There are so many reasons, and different ways, to use pulse surveys and in this blog, I briefly explore some of the different use cases for this versatile tool.
First, though, there is a lot of debate about whether you should use pulse OR annual employee surveys to understand your people experience. Frankly, I think this is a false debate, as they serve different purposes: The ‘annual’ employee survey being an opportunity to gather a more strategic view of the people experience, and pulse is more of a tactical and monitoring tool.
How you use pulse surveys as a tactical tool depends on the technology at your disposal. At The People Experience Hub, our pulse survey module is a bit of an all-rounder. It can be used to ‘drip feed’ questions over some time, but equally, it can be used to explore ad hoc topics or themes (e.g. return to the office, D&I, wellbeing) for all employees or to a targeted (or even random) selection.
It’s this versatility that makes pulse surveys a powerful tool to have in your HR toolbox. But, of course, sometimes too much choice is a barrier to action, so here are our thoughts on different ways to use them, to help you along.
I guess this is the classic approach to pulse: Using regular, scheduled surveys to measure a small number of key questions or to rotate a larger number, over time.
But what should you monitor?
Obviously, it depends on what’s important to you. But you may have people-related KPIs that you need to monitor, for example, well-being or belonging, and you want to see improvement over a period of time. Equally, you might monitor readiness for change over the period of a transformation programme.
It’s important that you monitor things that you – or your managers – can manage directly. There’s little point in ‘weighing the pig’, and measuring things you can’t action and improve.
There’s also little point in asking people how they feel unless you can also (immediately) help them to do something about it.
That means that questions should target the environmental ‘drivers’ of outcomes such as well-being or engagement, rather than the outcomes themselves (unless you want to understand what’s working – and then do both).
To do this well, you need to know what your drivers are, and the best way of understanding these is to run and analyse a wider employee survey (and repeat periodically to freshen up your pulse).
A more specific example of monitoring that is worthy of calling out on its own, is understanding how people are responding to a change or transformation programme, especially if it is planned to take a long time to work through.
If you are monitoring readiness to change you might want to know how people are feeling and how engaged they are, but (following the principle of monitoring things you can manage) it’s probably better to measure the effectiveness of communications, people’s understanding of the change and its impact, whether they feel that they have the knowledge and skills they need, and so on.
Another great use of pulse is to follow up on a theme or issue that emerges from your annual employee survey or listening sessions. It’s tempting to try and cover every potential question in an annual survey, but knowing that you can ‘pulse’ it later means that you don’t have to. You can just do enough to cover the main themes and run a more focused follow-up on areas that are interesting or problematic.
I often talk about surveys showing us which rocks to look under, not necessarily what will crawl out from under them. By recognising this, it takes the pressure off the annual survey, and you can be more realistic – or more considerate of your people in its design.
So you might want to explore a particular theme more closely, which might be functional/environmental (e.g. management, communication), experiential (belonging, autonomy), demographic (e.g. specific to departments, or groups based on characteristics), or indeed any combination of the above. You might do this by following some focus groups, which will help surface issues and frame the questions that you want to quantify.
Whereas the previous example is fundamentally a planned activity, you might also want to run an ad hoc pulse to quickly understand an emerging issue that’s affecting people and wasn’t identified in an annual survey.
For example, many of our clients used the pulse survey module to understand how their people felt and what they needed at different stages of the pandemic. Likewise, the cost of living crisis is a very live issue for many people, but it might equally be more of an ‘internal’ issue that needs to be understood.
Demonstrating the effectiveness or return on investment of training programmes (or other performance interventions) is always a challenge for L&D. Using our pulse module, you could gather and analyse feedback, ask people to self-report on measures such as confidence in new skills, or you could assess effectiveness using pre- and post-training measures that are relevant.
6. Testing out an idea or proposal
You might be thinking of some different alternatives, which might be for something relatively trivial (whether to have a Christmas party) to something far more strategic – for example, road-testing some new organisational values before they’re finalised. Having access to a platform that can quickly be used to send a few questions out to the whole business or a specific segment, without any extra work, is invaluable.
7. Creating an online suggestion box
One underused function of the pulse survey module can be to create an open ‘survey’ that is, essentially, little more than a way of gathering suggestions and comments by text. You could ask a few questions and use the same ‘box’ for different types of suggestions or comments, and you could ask whether the individual wants to be identifiable/contacted about their suggestion.
8. Raising an ethical concern or complaint
Finally, this is really another kind of suggestion box, but you could specifically enable people to raise ethical concerns or complaints, and this can be done confidentially (or by giving people the option). The beauty of using a pulse survey for whistleblowing is that rather than disappearing into an inbox, all of the information is accessible and easily analysed from one place.
I’m sure that there are many other use cases for pulse surveys, but I hope that this has given you some insight into their versatility as a tool, and perhaps given you some ideas that will help you and your business get more value from them in the future.