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3 fresh approaches to employee surveys for branding

By Dawn Wagenaar, Ingenuity Marketing Group, LLC

Your employees have a lot to tell you, but only if you ask the right questions to the right employees.
Give your standard employee survey a makeover with these fresh approaches to measuring employee satisfaction, culture and your brand.

The new hire survey

Employees hired within the past 18-24 months bring a different perspective to firm culture. Their impressions about the hiring process, onboarding, training and operations can help you identify weaknesses in team dynamics and client service.
Use a new hire survey to measure first impressions of your firm’s talent brand. Ask employees how their experiences reinforce firm core values and client service standards. Which core values and service standards are strong and where are the gaps?
Questioning new employees can also help you measure changes in engagement between the date of hiring and the two-year mark. Have their expectations matched reality? If half or most newly hired employees mention the same issues or themes, it can help you draw conclusions about better recruitment and retention tactics. Ask about why they stay and what would make them leave.
In a recent new hire survey we conducted for a client, the majority of participants requested more time with their supervisors for mentoring. It was a clear opportunity for the firm to formalize its mentoring process.

The client service survey

Another approach is to survey mid-level leaders in your firm about their impression of overall client service. Are some processes outdated? Is there a new tool that could improve efficiency? Is something happening with a key client or competitor that they think needs attention soon?
Sure, these issues should come up in normal team meetings, but not everyone is comfortable speaking up in a group about a problem or possible solution. By sending out a client service survey at least once a year, you can learn about emerging issues, technologies or trends that can support budget and process planning for the coming year.
Consider sending out a short client service survey just after busy season or just after a major deadline. You can also poll different service line teams to make the feedback niche specific. If you’re thinking about introducing a new service line or technology, add questions about this, too. These surveys can inform you about service consistency and the strength of your brand in that market.

Post M&A culture survey

Mergers and acquisitions are a primary growth strategy for many accounting firms, but there is always the danger of team disagreements and loss of productivity as people jockey for new identities in a larger firm.
To demonstrate your concern for the firm’s evolving culture, send out a survey about six months after the transaction to measure attitudes and opportunities. Are employees experiencing grief or frustration with change? Are they unclear about their role or purpose? Do they need more training? Have they noticed any issues with client service?
It will be important to pose questions in a positive or neutral light to emphasize opportunity. You are looking for constructive feedback and ideas rather than a list of grievances. You may get some complaining, and that’s OK because it will bring issues out from behind closed doors.

Other considerations

With all these survey approaches, make sure to report back to employees about what you learned in general. Share how the firm plans to address the feedback.
A survey is only as good as the questions asked and the quality of feedback and analysis. Keep the survey short -- 20 questions or less. Make it easy to complete electronically in less than 10 minutes. By keeping employee names optional on the survey, you will usually get more qualitative and honest feedback. If you notice a decrease in participation from the previous year, you may need to change up your questions, make the survey shorter or conduct it at a different time of year.
If your firm is challenged by which questions to ask, or if you aren’t sure how to analyze all the feedback, consider working with an objective, third-party consultant experienced with professional service firms and culture. This partnership can help you identify the right type of survey for your goals, too.
Surveys give your employees another voice to share ideas and opinions. They may be optional or required, but make sure that they are presented -- and the feedback used -- as a communication resource to help the firm improve. If employees see positive changes after a survey, they are much more likely to participate again.