The Secret Question to Improve Survey Effectiveness

The concept of rounding has been a part of health care’s approach to increasing patient satisfaction for many years. We credit the Studer Group with taking it to a higher level of effectiveness by focusing on a systematic approach, well-deployed throughout the health care system. The Studer Group also began advocating for the use of rounding on employees as a way to increase their engagement and retention.
While certainly not at the frequency of hourly or daily rounding, many organizations use employee and customer satisfaction surveys to obtain feedback that helps them identify areas of improvement. We see this approach achieving varying degrees of success also.
Have you found that your rounding efforts are resulting in fewer and fewer real opportunities for improvement? Are you addressing issues that are cited in your employee satisfaction surveys without seeing a corresponding improvement in employee satisfaction? A simple change to your approaches may yield huge dividends.
In the past month or so we’ve conducted more than a dozen focus groups of cross-functional front-line staff members in hospitality and long-term care organizations on behalf of clients. The participants’ attitudes ran the gamut from highly engaged to extremely dissatisfied. Each of these organizations regularly surveyed their employees, and the results were segmented in a variety of ways. Verbatim comments were also reported. However, none of the survey reports were sufficient to identify the real root causes of dissatisfaction that were teased out in the focus groups.
One reason that rounding and surveys don’t uncover real insights that could make a difference in moving the needle on satisfaction and engagement is the assumption by organizations and third party survey vendors that they know the right questions to ask. It suddenly struck us that we presume to know the questions that will provide actionable information for improved satisfaction and engagement. Even open-text comment boxes are often left blank because the respondent is unclear how the information will be used, or if it will be used. This reminds me of going to the doctor who asks all of the questions from a standard diagnostic approach. In that environment, too, it often requires a relationship of trust that allows a patient to volunteer information beyond the questions that are asked.
What if you were to ask your employees, “What question(s) should we be asking during our rounds that would help you tell us what we most need to know” (to help you do your job better, to find more joy in your work, to help you achieve your goals?). What if you were to ask your patients, “What question(s) should we be asking during our rounds that would help you tell us what we most need to know” (to provide better care, to help you be more comfortable, to help you achieve your goals?)  And what if before we conducted employee or patient satisfaction surveys, we asked for their feedback on the questions and if others should be added? These are the “secret” questions to add to your surveys.
Our traditional approaches to determining employee and customer satisfaction are based on a model of unequal power in the relationships. That paradigm has shifted. If we want engaged employees and patients, we need to include them in identifying what they most need us to know.
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