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Best practices for using surveys and survey data

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Best practices for gathering and acting on feedback


Employee development, sometimes called professional development or upskilling, refers to how organizations support their workforce to acquire new skills and competencies. It’s evolved from a nice-to-have employee benefit to a key strategy for retaining, engaging, and recruiting new employees. And it’s easy to see why, with more job candidates seeking growth opportunities in their next position and more companies desperate to retain job hoppers (like millennials). 

How did employee development become a key focus for many HR teams and businesses? Let’s examine the benefits to explain this phenomenon.

  • Filling the skills gap: Preparing employees for roles at a rate that keeps pace with technological advancements is difficult, but it can be addressed through employee development. These programs can also strengthen employee performance and prepare those with high potential for critical leadership roles when needed.
  • Promoting employee engagement: Employees feel valued and invested when given new learning pathways and opportunities to advance in their careers. It’s no wonder, then, that companies that invest in employee development report seeing a 58% increase in retention and a 24% increase in productivity.
  • Giving an edge in recruitment: Development programs that are made public often gain the attention of top talent looking for ways to stay competitive in their field. Training and skill development opportunities can keep employees—and their companies– competitive. 

Life for HR professionals has gotten a lot more interesting in recent years. Working to support the entire employee experience (EX) means coordinating and communicating development programs and tuition/learning benefits that can directly benefit the company’s bottom line. 

The best employee development programs are customized to the needs of the individual rather than a one-size-fits-all offering. How will you know which types of learning opportunities are valuable to employees at an individual level? Here’s where employee voices and feedback across the organization come in. 

Surveys for employee development are a natural starting point in creating a program or learning benefit. For example, you might want to gauge how satisfied current employees are with their career development opportunities—this career development survey template can be used for that exact purpose. 

Employee development surveys are very useful tools for HR professionals; they’re a key way to uncover ongoing opportunities for job training or professional growth. Surveys also provide the quantitative and qualitative data that HR teams need at every stage of an employee development program, from program design to benchmarking progress to demonstrating ROI. Here are a few key ways HR teams use surveys for employee development programs, engagement, and employee experience.

The thread connecting these types of surveys is listening. Listening to employees is the only way to provide informed responses regarding development opportunities, engagement and culture initiatives, and overall EX improvements. In short, surveys provide the data backbone for insightful, employee-centric strategies.

Thoughtfully designed surveys provide the insights needed to enhance employee development and engagement. Follow these tips when creating, deploying, and acting on survey results.

  • Define the objectives and scope of the survey: Clearly state the specific goals you want to achieve and the topics or areas the survey will address. For example, if you want to evaluate a mentorship program, the objectives could be: 1) to assess the program’s learning value, 2) to gauge the career impact, and 3) to identify areas for improvement.
  • Identify your target audience: Based on the survey's focus, determine which employee groups are most important to gather insights from, for example, all employees, those enrolled in development programs, managers, etc. Their feedback should directly inform decisions.
  • Consider when and how often to deploy the survey: Will this be a one-time or recurring survey? Recurring surveys could include before/after training programs or quarterly pulse checks, ensuring you capture useful pre and post-data.
  • Consider how to share the survey and communicate access to the survey: Create a URL or QR code linking to your survey so you can send or post your survey anywhere you want: email, intranet, or team social channels like Slack. 
  • Select questions that align with your survey’s purpose and goals: The questions must track back to the stated objectives to stay focused and provide insights that drive future decisions.
  • Select questions that help you answer the right questions and lead to action: Move beyond satisfaction ratings to get specifics like program quality, skills gained, challenges faced, and recommendations.
  • Avoid bias and leading questions: Use neutral language that does not influence responses and steer clear of loaded questions. When crafting questions, don't assume the outcomes and let that guide you—your bias may ultimately skew your data. 
  • Use a mix of open and close-ended questions (and why): Close-ended questions can provide quantitative data for analytics; open-ended questions can gather deeper qualitative insights and capture nuances to explain the “why.” Together, they provide a complete picture.

It’s important to stress the value of analyzing your employee development survey results. Being thorough allows you to transform the survey data into credible insights that diagnose issues, validate theories, identify priorities, and shape decisions.

  • Look for key themes and trends: Spot employee sentiment trends, recurring themes in open comments, and areas with unusually high/low scores, demographic differences, and changes over time.
  • Prioritize areas for improvement: Determine which findings indicate the biggest gaps or opportunities to drive action planning, from program design flaws to training topics that may have missed the mark on providing the right skills.
  • Share the results with stakeholders: Provide analytical reports to management and key decision-makers. Remember, be transparent on key survey findings and any subsequent decisions—this demonstrates responsive follow-through.
  • Assign responsibilities and timelines: Designate owners across teams (Learning & Development, for example) and hire managers and project leads to conduct employee development programs.
  • Determine how to implement changes and monitor progress: Detail the specific activities involved in rolling out changes, like revised training curricula, new project management tools for managers, or additional mentorship touchpoints. 

Now that we’ve given you five steps to implement and evaluate employee development surveys, let’s explore best practices to set expectations for employee participants while maximizing their engagement. 

  • Be clear and concise: Keep surveys focused and scannable to respect employees' time and maintain engagement. You should aim to build a survey that takes 5-10 minutes to complete. In addition, you’ll want to be transparent with employees about what the survey is for and how the data will be used—both in your invite and on the Intro Page of your survey. 
  • Follow-up on feedback: Be as quick and responsive as possible with recipients to address essential challenges or concerns highlighted by the survey. Acknowledge their feedback and let them know how you plan to address it. 
  • Foster honest feedback: In many cases, you may want to anonymize your survey so that employees feel comfortable sharing candid feedback without worrying about consequences. Encourage participation by promoting the survey’s purpose and potential impact. 
  • Use a survey template: Use our career development template that can be personalized with your company’s brand colors, messaging, logos, and other assets that reflect your company’s culture and priorities.  

Well-designed employee development surveys are a strategic tool for gathering insights into the upskilling needs, priorities, and total experiences of an organization’s greatest assets—its people. When crafted thoughtfully, distributed regularly, analyzed, and acted upon, surveys supply the hard evidence to pinpoint strengths, diagnose trouble spots, and spark meaningful change. 

Reliable employee perspectives dispel assumptions, sharpen development investments, elevate engagement and retention, and inform EX enhancement and talent strategy. In essence, organizations that consistently listen to their employees through recurring surveys demonstrate commitment to empowerment while shaping their futures based firmly on data-driven action.

Learn how SurveyMonkey can help you build better employee onboarding and training programs. 

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