Should we define who "top management" is in our pulse or employee survey?

pulse or employee survey

By Jan Marsli

Many clients ask whether they should define who senior management is in their pulse or employee surveys, because managers feedback that it is unclear who is being "measured".

Let's take an example:

  • "The top management of the company has shared a clear vision of where we are going in the future."

Many people choose to define what they mean by senior management, but this may not always be wise.

The aim of a pulse or employee survey is to understand employees' work experience. A pulse or employee survey is therefore different from, for example, a 360 manager evaluation. In the pulse or employee survey, the focus is on how employees experience work, whereas in a 360 evaluation, the focus is on the manager or person being evaluated.

Thus, the aim of an employee survey is not to evaluate a specific group of people (e.g. the management by the CEO and the CEO's team) but to measure employees' perceptions of top or senior management in the company:

  • Simply put, we are looking for how employees would describe management in a dialogue with friends outside the company if someone asked "what is management like where you work?". We are looking for what is called the "social construction" or "idea" of top management.
  • If the survey were an evaluation, it would be absolutely necessary to define everything clearly. Since an employee survey is not, we get less accurate answers by requiring employees to narrow down their experience of working to the formally defined structures and roles of the company.

If we had asked everyone to evaluate, for example, the CEO and those reporting directly to the CEO, would we get a response from all staff based on the same basis?

  • Employees do not have the same basis for evaluating a general manager or those who report directly to her. For many, this is just a name, or someone they know of.
  • In larger companies, not everyone may even know who they are - then it is better to get their true perception of what they see as "senior management" (the social construction they have of top management), because then the answer is actually based on a common ground; Individuals' own understanding or construction.

What about other definitions? "Team", "working group", "where I work", "my manager", etc.

It is much the same as with management, for an employee the formal team may well be great, but others with whom the employee works just as much, or perhaps more, makes teamwork and cohesion experience terrible for the employee. Thus, we should not be narrow when we want to understand employees' experience at work.

The only exception is if there are several questions that go directly to the "line manager", i.e. a specific person. Then those questions become an evaluation, and if there is any doubt in the organisation about who that person is (for example, a matrix organisation) you should be clear and preferably include names in the question text so that there can be no doubt.