How to Get More out of Your Survey Using an Item Tracker

How to Get More out of Your Survey Using an Item Tracker

In HR analytics, we speak a lot about integration and alignment: of our HR (and beyond) systems, of data in our HR strategy, and of our...

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In HR analytics, we speak a lot about integration and alignment: of our HR (and beyond) systems, of data in our HR strategy, and of our HR strategy with our broader business strategy. One example we don’t often speak of is aligning our HR survey data and survey strategy. Doing this the right way will set your organization up to reap the advantages of alignment. This article will outline these advantages and how you can incorporate them into your work.

The traditional HR surveys are typically targeted and topic-specific (e.g. onboarding, engagement, exit). Our tendency may be to think of them as isolated opportunities to collect data. When there is overlap in content, it is not always a deliberate product of our survey strategy. It’s by maintaining this rather narrow perspective about our surveys that we may miss numerous critical opportunities to capture quick pulses of specific items throughout the employee lifecycle, in surveys we didn’t previously see as vehicles for these items.

Why aligned pulses are so important

These aligned pulses are important for several reasons. For starters, HR analytics is moving towards a continuous listening paradigm. In its extreme form, continuous listening means “always listening”, which not all organizations are prepared for both in terms of enablement or principle.

Nevertheless, we can begin shifting our work in the direction of more frequent data touch points with employees. We can achieve this by reviewing all of our survey items (yes, all), and see when and where we’re capturing each of them in our employee lifecycle.

With an eye for alignment, doing so can begin to provide us an understanding of what other surveys may be good homes for specific items. For example, have you asked yourself recently if any of your new hire survey items also belong on your engagement survey, or vice versa?

Identifying opportunities to re-ask items on a number of surveys spread throughout the employee lifecycle offers a richer picture of the employee experience through numerous consistent, time-specific snapshots of his or her responses.

Challenges with aligning survey items

One of the primary challenges with aligning our surveys in this manner is the plethora of survey items we use across all surveys. Each survey we administer (onboarding, new hire, training, quality of hire, engagement, performance, etc.) has numerous unique items which, when combined, form a large bank that we’d be lucky to be able to think holistically about.

Keeping these item lists apart from each other, or grouped by survey, hides from us any conceptual overlap in items, as well as those items on one survey which make sense to pulse on another survey. It also prevents us from seeing the ‘bigger picture’ of our data collection efforts.

One basic tool to help solve for this is a basic item tracker (like the sample one illustrated below). This tool can be easily built in a spreadsheet, using columns to represent surveys administered from the beginning (left) to the end (right) of the employee experience, and rows to store your items.
How to use a Survey Item Tracker
An item tracker can help keep all of your surveys aligned by cleanly presenting at what points in the employee lifecycle we’re administering certain items, and even serve as a knowledge base for the development of new aligned surveys.

By indicating which items fall onto which surveys, you can observe which surveys may be lacking an item that makes sense to include. In contrast, if you’re looking to reduce a survey’s item count, the item tracker is an effective way to see which items are already well pulsed by other surveys, and thus may warrant removal.

Using an item tracker: an example

Take, for example, the sample item above: ‘I would recommend my manager’. The tracker indicates this item is administered on the New Hire survey as well as the Engagement survey.

Without an item tracker, we may not be presented with a broad enough picture of our item coverage to notice that our Exit survey could also probably benefit from the inclusion of the manager recommendation item. It is, after all, helpful to understand how employee-manager relationships might impact decisions to exit the organization!

Additionally, perhaps you notice that you’re asking about learning and development (L&D) in your 30-day Onboarding survey, which was (hypothetically) built prior to the newer 90-day New Hire survey. While before it may have made sense to ask this item on the Onboarding survey, now it’s apparent that it makes more sense to ask once an employee has settled into their role more (not a mere 30-days into their tenure). Employees at 90-days will probably have a better sense of the L&D resources available to them, relative to 30-day employees who may have just completed training.

When using an item tracker, one important thing to keep in mind is whether or not any of your surveys are measures of psychometric constructs. These measures are typically designed very methodically and following rigorous testing and validation. While item trackers are useful for “zooming out” on your broader data collection strategy, you should do so with an eye for how inserting or removing items from validated measures could impact their validity.

Regardless of the number of surveys you administer, an item tracker allows you to visualize the span of the employee experience that is captured by specific survey items. This more holistic perspective on your survey strategy ensures that you’re able to collect the same data at multiple time points in a thoughtful and deliberate way. Using this time series data, we’re also one step closer to a model of “listening” to the employee experience that allows us to act on targeted issues as they occur, rather than when it’s too late.

Start building your item tracker today, or use this template as a starting point! The upfront time investment is sure to result in greater clarity about your surveys, help you align your survey data and strategy, and inspire more effective and timely action!

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