How to conquer the ‘survey scaries’ in 5 steps

Survey scaries (noun):

The feeling of dread that washes over people managers when culture survey results are released. Often accompanied by panic, anxiety, and denial.

Whichever way you slice it, receiving culture survey results can be a very feeling-filled event

We’ve been there. From filling out your own survey and thinking “Oh shoot… was I supposed to do that with my team?” to receiving the results in your inbox to figuring out your action plan, the experience can be overwhelming and exhausting. But don’t fret, we’re here to help. 

First, let’s hold hands and walk through an inner monologue of what it can be like in the first 20 minutes after you receive your survey results:

  • 0:00-0:03: “Oh jeez, it’s here. Maybe if I just ignore it, it will go away? That’s how email works, right?” 
  • 0:03-0:04: “OK, I should just face the music. I’ll open it… I think… Yeah, I can do this. I’m a great manager, my team loves me! Feedback is a gift!” 
  • 0:06-0:10: “OK, summary page, I’m summarizing. This is a lot to process. What does green mean? Red, oh wow, there is red. Must find all of the red and stare at the red. But what does all of this mean? ” 
  • 0:10-0:11: “Ooooh a comments page! That’ll clarify. Ouch, that one stung… Reading this was a mistake. Wait, we talked about that!.. Awww that was a nice one.. Who said that?!…Let me hit “control F” and look for my name… Wish I hadn’t done that…” 
  • 0:11-0:12: “Oh wait! Surely I’m doing better than other managers. How did I do against the average? Ooooh OK OK, better on that metric… ut oh wayyyy worse on that one…” 
  • 0:13-0:15: “Well, this settles it. I can’t show my face at work again. My team doesn’t appreciate or like me. And everyone knows. Can I show my face at work again? Does everyone know? Everyone knows, right?… I mean I know they don’t, but maybe they do somehow…” 
  • 0:15-0:16: “Feedback is NOT a gift. Let me review every 1 on 1, team meeting and interaction I had over the last 6 months to see how we got here…” 
  • 0:16-0:18: “Does this pit in my stomach ever go away? Or is it just something I live with…” 
  • 0:18-0:19: “Actually, there’s some really good stuff in here. My team must value me enough to give feedback. I think I can really use this to grow in my career and help the team perform better”.  
  • 0:19-0:20: “Ok, but what do I do now?

Whew. Sound familiar? We’ve all been there

That’s why we’ve created a 5-Step Plan you can tick off as you process your culture survey results. This list can also help you translate the feedback into positive change as a manager for you, your team, and your company.

Step 1: Be aware

Define your role when it comes to processing and responding to survey results:

  • What are you responsible for as a people manager? 
  • What is the role of your manager? 
  • What is the role of your People or HR team? 
  • What is the process followed by your company if one exists? 

Understand the context:

  • Your team filled out this survey at a single moment in time. There are many forces that influenced their answers. Things like the company’s performance, overall culture, HR policies, and factors from outside work. You are an important part of the picture but not their entire context.

Know what this means for you:

  • Culture surveys don’t define you or your performance. They will give you and your manager important insights about where you can focus.
  • While companies use these results differently, the best ones leverage results to motivate more support, progress, and positive change. It is all about improving the experience for and performance of the team.

Step 2: Care for you and your team

Remember to be kind to yourself:

  • These survey results are a reflection of you and also the company and culture as a whole. There is a lot that goes into them. You are a part of it but not the reason for every response.
  • Do not be too hard on yourself.
  • Remind yourself: (1) of your strengths as a manager (2) that you are in your role for a reason (3) you are in control of how you respond to the results and (4) just like any other role, investing in yourself and growing as a manager is part of the job.

Think about your team:

  • Whether or not you agree with the results, be open to the feedback from your team.
  • Recognize that their feedback is an expression of how they are feeling and experiencing the company and their role at a moment in time.
  • If they are feeling pain, recognize that you could help be a part of the solution for them.

Step 3: Prepare to address

Digest the information and come to terms with it before approaching your team:

  • If you are feeling all the feels from your results, take time for yourself. Avoid Slacking, commenting or emailing folks about the results until you have had time to digest the information.
  • Do not confront your team about the comments or results if you feel angry or sad in-the-moment. Step away and take a walk if you need.

Talk to your manager:

  • Your manager is a great resource to help you understand your results and come up with an action plan. Most likely, they received the results before you and can provide perspective.
  • Don’t feel like you need to hide or be ashamed of your results. Your manager is there to support you and your success.

Decide how to approach the results with your team:

  • Create a plan for how and what you will share with your team. It is important to create a safe space for feedback with your team.
  • By discussing the results, you are likely to better understand context and the actions your team would like to see from the results.

Step 4: Share and build trust with your team

Share and discuss the results with your team:

  • We recommend using the “start, stop, continue” framework. Ask your team what actions you/company should start doing, what actions you/company should stop doing and what actions you/company should continue doing. The continue piece is critical as it is important to continue to put energy and resources behind the things that are currently working. They likely won’t continue to work without intentional effort.

Create an action plan with your team:

  • Bring your team into the action planning and execution process. Encourage them to own pieces of the plan (ie if they want more team bonding, ask if anyone would like to organize the next event). Often as managers we think we need to own the whole plan, but it will be much more effective and inclusive to include your team in the action plan.

Step 5: Dare to turn survey scaries into survey power

Challenge yourself:

  • Resist the urge to protect yourself from results by blaming external factors – “they”, the company, HR, the world at large. Dare yourself to accept some ownership of the results and the resulting action plan.

Challenge your team:

  • Your team can play a big role in improving their experience at the company. Encourage them to own parts of the action plan.

Challenge your company:

  • Survey results often come loaded with feedback for managers, HR, and the leadership team. Be sure to hold your company accountable for sharing results, creating an action plan and following through on that action plan. As a manager, your role is not only to hold your people accountable to their goals but also to hold your company accountable for delivering for your people.

Focus – pick only 2-3 things to work on:

  • It can be tempting to try to fix everything at once. However, by picking 2-3 action items per quarter, you are more likely to be effective and move the needle in those areas.
  • Label what isn’t being worked on and why it is prioritized that way. This way, your team will know what is being actively improved and what is next up on the list.

In summary: survey scaries are real

All too real. You can use this framework to be aware of your role, care for yourself and team, prepare your next actions, share important insights, and dare to challenge yourself, team and company to improve.  

To continue building your skills as an awesome manager, check out how The Mintable can give you the training, tools, and community to be great. See our membership offerings and join us today.