In my consulting practice, I have seen many leaders do exactly the same thing when it comes to surveying their employees. They “game the measurement system” to shift numbers in a desired direction – even though those numbers may not reflect reality. Many tactics are mild and overt, but some are not. Bottom line – some leaders only focus on what metrics are desired and get rewarded. They decide to “influence” or “manipulate” the process, depending on your perspective, rather than actually do the work or change the behavior the organization wants.
Here are three common techniques that can create an artificial/false sense of accomplishment. They also can contribute to eroding trust; declining relationships; disengagement; alienating the employees’ voice; and lowering performance.
1. Selective Timing. Some leaders like to influence employee survey results by holding morale-boosting events (luncheons, team-building activities, positive compensation news, etc.) just prior to the survey. Others like to withhold perceived negative news/actions (shutdowns, layoffs, outsourcing, performance reviews, etc.) until after the survey has closed.
Questions: Would your survey results change significantly if there were little to no advanced notice before taking the survey?
2. Leading the Witness. Some leaders have learned to ask questions in a manner that suggests their desired answer. For example: “Don’t you think we have made good progress on our survey action items this year?” or “I hope survey results are better. If not, we’ll just need to get more people working harder on improvement ideas. What do you think?”
Question: Are any leaders trying to pre-condition survey responses by asking employees leading questions?
3. Changing the Scale (measuring unit). Some leaders tell employees “a neutral score in bad” or “only the highest rating score counts”. These tactics create deviations from an organization’s standardized measuring process, reduce consistency, hamper comparisons, and create challenges tracking data over a period of time.
Questions: Are all leaders following the same, standard measurement rating scale expectations on employee surveys?
Some businesses call it “influencing”, “encouraging”, or “persuading”. Others call it “manipulating” and/or coercing”. It all depends on your business’ culture. Each organization must clarify where the “line” is between what is considered appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. “Gaming the measurement system” has huge risks in all aspects of the business – including employee opinion surveys. What’s acceptable or tolerated in your organization?