In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Driving Change Through Organizational Surveys

  • Introduction
  • Theoretical Underpinnings of Survey Feedback
  • Using Models to Guide Organizational Change
  • Tools and Techniques
  • Common Reactions to Feedback
  • Outcomes

Management Driving Change Through Organizational Surveys
Allan Church, Daniel Kuyumcu, Christopher Rotolo
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846740-0089


Organizational surveys are a powerful tool for collecting information from employees. They have long been a core measurement and feedback intervention of choice for organization development (OD) practitioners and industrial-organizational (I-O) psychologists alike. Specifically, they have been used to serve many critical functions in organizations, including measuring organizational health, assessing employee attitudes, and informing and driving organizational change. They provide a practical means by which to get a pulse check on the organization, allowing practitioners to measure an organization’s progress over time and its standing relative to its competitors. Thus, the benefits provided by administering organizational surveys are many, as will be discussed in detail in this article.

General Overviews

Over the years, organizational surveys have been used for a number of purposes at the organization, group or team, and individual managerial levels. In fact, as Church and Waclawski 2001 (cited under Foundations of Surveys) notes, one of the most important elements to any effective organizational-survey design is identifying and aligning senior leadership on the purpose and objectives of a survey, because this drives the results stages of any implementation model. These include such focus areas as (1) measuring employee attitudes and tracking attitude and cultural change in basic outcomes such as satisfaction, and, more recently, constructs such as engagement and enablement (e.g., Van Rooy, et al. 2011, which discusses the use of surveys during challenging business environments, and Church 2013, which presents differences in predictors of engagement for high-potential versus non-high-potential leaders); (2) providing senior leadership with strategic information and insights to inform business and human resources strategy (see, for example, the short and highly targeted survey for CEO Jack Welch at General Electric, as described in Welch and Byrne 2001); (3) communicating critical priorities and new behaviors and values to reinforce large-scale culture change (see, for example, the cultural aspects identified for survey measurement in the SmithKline Beecham merger in Burke and Jackson 1991, or the example in Thomas and Creary 2009 of the use of a survey to drive an inclusive and supportive culture initiative at PepsiCo); and (4) driving local (group or function) action planning and improvement through data feedback efforts (see applied research in Church, et al. 2012 on the impact of using and not using feedback to drive outcomes). While not all surveys are intended to serve all purposes, understanding the objective is key in ensuring that the design will support the appropriate types of actions and outcomes, whether they be strategic change, cultural transformation, or local action planning.

  • Burke, W. Warner, and Peter Jackson. “Making the SmithKline Beecham Merger Work.” In Special Issue: The New Workforce and Workplace. Human Resource Management 30.1 (1991): 69–87.

    DOI: 10.1002/hrm.3930300105

    Documents the steps taken in the merger between SmithKline Beckman and Beecham, highlighting the specific role that surveys play in supporting the cultural integration. Namely, the authors acknowledge that a merger plan implementation should be monitored via the use of employee surveys designed to gauge the development and sustainment of the newly merged culture. Moreover, the survey process both provides annual baseline data and informs the development of appropriate OD interventions.

  • Church, Allan H. “Engagement Is in the Eye of the Beholder: Understanding Differences in the OD vs. Talent Management Mindset.” OD Practitioner 45.2 (2013): 42–48.

    Discusses the differences between an organization development (OD) and a talent management framework and examines the extent to which high-potential status affects one’s level of engagement. Church uses organizational culture survey data to link employee survey responses to their potential status (i.e., high potential, non-high potential). The survey measures various dimensions of the organization’s culture and is reported to be used as an action-planning tool to drive organizational change. It was found that high potentials had different drivers of engagement than did non-high potentials, highlighting the need for different types of follow-up actions.

  • Church, Allan H., Leslie M. Golay, Christopher T. Rotolo, Michael D. Tuller, Amanda C. Shull, and Erica I. Desrosiers. “Without Effort There Can Be No Change: Reexamining the Impact of Survey Feedback and Action Planning on Employee Attitudes.” In Research in Organizational Change and Development. Vol. 20. Edited by Abraham B. Shani, William A. Pasmore, and Richard W. Woodman, 223–264. Bingley, UK: Emerald, 2012.

    DOI: 10.1108/S0897-3016(2012)0000020010

    Expands on prior research investigating the relationship among sharing employee survey results with participants, perceived action taken on those results, and subsequent outcomes following those actions. In examining over a decade of research, the authors found that sharing results and taking action together were related to positive employee outcomes such as organizational commitment, overall attitude favorability, and increasing survey participation rates over time. Importantly, they also reported that sharing results alone but not taking action had no positive impact on employee attitudes.

  • Thomas, David A., and Stephanie J. Creary. Meeting the Diversity Challenge at PepsiCo: The Steve Reinemund Era. Case: 9-410-024. Boston: Harvard Business School, 2009.

    Provides an in-depth example of how employee surveys can help drive strategic imperatives and large-scale culture change in support of a CEO’s priorities. The authors detail PepsiCo’s journey to establish the “business case for diversity” and in doing so leverage survey feedback to track inclusion-training effectiveness, manager support for employee involvement in diversity initiatives, and overall inclusion attitudes within and between diversity groups.

  • Van Rooy, David L., Daniel S. Whitman, Dennis Hart, and Suzette Caleo. “Measuring Employee Engagement during a Financial Downturn: Business Imperative or Nuisance?” Journal of Business and Psychology 26.2 (2011): 147–152.

    DOI: 10.1007/s10869-011-9225-6

    Makes a business case for employee surveys, emphasizing that they are critical to understanding how to retain employees and to determine areas where efficiencies can be accomplished. Moreover, and counter to concerns often expressed by non-survey experts, the authors highlight that these insights are even more necessary during a business era of economic decline. They also provide useful practitioner recommendations around designing surveys, such as wording items to be directly actionable.

  • Welch, Jack, and John A. Byrne. Jack: Straight from the Gut. New York: Warner Business, 2001.

    Demonstrates the strategic use of survey feedback during the broad-based rollout of quality initiatives led by senior executives in General Electric. The senior leaders used the annual employee survey as a barometer for how deep in the organization the initiatives were taking hold and whether or not senior leader messages were getting through. This is an example of a survey specifically designed to support a CEO’s strategic agenda versus one targeted at local improvement efforts.

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