my true self, and exposing me to what others think of me and how they see me.

It’s called “endorsement”.

People you know (and often don’t) offer endorsements for the skills they either know you have, or think you have. And these are scored on your profile. This totals and gives you the ordered list of specialities and skills that people see you as having.

What do yours say about you?

My endorsements were all as expected, but the order and weighting was a surprise. I thought I was a business leader, a change planner and a financial expert. My “reality” is as follows, as voted by those people who know:

  • 99+ Organisational Specialist
  • 89 Change Management
  • 77 Business Planning
  • 52 Business Strategy
  • 42 Coaching
  • 32 Management Consulting
  • 26 Start-Ups
  • 23 Employee Engagement
  • 22 Management

What do your endorsements say about you? What do people think of you? And does it really match with the perception you hold of yourself?

In this transparent online world we work in, how others see you, will determine your online self, and ultimately your online success.

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What Is Your Legacy?


I’ve had the pleasure recently to meet with a number of CEOs to talk about their leadership styles and the things they do to manage and drive change and performance in their companies. They are at the helm of some impressive companies, ranging from engineering, distribution and logistics, to professional services and others.

They have some things in common:

  1. Heaps of personal energy and enthusiasm
  2. Clear focus on the job in hand
  3. A sense of direction and strategy
  4. A great handle on the numbers and finance
  5. Highly personal approach and empathy with people

There were other things, but I think you get the idea.

In some cases, these people were very highly thought of, and were parachuted in to other areas of the group or subsidiaries in order to “turn them around” or refocus them for greater performance.

And they did.

They used all of the great stuff above, and their personality and ability imposed a new order of things; and they achieved the outcomes required.

So far so good you may say. On the face of it, this could be the end of this article- but it’s not.

For as soon as the job was done, the company or department rectified and was once again performing nicely, the CEO or MD was asked to move on to another, or back to the place he or she had come, with a pat on the back and the recognition richly deserved.

The problem is this:

The personality and experiences that brought about the desired change in fortunes belonged to the MD or CEO. It was not installed in the Directors or managers left behind running the show after the job was “done”.

So what happened next? Well you have already concluded, I think: the performance and turnaround became an event and not an outcome. The personality once gone was no longer able to instruct or coach the team. The team reverted to “old” which was the limit of their own experiences and you guessed it, performance dropped once again.

The CEO or MD lacked a legacy to the assignment.

To leave a legacy in change planning and management terms, you need a repeatable framework. This framework is used to initiate the work and then the management team are able to repeat it at will at a future point. Because a framework is a rules based and auditable planning system you will always leave behind a CONTROLLED approach to the job in hand.

So what framework will you use and how will you know it works?

Whatever approach you take, ensure that it is G.R.A.I.L. compliant.

Governance in place

Repeatable by your team at any time

Auditable – from inception to delivery

Inclusive of all of your stakeholders

Led Strategically

Governance is in place and evidenced by a controlled manual, system or approach that is consistent and if possible regulated to a standard.

Repeatable by your teams. Critically, a change planning system must be owned by your wider teams and not just imposed by an individual.

Auditable. Every project is made up of a number of plans.Sufficient control points must be shown to prove the journey from idea to deliverable.

Inclusive of all stakeholders. Any change plan must extract agreement and commitment from those responsible for change, and acceptance and willing cooperation from those affected or involved.

Led strategically. As opposed to incepted operationally as many change initiatives sadly are. By joining the actions to the strategy, an exponentially more powerful and reaching solution can be had, providing a vehicle for a cohesive and unified vision across the whole organisation.


Somebody once left the most powerful legacy on earth, and the word G.R.A.I.L. has been associated with it ever since.


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Do You Dare To Disagree?


I see your point, but if I agree we will both be wrong…

Have you ever been to a business meeting, to be faced with some difficult decision or subject matter, and found that people agreed with one another because it was the safest or most politically agreeable thing to do? Have you been one of them? Have you seen a decision recorded that you knew was wrong, or at least not discussed fully or the thorny edges exposed?

It happens all the time; particularly in regard to change planning discussions.

