Employees Are Best Source Of Ideas For Fixing�Customer Problems

As illustrated in previous editions of this newsletter, many companies both large and small have made it an accepted practice to use customer satisfaction studies as a standard measure of business performance. Companies that embrace feedback from their customers, however, frequently fail to exploit another rich pool of data available to them -- their own employees. A firm�s employees are not only capable of identifying key areas of poor performance within the organization, but are frequently the best source of suggestions on how these problem areas can be fixed. The ability to mine important insights from a firm�s employee pool can even give one company a competitive advantage over another, and can ultimately have a decisive impact on the long-range success of a firm.

The benefits of running a successful employee satisfaction study are not limited to identifying and fixing problem areas. Gaining insight into employee attitudes, beliefs, and opinions can translate into other benefits as well:

  • Evaluate how the current workplace climate is driving employee performance

  • Proactively discover and address areas of low employee morale

  • Identify and remove all factors from the process that might contribute negatively

  • Recognize and isolate issues that are contributing negatively to a company�s ability to hire and retain talent

  • Lower turnover rates and improve job productivity

  • Discover which managers and departments are highly thought of, and which ones are in need of correction

  • Track the effectiveness of training programs, and whether results of training are aligned with program goals

  • Open dialogue about your organization�s strengths and weaknesses.

There are several possible methodologies for employee satisfaction, including surveys, in-depth interviews, and focus groups. Because it is efficient and cost-effective to distribute surveys within an organization, the survey methodology has become extremely common. Over the last decade many companies have adopted annual employee satisfaction surveys, but the implementation programs are frequently wrought with mistakes.

One of the most common errors is designing a questionnaire casually without including questions about issues that matter most to employees. The absence of relevant and important topics from a questionnaire can breed cynicism, as employees often think that management is trying to avoid a particular issue if it is not included in the survey. In order to avoid this pratfall, companies should carefully research which issues are relevant and design questions that allow management to isolate and quantify these particular hot topics.

A second common mistake is when companies fail to act upon the results of an employee survey. What firms don�t realize is that the establishment of an employee satisfaction program creates the expectation both that employee feedback is valued and that a certain amount of change will result from the program. All too often, management merely pays lip service to the survey results, at the expense of their credibility among the rank and file. Every reasonable effort should be made to implement initiatives based on the survey results. If for some reason promises resulting from a survey are not acted upon, a company is best off acknowledging that this has happened and explaining to its employees the reasons why. Failure in this area can lead to low response rates on future surveys and to the alienation of employees, who feel that their input is not valued by management.

A well-managed employee feedback program can be a valuable tool and can even help a company differentiate itself from its competition. An inherent risk comes with implementing such a program, however, as management essentially puts its credibility on the line with employees. Common mistakes such as poorly designed questionnaires or lack of follow-through can lead to disaster. Ultimately, the rewards outnumber the risks as organizations that treat their employees as �customers� and solicit their opinions frequently emerge as leaders in their areas of business.

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