MaST Business Forum - Engagement, Values and Performance Surveys - How do you interpret what they are really saying? - Summary


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MaST Business Forum - Engagement, Values and Performance Surveys - How do you interpret what they are really saying? - Summary

14th June 2016


The latest MaST Forum invited a select group of managers to take a critical look at how staff surveys and questionnaires are used in their organisation. Peter Hutton, a researcher and author who has spent 40 years in the research industry, explained the importance of being absolutely clear about the main purpose and objectives of any survey before embarking on it.


Questionnaire design and interpretation is not something you can learn overnight.  It is not just a case of listing a series of statements and asking staff how strongly they agree or disagree with each one.  Indeed, Peter was very critical of this approach.  The agree / disagree scale is only one of a wide range of scale questions that can be employed and it has many limitations.  It is very poor, for example, at measuring behaviours, establishing motivations or reflecting preferences or priorities.  Other techniques such as those using other scales, lists or open-ended responses can be used to generate a different kind and generally more useful information.


A key test for any question is first whether you can actually answer it yourself.  Another is to ask yourself what you can do with the results, whatever they might be.  If the answer is 'not much' then why is the question included or how does it need to be modified to be really useful?


Participants were asked to draft their own questions and then to critique them. In that way they learned that it is not easy to draft questions that are unambiguous, relevant to the business and to the staff and provide reliable information that will significantly improve the quality of decision-making in the business.


Peter challenged participants to say what they thought was wrong with a range of questions that have been widely used in staff surveys, normally in the form of agree / disagree statements.  For example:


  • 'My manager does a good job of managing me'
  • 'Regular updates from my manager are useful at telling me what is happening'


A good test of such statements is to ask yourself what it means if a lot of staff disagree with statements like the above.  If they don't think the manager does a good job the question tells you nothing about what he / she is doing badly.  If they disagree with the second statement is it because they don't get regular updates or that they get them but they are not useful, and what does 'what is happening' mean? 


He concluded by showing participants a highly innovative model that starts with the question, rarely asked by those working in the area - “What do you want your staff to be engaged with?”.  He then presented the 'Employee Engagement Wheel' that presented 11 key facets of an organisation that you need staff to engage with for it to be operating most effectively.


The key to a really effective employee engagement survey is to be able to ask the questions that identify how well staff engage with these facets and that provide information that managers can use to improve performance.


Should you wish to discuss this topic please do call on 0800 316 9090, email or visit