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How to Use Pulse Surveys to Improve Training and Show ROI
Business Journal

How to Use Pulse Surveys to Improve Training and Show ROI

Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Leaders can only manage what they measure
  • Companies with high engagement send more surveys and act on the results
  • It's crucial to ask the right questions

For today's businesses, large or small, the operative word is "change." Technology has disrupted nearly every aspect of traditional business practices, from business models to customer behaviors to employee expectations.

The best leaders realize they can no longer rely on past assumptions to make decisions.

As a result, the rise of data-driven decision-making has made it apparent that many traditional metrics, such as employee engagement or satisfaction, are not constant throughout a business year; they are always changing.

Nevertheless, we can only manage what we measure.

As many organizational learning professionals can attest, your best plans at the start of the year can quickly be eclipsed by the business needs of the moment. L&D leaders need to have a way to proactively address red flags (for example, safety and compliance issues) before they damage your business.

What We Know About Pulse Surveys

According to Gallup research, the average employee reports receiving three to four surveys per year, but nearly one-third of employees report receiving less than one per year.

Clearly, organizations can be doing more to take the temperature of their employees.

Even more troubling is that only 8% of employees strongly agree their organization takes action on surveys. And 38% say they don't know if their organization takes any action at all.

These data are a serious red flag; our research shows that organizations who do a survey and then do nothing in response have lower employee engagement than before the survey. This is why it's important to create a post-survey action plan and make it a priority.

Organizations with high employee engagement and retention do send out more surveys, but they also share the results of those surveys with employees and take action on them.

In other words, using internal surveys and responding to them is characteristic of organizations that care about their employees.

How to Use Pulse Surveys for Corporate Training

Gallup research finds that pulse surveys are most commonly used to address workplace issues, company culture and company strategy. They are used significantly less often, however, for learning and development offerings -- an opportunity for L&D leaders.

Pulse surveys are obviously helpful for identifying what employees want to learn and discovering knowledge gaps. More importantly, corporate trainers are expected to prove ROI of their training, even though doing so can be difficult.

The Kirkpatrick Model is perhaps one of the best-known methods for evaluating the effectiveness of employee training. It consists of four levels: reaction, learning, behavior and results.

Pulse surveys can be used at each of these levels over a period of time.

For example, a reaction survey immediately following training may show how engaging and relevant the training was. A few months later, a behavior survey may show if the training actually changed behavior.

Caution: Using Technology Is Not Enough

Pulse surveys are a technology-based tool, but simply sending out a survey is not enough. You can use good technology to ask bad questions.

L&D professionals should use consistent benchmarks to track changes over time. It is the only way to know if new interventions are actually working. Everything depends, then, on asking the questions that truly matter.

So, which questions are the right ones to ask?

Survey-taking has its own scientific methodology that must be followed. Partner with experienced data scientists to make sure your conclusions are methodologically sound.

"Asking questions that are ill-designed is one of the most common, and avoidable, mistakes in survey design," says Annamarie Mann, Gallup practice manager and consultant. "Very easily, questions can become misleading, too general, double-barreled or simply confusing to the audience, which can result in responses that are uninterpretable or unreliable."

Ideally, survey questions should be written by an objective third party, as unintentional bias can occur when the person who wants a positive result is writing his or her own questions. "To get the desired clarity and insights, survey administrators are well-advised to work with partners who are versed in survey design and item writing," says Mann. "After all, if you're going to take the time to ask someone a question, you might as well ask the right question."

Only an objective, scientifically valid survey -- combined with an analysis of performance outcomes -- has the persuasive power to truly drive change and prove the value of internal education programs.

Partner with Gallup to design and implement pulse surveys that get results:

This article first appeared on the

Ryan Pendell contributed to this article.


Vipula Gandhi is a Managing Partner at Gallup.

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