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Jeremy Thorn

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Book review: ‘Strategic employee surveys’ – Dr Jack W Wiley


Member Jeremy Thorn reviews Jack Wiley’s book, ‘Strategic employee surveys’ for Find out what he has to say about the title.

Title: ‘Strategic employee surveys – evidence-based guidelines for driving organizational success’, by Dr Jack W Wiley. 

ISBN 978-0-470-88970-1 – Jossey Bass £26.99

Review by Jeremy Thorn

I am a sucker for being impressed by anyone with a PhD, especially when they work in the field of surveying people’s attitudes and behaviour. My first post-graduate training was also in industrial marketing research, so I was particularly looking forward to reading what Dr Wiley might have to say on surveying employees.

However, as the opening makes clear, this is a book more about why survey employees, rather than how to. And if you thought the reasons could be rather self-evident, you might also think that £26.99 was an awful lot to pay to find out.

Nevertheless, this book is very clearly written and signposted, and the first thing to jump out at the reader is the huge variation in practice across the world. Maybe we might think the reasons for surveying staff are rather obvious, with the UK joining the US, Canada, China and India as relatively high users of such surveys (between 60-72% of companies surveyed, all employing more than 100 staff). However, in France, Italy, Japan, Russia and Spain for example, companies all report much lower utilisation, between only 34% and 49%. Moreover, while some 60-69% of companies in Banking, Finance, Healthcare and ‘High-tech’ manufacturing reported using employee surveys, only 40-49% did in Accounting, the Law, Construction and ‘Heavy Manufacturing’. Fascinating!

The good Doctor then quotes from an earlier book of his, to suggest there are 4 reasons for conducting employee surveys, from the more defensive warning of signs of trouble, such as ethics and safety; to evaluation of specific programs <sic>, policies and initiatives; to the more ‘offensive’ gauging of an organisation’s status as an Employer of Choice, by measuring engagement and retention; and on to measuring drive and performance, including customer satisfaction and business performance. And as the title implies, all of these reasons should support the strategic business cause.

With some interesting material on employee concerns about safety, company ethics and ‘Union Vulnerability’ as Warning Indicators, further chapters follow on Program Evaluation (eg racial diversity and work/life balance), measuring employee retention drivers and engagement, and High Performance indicators. (In passing, it was fascinating to see that, apparently, ‘Being excited about work’ is not an employee-driver in Brazil; ‘Having confidence in senior leaders’ is not a factor in France; and ‘Corporate responsibility’ does not signify in Russia!)

The second part of this relatively slim volume then explores a seven-step, survey feedback and planning model, which is delightfully structured if rather obvious. Key points that are drawn to our attention include: “Organizations can waste precious time and energy when they overanalyze results”; “One of the biggest pitfalls in effective survey follow-up processes is having too many priorities on which to work”; and “Involving employees in a dialogue around survey results in feedback meetings or focus group interviews is necessary to determine why employees feel the way they do”. There is then a very useful chapter on sustaining change.

Perhaps the most significant thought is right at the end of the book, where Wylie’s surveys show that companies who care enough about their employees, and value their input enough to ask for it, tend to have employees who are significantly more engaged than other companies; as measured by their pride, satisfaction, commitment and willingness to recommend their employer to others. And as he says, “the existence of a plan points to but does not guarantee success; however, the absence of a plan points to failure or, at the very least, diminished returns”.

Jeremy Thorn managed workforces around the world before setting up a UK strategic management consultancy. He is also the author of a number of experiential management books and a frequent speaker and writer on challenging business issues of the day.


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