pulse or not to pulse blog image

Surveys: To Pulse… Or Not to Pulse…

I straddle the worlds of employee experience surveys, learning solutions, and performance improvement resources. No matter which “hat” I’m wearing on any day, I encounter clients who want to “do something innovative” or “become more digital.” I’m not alone. Chris Lepine’s blog on people-friendly digital transformations is a great primer on the evergreen truths of technology-enabled learning and performance improvement.

Like Chris, I explored how to use engagement measurement tools in an increasingly digital world in a recent eNews article titled “Don’t Let the Tail Wag the Dog”. I’d like to continue that dialogue by digging a bit deeper into the topic of pulse surveys and their benefits.

As the name implies, pulse surveys are designed to “take the pulse” of your workforce (as opposed to, if we continue with a healthcare analogy, a comprehensive annual checkup). Advances in technology make pulsing (and its trendy cousin “continuous listening”) easier than ever. How do you know whether it’s right for your organization?

Four Reasons to Pulse

When you need to break a cycle of inaction. Some clients admit, often in hushed tones, that “not much has happened” since their last survey. If you can relate, adding one or two pulse surveys to your annual measurement approach can provide the impetus leaders need to stay focused on engagement year-round. More frequent insights will drive more frequent manager-team discussions, which can lead to renewed commitment and progress on ideas for increasing engagement.

When you want to drive accountability. If you’re trying to move your engagement survey from an annual HR-driven activity to a driver of a high-performance culture, a pulse survey can reinforce the behaviors that can actually move the needle. When you include questions that explore employee perceptions of how the last survey findings were communicated and how employees were involved in action planning, you’ll send a message that everyone needs to own a piece of the engagement equation. You’ll also obtain insights into who is actually using the survey insights to drive change and who is not.

When you’d like early warning indicators. External events impact your organization; strategies morph; priorities shift; change happens. Pulsing can help you gather insights into what’s happening in your work environment so your leaders can take appropriate action quickly.

When you have an overall measurement strategy. Pulsing without purpose is a bad idea – as is “listening in real time” without a strategy that defines the roles and responsibilities for taking action. A pulse survey can explore themes that your more comprehensive survey identifies. Its short length prevents it from gathering information on everything that you need to know to increase engagement and performance. It can’t replace the more in-depth survey.

The bottom line: Before you schedule a pulse survey, make sure you have the answers to questions like: How does this fit with our overall approach? What are we trying to achieve? What do we need to learn? … and my favorite, Who is going to do what with the insights?

About the Authors

Mary Ann Masarech

Mary Ann Masarech spent the first third of her career writing, designing, and marketing skills training for top-notch consulting firms. She acquired a broad base of instructional design and client experience building learning experiences in sales, negotiations, account management, customer service, selection interviewing and leadership skills. The programs she designed were all about the “how.” (When “X” happens, do “A, B, C.”) When she joined GP Strategies’ BlessingWhite division in 2000, Mary Ann began to explore worlds beyond skills: The internal workings of individual learners – expressed as personal values and goals, the puzzling workings of organizational culture, and the often complicated dynamics of trust and relationships at work. She quickly realized there was no going back. As Lead Consultant for BlessingWhite’s Engagement Practice, Mary Ann creates practical tools and strategies that clients worldwide apply to create successful businesses and thriving workplaces. Think of her approach as "research meets real world." She is passionate about great days at work – where individuals experience the highest levels of personal satisfaction, apply their skills to what matters most, and deliver their best work to drive their employers’ strategies. As lead consultant, she also works with senior HR and business leaders on how to take meaningful action on engagement survey results to drive organizational performance. She is co-author of The Engagement Equation: Leadership Strategies for an Inspired Workforce (Wiley, Oct 2012), has written numerous research reports and articles, and is a well-regarded speaker on the leader’s role in engagement and building a culture of engagement. Mary Ann's commitment to meaningful lives and meaningful work extends beyond her day job. She is a founding member of the Norma Pfriem Urban Outreach Initiatives, a not-for-profit that addresses food insecurity (serving 10,000 meals a year) and education of underserved adults and children. She is a graduate of Wesleyan University. She enjoys her mostly-empty nest with her husband, 2 cats and a dog, cooking, reading and running (not simultaneously) in her spare time.

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