Identify problems and opportunities for improvement through employee surveys
Nearly every business surveys its customers. Restaurants leave cards on the table and hospitals put forms in the checkout folder. The top question is “How did we do?” Then they make major decisions based on the results. It’s all in the name of getting and keeping business.
Your technicians and other employees’ opinions, knowledge, and overall satisfaction can be just as important to your overall success. Your employees notice things that you might not, things that could be valuable to the success of your HVACR business. You want every edge you can get when it comes to making your service business better from the inside out.
Getting and keeping good employees is also essential to your bottom line. This is particularly true in the home service business, where your call takers and technicians are often the face of your company. Clients have their favorite techs, and if you lose that employee, you might lose that client—especially if he or she moves to a competitor.
Employee surveys identify problems and opportunities for improvement. They are a reliable, cost-effective way to find out what people in your organization really think and feel. They give you a deep insight into how engaged your employees are, and they help you continually improve motivation.
Then, using these results, you can anticipate future trends for your industry, and where you stand compared to your competitors.
Attitude is Everything
With turnover costs estimated at up to 150 percent — or more — of employees’ yearly salary, it makes sense to take whatever steps are necessary to get good people and keep them.
When you spend all day every day with the same people, you want positive employees with a can-do attitude, and not just because it makes things pleasant in the workplace. Happy employees create a more efficient office. When employees are happy, customers are more likely to be happy.
Many companies try to prevent employees from leaving by throwing money at them. That may work for a little while, but the undermining factors will go unaddressed. Employee surveys can help you see where your priorities really are.
How do you get there? You have to know what your employees want. Some home service companies spice up the workplace by having an office pet, offering free sodas, giving employees gift cards to their favorite restaurants or credits toward a new tool the employee wants, or even sending the technician’s wife a bouquet of flowers for lending her husband to the company in the hot summer months.
At my business, if all of our work is done, we close early on Fridays and enjoy a glass of beer or wine together. We spend time outside the office, during work hours, shopping for foster children, cats and dogs in animal shelters, and taking part in other community-related activities. We tailgate together before big football games.
But does all of this really work? How do you know?
You have to ask.
How Do You Start A Survey?
We conduct surveys for our clients on an anonymous, third-party basis. Our survey questions are created very carefully and with a lot of thought and strategic thinking. This is a big-time commitment, both for you and for your employees.
A few ground rules:
- Have a clear vision for what you want to know. Your survey has to have a specific purpose and a clear direction. Otherwise, it won’t have clear responses.
- Don’t use too many questions. Your employees are busy, and a long survey will be intimidating. You want it to be something your workers will be willing to do. If a survey has more than 30 questions, it’s too long.
- Don’t use jargon, acronyms, or confusing language. Be clear and concise in what you ask.
Maybe you feel comfortable doing the survey in-house. Or maybe it’s best to do it through an external expert. That person or group works with you to come up with the questions you want, administers the survey, and compiles the results.
Sometimes in-house is fine. These surveys are less formal, more economical, and can be better suited to certain situations. For example, leaders may want to know how employees in a specific department will feel about a proposed change. A short in-house survey can yield results quickly and economically.
For a larger scale and more sensitive issues, it might be best to hire an external firm. They can be very helpful in designing questions, summarizing responses, and segmenting survey results. The main advantage here is that employees know their responses are confidential and will be interpreted objectively. Then, they are more likely to participate and be candid.
You may want to require employees to participate, or you may decide to make it voluntary. Surveys can be paper-based, interviews (in-person or by telephone), or electronic either by email or online. Consider carefully which mode will serve you best.
What Should You Ask?
This depends completely on why you’re doing the survey in the first place. If you want to gauge the contentment level of your employees, ask one set of questions. If you want to know how they feel your business could improve, ask another.
One thing you definitely want to know is how your employees feel about their leadership. That factor can be key in their overall happiness and longevity with your company. If they’re unhappy, it’s better to know and be able to fix it than to lose an employee to your competitor.
You can use all types of questions, and this should be considered carefully based on your survey pool. You can use multiple choice, scale ratings, true/false, or even open-ended questions that require employees to actually write their comments. Or, you can use a combination thereof. Unless employees have a lot to say, they’re probably not going to write much on open-ended questions. If you use those, keep the questions pointed and non-intimidating.
Here are some sample open-ended questions:
- Can you name all of our core values?
- What job responsibilities motivate and inspire you?
- Do you feel comfortable approaching supervisors with concerns or suggestions?
- What are the most compelling reasons you choose to work here?
- Would you recommend this company to others seeking employment?
- Would you recommend this company to someone interested in its services?
Finally, make sure your questions are understandable. Have someone else check to make sure you got your point across.
Once you have completed the survey design, consider running a pre-test with a small control group of employees. Ask for their feedback on the question clarity, the survey length, and any other issues that might arise.
Consider your timing carefully. If you conduct the survey during a peak business period, you won’t get very good results.
Conducting the Survey
When you launch the survey, you have to explain why. Your people have to know what the purpose is, what will happen with the results, and what actions the company might take based on the information gathered.
Many companies send out an invitation or announcement to employees, in which they outline the reasons and goals, along with instructions and timelines. Be sure to include information about the confidentiality of the results and how information will be shared.
Send reminders mid-stream, so employees know how important this is. At the end of the time period, tabulate your responses. This where an external company comes in handy, because otherwise you will be in the position of compiling and analyzing the results yourself.
Open-ended and comment questions can often provide valuable information. Look for recurring themes and highlight any specific responses that reflect an important idea.
Results and Follow Through
Employees want to know their opinion counted, so be prompt in how you communicate the finding and implement changes. If employees unanimously said they want a refrigerator in the break room, then you might want to make one appear swiftly.
There are many ways to present results. You can write your employees a letter, which may or may not get read. The best way, in my experience, is to hold a mandatory employee meeting. Everyone’s busy, so keep it under an hour. Boil down the findings into digestible chunks, and tell how the findings will make a difference.
You will most likely find out some things you’d rather not hear. You may learn some negative things about yourself or your leadership team. You may find that change is needed or an organizational gap exists. Maybe your employees need some expensive training or office software that you currently do not provide. Take a deep breath and be ready to address whatever you find.
Then, it’s time to take action. Soon on the heels of presenting your employees the results, you have to give them an action plan, and then provide regular progress updates. Keep yourself accountable. If you don’t do this, any future surveys will be in vain. Your employees need to feel that their input was valued. This will strengthen their trust and commitment to the organization, and they will be more willing to participate in the future.
Employees have to feel their opinion really matters, that their happiness is important to company-wide success.
Competition is fierce in today’s market, and companies who pay attention have an edge. Be aware that headhunters are cold-calling lists of employees in every industry—including yours. Getting a handle on all aspects of your company’s situation can go a long way toward heading off expensive employee turnover.
You can gain many insights from conducting a good employee survey. Leaders have more knowledge, employees feel their voices are heard, and you have solid tools to use when it comes to implementing improvements in your company.
When the going gets tough, remember why you’re doing this. Happy employees will stay with you. Customers relate to happy employees and will keep coming back over and over again. You can help encourage that smile in your employees’ voices, the relaxed way they deal with your customers, and the attitude that flows through and affects the overall relationship.
All it takes is a little feedback.
Heather Ripley is CEO of Ripley PR, a global public relations agency specializing in residential HVAC, plumbing and electrical businesses and other building trades. For additional information, visit ripleypr.com.