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Article | EX Insights

Survey best practice: How to manage poor survey results


By Adam Zuckerman | May 11, 2020

Explore this article for a few simple steps to effectively address less than favorable survey results to drive improved outcomes.

The purpose of a survey is to uncover issues that need addressing. While poor results may seem disappointing, they also act as a catalyst for positive change. Try not to focus on the scores themselves. Instead, focus on what the scores are telling you and how you can use them to prioritize your efforts for the greatest impact.

Don’t panic

It may appear as if the sky is falling, especially if you have several (or all) survey categories scoring below the norm or declining. The reality is there are likely just one or two causes driving a poor result or declining trend, rather than a dozen or more distinct problems. Once you find and address those issues, results will improve.


What often separates those who drive effective change from those who don’t is the ability to prioritize. Find one or two priority areas from your survey results to focus your attention. To do this, look for the questions that scored least favorably versus the norms and have the strongest impact on engagement based on a key driver analysis. This is where you should prioritize. If opportunities were identified by the software, consider these as well. Whatever you do, make sure your priorities are directly relevant to the employee experience you want to create.

Share openly

Share the honest results with employees – both the good and the bad. The benefits of transparency far outweigh trying to “spin” the findings. While sharing results, also share the priority areas you’ve selected to address, which should be a subset of the areas scoring poorly. Employees know you can’t fix everything at once. You’ll get more credit and achieve more by having a realistic set of focus areas.

Resist the temptation to present solutions to problems you’ve identified. The solutions will come later and will need a bit more thought. You don’t want to make promises to your team you can’t keep.

Make sure you communicate results promptly. If you wait six months before communicating, employees may expect that you have already addressed the issues raised in the survey. Gain the time you need to study the issues and take thoughtful action by communicating the results early.

Involve employees

Your employees are the richest source of ideas on how to address issues uncovered in a survey. Ask for suggestions through informal one-on-one dialogues or formal focus groups. Willis Towers Watson’s Virtual Focus Group technology is an innovative and easy way of collecting this type of qualitative insight. We also suggest carefully reviewing your survey’s open-ended comments for suggestions. Where appropriate, ask for volunteers to join a task force to study an issue and make recommendations. The more employees involved in shaping a solution, the more likely it is to succeed.

Create plans, assign owners and follow-up

Develop a detailed action plan including a description of the issue, owners, suggested actions, timing and the resources you need to support the plan. Record your plan in the action planning module of the Willis Towers Watson Employee Engagement Software. Make sure you follow up with employees regularly to share the actions taken and your progress. Don’t go too long (ideally six months) before re-surveying your employees to see if your actions are making a difference, and of course make adjustments to your plans as needed.

Sign-in to your Willis Towers Watson Employee Engagement Software account today to review your survey results, or contact us for a demo.


Nick Tatchell
Senior Director, Willis Towers Watson Employee Insights

For nearly 20 years Nick has worked with some great UK and global clients on their employee engagement and insights programs. After all that time he still gets enormous satisfaction from seeing clients genuinely listening to their employees and acting on their feedback.

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