Change is perceived as a risky business in the world of management. Congenial agreement with others is a safe haven in the storm of uncertain outcomes and hard decisions.

Without consensus, teams fail to reach a common ground on what actions need to be taken because of internal politics or cohesive cultures. The same people constituting a work group or project team may be successful or not depending on the way the group process is structured.

Not reaching agreement because of conflict typically results in the most senior person imposing a decision without the commitment of the participants; both exposing themselves to the risk of failure and regressing to the inadequate process where there is a hearing of opinions before the executive decides on what is to be done. There is little effective participation and the advantages gained from good team work have been lost.

Within this wholly comfortable environment the danger is not that an individual will fail to reveal their objections, but that they will simply accept each proposal as a good one, without any careful, critical scrutiny of the pros and cons of the alternatives.

The more cohesive the group, the greater the inner compulsion of each member to avoid creating disunity, which inclines him to believe in the soundness of whatever proposals are promoted by the leader or a majority of the group’s members. In effect it’s the subliminal re-establishment of autocracy and results in the same poor decision-making practices, loss and inadequate solutions, but without any one individual taking ultimate responsibility.

Janis goes on to reveal a number of immediate consequences of cohesive group situations:

  1. The group limits its discussions to just a few alternative courses of action (often only two) without an initial survey of all alternatives that might be worthy of consideration.
  2. The group fails to re-examine the course of action initially preferred by the majority after they learn of risks and drawbacks they had not considered originally.
  3. The members spend little or no time discussing whether there are non-obvious gains they may have overlooked or ways of reducing the seemingly prohibitive costs that made rejected alternatives appear undesirable.
  4. Members make little or no attempt to obtain information from experts within their own organisation who might be able to supply more precise estimates of potential losses and gains.
  5. Members show positive interest in facts and opinions that support their preferred policy and tend to ignore facts and opinions that do not.
  6. Members spend little time deliberating about how the chosen policy might be hindered by bureaucratic inertia, sabotaged by political opponents, or derailed by common accidents. Consequently, they fail to work out contingency plans to cope with foreseeable setbacks that could endanger the overall success of their chosen course.

Do you recognise the above symptoms in your organisation? When planning change the input of everyone affected is essential to its effectiveness. So how will you overcome the dangers of Groupthink?

For how to avoid Groupthink using unbiased teams, see www.tamplc.com

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When “Six” Is Not Enough


For the last decade we have been taken through the learning curve of various initiatives whose names begin with “six” – from Hats to Sigma, and its assorted Lean variants.

Following Deming’s original work in the 1960s and 70s, organisations have been preoccupied with studying and optimising process – a necessary and worthwhile study to seek out and define which elements of our organisational workings operate more efficiently when the work is formally stated and put into a repeatable format. In doing this we begin to reduce waste and seek to eliminate variation. This in turn reduces mistakes and errors and so makes us more efficient.

However, as technology accelerates at breakneck speed, many of us are starting to feel left behind – slaves to the systems that we have made. The technology has advanced to a level that ordinary workers can no longer control or change, instead having to call the technologists and computer people who, by the nature of their training and knowledge, re-examine the process and re-map it to find out how to make it even more automated.

In principle the concept appears sound. Except that it has taken us full circle into a contemporary Industrial Revolution where machines rule our time and make us do things to suit the process; thereby removing the human element, which, according to the process people, was the cause of the errors.

All process, however, needs a leader.

The definition of leader suggests that leaders are people who will choose to ignore the rules; people who move past the statement of “not possible” and make it happen anyway. They are people who think outside the box and thereby move outside the process. They innovate. So where is the “6” in that?

The solution, of course, is not to move away from process, but to find a balance between process and people. We call this “engagement” and build initiatives to try to find ways to communicate, engage and embrace the human side of our organisations. That undefinable which, when correctly harnessed, can give us the advantage.

Rebalancing the fixation of process with the understanding that our own people have something unique, different and contributory has long been accepted as a route to success, but the path is rarely navigated successfully in today’s systems-led world.

