10 Excuses Leaders Can Use for Not Acting on Employee Surveys

Are you a leader who’s done absolutely nothing with your most recent employee survey feedback and needs to quickly justify the lack of action?

When you’ve worked in employee research for a long time, you hear all sorts of excuses and justifications for not doing much with employee feedback. Here are some of my favourites (use in combination for added credibility):

1. We’re already working on it. Got a current initiative or program of work that’s loosely related to the issues uncovered in the survey? Great! You’re already actioning the results!

2. We’ve had a very difficult time. There’s a cost of living crisis. Profits are down. There’s been redundancies and heaps of organisational change. Fantastic! Feel free to take the survey results with ‘a pinch of salt’ given the context. Explain away all the findings and say that this will all get sorted out as the transformation progresses anyway.

3. Action planning got hijacked by more urgent priorities. Competing priorities? Unforeseen problems? In business? Who would’ve thought? Luckily you can use this excuse any time you like, just fill in the blanks – “We had a great action plan but then [INSERT EVENT HERE] happened and we were forced to prioritise [INSERT MORE URGENT THING HERE].”

4. We didn’t have the money/resources to do what we wanted. Fair enough. This is a bona fide justification. Truth is though, you can also use this as an excuse for doing nothing, even when you do have the dosh, but you just can’t be bothered. After all, who really knows how much these high-level issues will cost to resolve? Sounds expensive.

5. We’re currently looking into this in more detail. Kick it into the long grass. Just say, “This is something we’re exploring and we will circle back to this for review during future iterations of the action planning process, once further research has been conducted.” ‘Nuff said.

6. We didn’t really know what to do. It goes something like this:

  • Me: “How was action in response to the last survey?”
  • Leader: “We did some brilliant analysis. We found out that a 1% increase in employees feeling valued amounts to $Gazillion in profit. Plus, we found that locations with employees who feel more valued also have higher employee engagement and those locations have significantly higher customer satisfaction.”
  • Me: “Fascinating! But what did you actually do?”
  • Leader: “Errr…” 

7. Don’t get drawn into discussions about action, just talk about how great the survey is. If anyone asks about action, just bamboozle them with irrelevant employee engagement waffle until they back off. For example, “Our People Survey is the most crucial way in which we listen to our most important asset – our people. We got a great response rate to the survey which shows how highly engaged people are on their journeys with us. Our team did some brilliant analysis. For every 1% we can increase employee engagement, our profits will rise by $Gazillion….”

8. External benchmarks show we’re better than other companies, so we just need to maintain focus on what we’re currently doing. First, find yourself some cruddy external normative data to compare your scores to. Second, say that there’s nothing you really need to do as you score more highly than comparable companies already. The phrase you want is, “We just need to monitor and maintain, rather than improve.”

9. Blame it on your survey provider/the survey itself. Once you know what to look for, it is ever so easy to pick apart and criticise any survey project. This is especially true for employee surveys because many are so poorly designed (well, not even designed at all) and just use a long list of statements all asked using the same 5-point Strongly Agree – Strongly Disagree Likert Scale. Here’s a list of points you can use to argue how your employee survey is not fit for purpose and impossible to action:

  • The questionnaire is too generic and lacks relevance.
  • The questions are not actionable.
  • The questionnaire is too long and is not being completed with appropriate consideration – the results are unreliable.
  • The response rate is too low and the results are unreliable.
  • Many questions refer to multiple issues at once and the results are unreliable.
  • Many questions are vague and impressionistic – the results are meaningless.
  • There’s too much data, too much analysis and too many data comparisons – it’s impossible to separate the signal from the noise.
  • There’s not enough data, you can’t get data at a granular enough level (or data is too granular and is unreliable as the sample size is too small).
  • There were no open-ended questions, or open-ended questions weren’t analyzed properly.
  • There’s too much focus on numbers, response rates, scores and benchmarks – it’s a distraction.

10. Just ‘fess up. Sometimes it’s just better to hold your hands up and say you could have done better. Ask for forgiveness and say you’ll do better next time. As people lose faith in the survey, response rates will fall. This will help you to justify a lack of action in the future (see 9 above).

This article was fun to write and made me laugh. But in all seriousness, if you’re struggling to get the sort of action you want from your employee survey, a good place to start is to assess your current approach by conducting an employee listening audit. This is an independent review of your current employee listening practices and systems, combined with in-depth stakeholder interviews. By going through this discovery phase, you can better assess your requirements, challenges and opportunities through the development of an improvement roadmap. This will guide your organisation in implementing a cohesive employee listening and action strategy. Please arrange a time to speak with us to find out more.

Silverman Research
10 Current Trends in Employee Surveys
Silverman Research
The New Frontier: Conversational AI’s Role in Employee Surveys