Pulse Surveys are short surveys designed to solicit feedback on a consistent (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly) basis. As the name suggests, the goal of pulse surveys is to track organizational health and progress with company goals. Unlike annual performance reviews, pulse surveys are designed around the idea that checking-in more frequently can improve organization happiness and productivity, while uncovering roadblocks to progress and decreasing employee turnover.
Pulse surveys should be three to five quick questions and should take no longer than 10-15 minutes for an employee to fill out. These are a great complement to 1-1 meetings.
There’s a variety of benefits to pulse surveys which we will outline below:
Organizations are constantly moving, shifting, and growing. Like many other areas of life, in order to improve, feedback is necessary. A business needs feedback from customers, and an organization needs feedback from their employees in order to improve. This is especially true if you are a new manager.
Imagine if you were on a sports team, and the coach only gave you feedback one time during the season. That’s what the annual employee engagement survey does.
As a player, imagine how much better you could become if you had a coach providing feedback and encouraging you every step of the way.
The unfortunate truth is that many businesses are like the coach giving feedback once per season. You want employees to be engaged and productive at work, but there’s no feedback loop to help you improve. It’s like you’re flying blind. You may have made decisions in the past that were received poorly by employees, and it’s possible you may make decisions in the future that harm morale.
Problems at work start small and grow over time. Every organization has their share of problems that they need to overcome. The most important question is – “how long does it take you to uncover issues at work?”
If you’re tired of fighting organizational fires, pulse surveys can help you catch issues when they are still a small spark. Imagine the time you could save by discovering issues before they become a big deal?
It may not come naturally for employees to give feedback. Just like other areas of life, giving feedback is something that takes time and effort. The same goes for employee recognition.
We see this being a primary reason why employees hate annual performance reviews. It’s a once a year dump of information and can be overwhelming. It’s the difference between tuning an engine over time vs. trying to replace the engine.
This applies to giving feedback too. If you ask for feedback on a weekly basis, it makes it seem much more normal vs. a once a year event. Pulse surveys get people in the habit of giving feedback.
A major benefit to using pulse surveys is that you can understand organization sentiment over time and establish a baseline. For example – on a scale of 1-10, how happy are employees? How does that compare to last month? Or last year?
This baseline helps you understand if you are improving as an organization over time.
While we are fans of pulse surveys here at Friday Feedback, there are some downsides to this approach which are outlined below.
Like other areas of life, it’s not easy to build a habit. It’s especially not easy to get an entire organization to buy into the idea of giving feedback on a weekly basis. You don’t want to pile another to-do item on top of the pile of tasks they need to get done, so achieving buy-in takes proper communication and following-up.
The good news is that it’s much easier to build a habit when your peers are there to help and remind you. It’s also important to communicate that the goal of pulse surveys is to make the employee’s job easier.
It is paramount that the organization act on the feedback that they receive. It’s like if a coffee-shop owner didn’t serve decaf coffee, and potential customers constantly mentioned that they want decaf…yet the owner does nothing about it.
Employees won’t give feedback if it falls on deaf ears. That’s why managers/CEOs must take action. Better yet, the most effective managers point out when they take action and will thank the employee for the feedback they gave.
There are plenty of ways to send a survey at a low cost, but organizations must invest in proper tooling to make pulse surveys the most successful they can be.
This may spark debate, but we believe pulse surveys should not be anonymous (if possible). Anonymous pulse surveys have a time and place, but they should be an exception, not the norm. We personally like the eNPS survey for this.
Let’s say you send out a pulse survey, and someone mentions that they wish the company would offer a more flexible work arrangement. You’re shocked by this feedback, as it’s something that you stress in company meetings time and time again. Now you have to mention it again at the company meeting, where if the feedback had someone’s name attached, you could quickly reach out to them and clear up the confusion.
If you send out anonymous pulse surveys, expect this to happen all the time.
Ineffective in small teams
Now let’s imagine you’re the manager of a team of five people. You still want feedback from them through pulse surveys, but due to the sheer size of your team, the so-called anonymous feedback will quickly become a game of guessing “who said what?”
The truth is that in small teams, pulse surveys are extremely effective, but not if you’re constantly wondering who said something.
Pulse surveys enable teams to collect extremely rich feedback from employees and benchmark that over time. If the pulse survey is anonymous, there’s very little you can do to benchmark results (aside from aggregating all the responses).
At Friday, we believe that organizations must become more employee-centric and engaged on a personal level, not at an aggregate level. Each employee is different, and that requires a tailored approach.
Tough to build habits
Your organization decides to start sending pulse surveys to your 100 employees. You’re excited for the feedback to start rolling in, and after the first three days, you have twenty-five responses. While you’re happy with the results, but 75% of your organization didn’t fill it out.
If you’re sending an anonymous survey, you have no idea who answered, so you can’t follow-up. The only thing you can do is resend the same mass email. Contrast that to if you learned that the entire marketing department didn’t fill out the survey. You then reach out to the marketing director, who provides the extra nudge.
In a perfect world, everyone would answer an anonymous pulse survey, but we don’t live in a perfect world. Expect the buy-in process to take time, and it’s definitely going to require a targeted reminder every now and then.
While we are not fans of anonymous pulse surveys, there’s a time and a place for them. Anonymity encourages employees to be more honest about issues and not sugarcoat things. We recommend using a survey tool like Survey Monkey and asking anonymous questions once per quarter. It’s a way to make sure issues aren’t slipping through the cracks.
As we mentioned previously, a pulse survey shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes to complete. Due to the frequency that these are sent out, you need to make sure they can be done in a reasonable amount of time. This is why we recommend asking 3-5 questions.
Should you use qualitative (open-ended) questions or quantitative questions?
This depends on who’s asking the questions. If you’re a manager asking your reports, we strongly advise that the questions be open-ended. If you are managing five people, it doesn’t add a lot of cognitive overhead to quickly read through their answers. If you’re the CEO of a 100 person organization, it may be tough to find the time to read hundreds of responses every week.
We recommend asking both! Here are the default questions we ask:
By asking the quantitative question, it can be tracked and improved over time. The qualitative questions dig deeper and try to unpack what happened. Check out our pulse survey sample questions.