Stepping outside of our organisational model for a minute, and looking at it as a leader would, we might conclude that to move forward one must first of all break the “process mould” and involve our people once more. By disrupting the status quo we are able to reach out and find new ways to optimise our market and customer focus and to fix old habits. In cinematic terms it’s a “reboot” – a new starting point from which to re-apply the “6″ in order to efficiently operate our redefined process.

To make any change happen there has to be a reason, a statement of intent, a vision of new things. Of course, it’s a brave decision – but an essential one. One can improve existing processes a thousand times; but, without innovation and that redefining of vision (the variation which is anathema to process), the ultimate achievement can only ever be stagnation.

“6″ is here to stay. It is the vital bedrock of an efficient organisation.

But where innovation, engagement and people are needed to perform at their best, enlightened leaders understand that to create a truly great organisation we need our people, their emotions, their unpredictability and their naive thinking in order to innovate.

It is only then that we know and understand that “6” is simply not enough.

Authored by Philip Webb (philip@tamplc.com)

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Pump Up Da Volume, or Change The Stuck Record?

Businessman with Boom Box

If, as the politicians and newspapers would have us believe, we have emerged from the recession and that growth is finally back to give us good times again why is it that so many CEO’s I speak to, across all industries and sectors, are telling me different?

They say that a modest recovery is here, that the green shoots are either very patchy or are, in fact, just weeds. They tell me that pricing is still under pressure, and large capital projects are being delayed or remain just out of reach.

They are no longer tracking downwards, but a sustained upward trend is still elusive, so what should they do?

Do they raise the volume of the noise of their sales and marketing? Get online as everyone seems to say, and explore the brave new world we find ourselves in post-recession. Do they hire or expand their sales team, invest in marketing and shout as loud as they can to attract customers to their doors again?

Or will they be shouting into an empty space?

Vacated in 2008, their customers no longer occupy this space; hear the old messages and the rhetoric that had been successful prior to 2008. If those customers still exist, then they have changed too – they are different.

They were changed by the savagery of the 2008-2013 recession. The scars are still hurting, the balance sheet still weakened. They no longer speak the language of pre-2008. They speak a new language, based on defined return on investment, low risk purchases, hi tech solutions, automated operations and processes. They talk about their own customer base as being no longer in the UK, or even Europe.

They have learned to speak WORLDISH.

Using technology to up the game, redefine themselves and strip out internal transactional costs, they have reached out in in the new WORLDISH language and they have found new Customers overseas, in economies that are growing significantly.

Those who have been successful have CHANGED THEIR RECORD, and are now playing different sounds to new customers. They have used their resources and their people to shift markets, plan new ventures and new ways to do business. They have found sustainable profit in this new way of working and new business arena. Their knowledge of WORLDISH is growing by the quarter, and they leave behind those who cannot join them.

They have taken control, PLANNED successfully and proactively, and found their path to tomorrow.

For those who are left, trying to pump up the volume to an empty room, where there is nobody left to listen, the future looks bleak.

What will you do in 2014? Will you pump up da volume, or do you plan to change the record?

To find out more and read other articles, follow us at www.tamplc.com and feel free to share this blog.

Authored by Philip Webb (philip@tamplc.com)

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A Killer in our midst

The Invisible Killer

I need to alert you that in your organisation, right now, lurks an invisible killer.

The killer lurks in your buildings; it feeds on people’s fear; and spreads like a virus, passed from one person to another, one team to another; and left unchecked it can kill our organisation as surely as a company liquidator.

It takes an uninvited seat at Board meetings, rudely intrudes on your management meetings, and becomes highly active around meeting areas such as vending machines and refectory areas.

The effect can be devastating. It overcomes logic, defies explanations and laughs in the face of change. It can sabotage your best laid plans with ease, and take away the efforts of even your best people at a stroke.

It can be beaten, but first you need to identify it, and then plan to contain it. Once you have, you will need to stay vigilant, and persist with actions designed to overcome it.

The killer has a name, Metathesiaphobia.

It’s defined in the dictionary as: “a persistent, abnormal, and unwarranted fear of change.”

Yet, according to recent research, over the next five years creating and implementing “change Initiatives” is the number one priority for Directors of Organisations of all sizes.

Have you made Change part of your plan?


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