What is a pulse survey?
We've found that people geeks often use the term 'pulse' to refer to different types of surveys. Here are just a few examples we've seen:
- A short survey (i.e. much shorter than the usual annual survey) that goes out to everyone in the company
- A survey that goes out to everyone in the company every week/month/quarter
- A survey that goes out to a different sample of people every week/month/quarter
- A survey (long or short) that goes out to just a sample of people in the company
- A survey that uses one or two questions that change each week with people randomly invited
- A survey that only goes to a certain group (e.g. department, function, team) within the company
So a pulse survey can be many different things to different people.
What types of pulse surveys can I do in the Culture Amp platform?
Many of the surveys described above can be done in the Culture Amp platform. Culture Amp allows you to easily create new surveys based on templates or any of your previous surveys. You can then edit the survey down to a smaller number of questions if you like (a subset which may be based on analysis from a previous survey for example) and then select the entire organization or a subset of employees (based on any demographic) to be sent the survey. We can also import your historical data into the new survey so you can look at any trends.
Another type of Culture Amp pulse survey some customers use is known as a 'Continuous' survey. This is an ongoing survey where people are randomly selected every day. How often each person is asked to retake the survey can be set at different time schedules (monthly, quarterly, 6 monthly or annually) and when someone retakes the survey their latest responses replace previous responses. You have to work at keeping your response rates up but it can give you a continuous pulse if done well (a short survey is best).
What types of pulse surveys are not supported or recommended?
Here are the pulse surveys we currently don't support and our current thoughts on these.
Randomized question surveys
Some platforms use different questions each week (or month) and sometimes with different people invited each time. It is important to understand that this approach is likely to give you very different data from a Culture Amp survey. First, if you don't ask everyone the same questions you will only have sample data for each question - how will you judge how accurate the data is? Smaller samples for questions can make the data unreliable for making judgments and tracking any trends. Alternatively, if instead you ask everyone to respond to every new question you can run the risk of survey confusion and fatigue. This can lead to drops in your response rate which will again create issues with your sample size and reliability. Finally, even if you get good data each time there can be a sense in which there is never any time to address anything before the next survey question data comes in.
It is quite common in customer surveys to randomly or representatively sample people in surveys. Sometimes it may also seem appealing to not bother the entire company for every survey. While Culture Amp allows you to select who you want to receive any given survey there is no automatic sampling option - you may however randomly or representatively select employees yourself. However, we urge caution in doing this and always ask people to consider the following things we've observed in these sorts of surveys.
- People who don't receive a survey feel left out (even those who might usually complain about surveys)
- People can entertain ideas that you've specially selected the sample to manipulate the results
- Your data is going to be less reliable than if you asked everyone
- Although your overall company data can be quite reliable if you invite a reasonable sample, once you get down into team data levels it is often of statistically questionable value
- The more you cut the data the worse the reliability is going to become
- Often nobody truly appreciates any of the above until the results come in
What questions are best for a pulse survey?
First, it is often a good idea to use fewer questions if you are going to be surveying your people more often. This conveys that you've thought carefully about what you are asking each time and you value their time. We often recommend pulse surveys should take no longer than 4-5 minutes maximum to complete. That's about 20 questions.
If you are interested in trend tracking it can be useful to use the key outcome index from a previous survey (an Engagement Index is the most common example of this). This will give you a reliable repeated measure for tracking the overall trend and it will help you see if any of your actions have lifted the score on the outcome. If you are checking in to see whether you've made any progress on some identified driver or impact questions then you should also include those.
Another set of questions you should also consider are those focusing on post survey actions
. These are focused on what people have had communicated to them, their involvement in action planning and whether change has been perceived.
How often should pulse surveys be sent to employees?
You should only send out pulse surveys at about the same rate that you believe meaningful change might occur. There isn't much sense in checking in with people before change occurs or is perceived by employees. This doesn't mean you can't survey different people or on different topics more regularly but you should avoid asking individuals the same things at intervals too small for change to be apparent. It is hard to set a specific interval because it also depends on what you're surveying about. If we're asking about major culture change we might wait at least three months, but if you're asking about a targeted behavioural change initiative (e.g., 'meeting effectiveness') then monthly (or less) may be appropriate.