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What if your employee survey was about sense-making?

Updated: Sep 13, 2021

Employee surveys are about numbers and profiles. They have been this way since we filled out our first response form ourselves about 30 years ago. Rate XY on a scale from 1 to 7 with 1 equals low ... You know the drill. It always has been this way because they tell you that people don't want to invest time in surveys. It needs to be short and clickable, or you don't get the necessary response numbers. Well, it indeed needs to be short - or rather "not long," but the keyword is "engaging" and not "clickable"!

What if respondents were willing to fill in text boxes because they know the resulting report will be about actions, a fair review of their ideas, and their suggestions. A story that resembles a valuable map into the future and not only a presentation in which colorful quantitative profiles lead you right into the "valley of death by Powerpoint" (or whatever presentation software you are used to)! Participants are willing to engage with surveys if they sense that their efforts will have an impact. While you can tell engaging change narratives by quantitative data, it is much easier when you deep-dive directly into the stories as your employees relay them. Usually, you call this "qualitative research," It takes more than a bit of effort in coding and data preparation. Due to recent developments in computational text- and sentiment analysis, there are compelling and interactive tools available to bring your reports to a new level of engagement and sense-making for the participants!

Sentiment-analysis You might be familiar with James Pennebaker's groundbreaking research on the interface of Psychology and Language. If not, grab a copy of his "The Secret Life of Pronouns"! The related software - cryptically named in its current iteration "LIWC2015" allows to compare predominant sentiments in a given text sample with a large corpus of texts related to the same culture or country. See below for an exemplary analysis of employee statements about what makes their corporate culture "typical".

While this picture still is not the story, it easily allows telling an engaging narrative of two companies struggling with post-merger-integration challenges: both employee populations are willing to make this happen (high achievement-motivation). One team has gone lost in sadness, anxiety, and negative emotions. You can even compare the magnitude of their disorientation with what you would typically expect in a US-text corpus. What you see here is easy to be transformed into a "gold mine" for change management storytelling, be it one group of mountain climbers coming to the rescue of the other so that both of them will reach the summit and get back safely into the base-camp. Or allow for sense-making of the current disorientation in building a storyline around being lost and finding your way again in the desert!

Semantic Network-analysis Another set of tools you might want to use consists of semantic network mapping.

In this example, we have utilized InfraNodus to display part of a text about Google's Corporate Culture (Source: Tran. International Journal of Corporate Social Responsibility (2017) 2:10. DOI 10.1186/s40991-017-0021-0).

Imagine, these were excerpts of your employees' statements: the analysis box on the right displays the combination of "failure, encourage, and ideas" as a critical concept that distinguishes this culture and its ability to learn and adapt! You have hit the bull's eye head-on. If you are fascinated by the power of qualitative analysis to drive sense-making in organizations as I am, get in contact! It will significantly enhance the quality of your reporting on employee surveys and drive up considerably employee engagement for resulting change initiatives.

Find some food for thought below:

Casper, V. (2015). Visuelle Fuehrung. Heidelberg: Springer Gabler. Long, S. (2013). (Ed.). Socioanalytic Methods. Discovering the Hidden in Organizations and Social Systems. London: Karnac. Mueller, M. (2017). Einfuehrung in narrative Methoden der Organisationsberatung. Heidelberg: Carl-Auer. Neve-Hanquet, C. & Crespel, A. (2020). Facilitating Collective Intelligence. A Handbook for Trainers, Coaches, Consultants, and Leaders. New York, NY: Routledge. Pennebaker, J.W. (2011). The Secret Life of Pronouns. What Our Words Say About Us. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

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