We have recently had the privilege of working with two client companies using global employee surveys in their South African subsidiaries.

Employee surveys are well established instruments that are used by multinationals to understand how employees perceive their working environment, ideally to improve working conditions and increase productivity. Global employee surveys, however, also have the potential to cause more harm than good. This happens when employees feel they are not being taken seriously, they are forced to go through the motions without ever really having an impact, or when questions are mostly irrelevant from the local perspective.

A global survey can

  • collect standardised, quantitative information on pre-defined topics,

  • compare this information with other subsidiaries across the globe,

  • indicate the extent to which employees identify with the organisation and its management,

  • identify organisational areas needing further attention.

It cannot

  • take into account local specifics, e.g. culture, business environment, individual personalities, team characteristics etc.,

  • eliminate language difficulties and misinterpretation of questions,

  • capture background information (qualitative explanations),

  • adequately evaluate the performance of individuals.

If managers of South African subsidiaries understand the possibilities and limitations of global surveys, they can ensure that the activity does not back-fire. Survey results may be seen as important pointers towards organisational issues, which are subsequently investigated further in personal interviews and / or team workshops. An alternative option is to use pre-surveys or focus group discussions to identify useful and relevant questions to customize and optimize the overall survey for the specific local context. Once you have your results:

  • Provide feedback to participants quickly!

  • Tell people specifically how their input has had an impact!

  • Use the survey as an opportunity for change, since expectations of change have automatically been raised!

CIELARKO’s support is based on a strong research background, which is valuable for the collection, analysis, interpretation and reporting of information. We hold a neutral position (free from organisational politics), contribute experience from other companies and industrial sectors, listen attentively to individual reasoning, experiences and beliefs, and guarantee anonymity for employees.

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