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7 Pulse Survey Best Practices for Successful Organizations

pulse survey best practices

Pulse surveys are useful in many scenarios. During times of change, pulse surveys can help you understand real-time employee perceptions. Between engagement surveys, they can help you dive deeper into your culture. You can also use pulse surveys to gather feedback on specific workplace topics—such as what to discuss at the next company-wide meeting.
 
Pulse surveys are lightweight and easy to use. But this freedom has one important caveat: the survey still needs to be thoughtful. Why? Poorly written surveys will yield useless data at best. And at worst, they will cause growing hesitation, resentment, and survey fatigue—the opposite of what you're trying to achieve.
 

 

This blog will guide you through 7 pulse survey best practices to help set you up for success, including:

  • Make plan before you make a survey
  • Keep it focused
  • Keep it short
  • Keep it simple
  • Aim for rich data
  • Make sensible response options
  • Walk away for a day

Get your free copy of the ebook: The All-Encompassing Guide to Pulse Surveys 

 

1. Make a plan before you make a survey.

 

It's easy to create and launch a pulse survey. Which means it's easy to create a survey that:
  • Doesn't matter
  • Yields uninterpretable results
  • Doesn't answer the questions you have
Before designing a pulse survey, it's important to identify what you want from the process. The data you need to collect should guide the survey questions you write. Ask yourself:
  • What purpose does the survey serve?
  • How will you use the results?
  • What do you need to ask to make the results actionable?
It's also important to communicate the survey's purpose to employees. Reinforce your message in the announcement email and in the survey itself. A strong message with a strong purpose will help you enhance response rates and data quality.

 

2. Keep it focused.

 

The ideal pulse survey centers around only one or two key topics of interest. Covering too many topics can be jarring for employees. It may decrease the meaningfulness of their responses. Including several topics also makes it difficult to develop a deep understanding of the few topics that are most important to you.
 
Sticking to one or two topics will create a sense of focus to the survey's structure. Start with broad questions to ease employees into the topic. Then work toward narrower questions as you go deeper. Think about how the questions can build on each other—and how results from one question may inform or relate to others during data analysis.

 

3. Keep it short.

 

There's not a clear line between the length of a pulse survey and the length of a longer survey. The word "pulse" implies a short burst—a survey that can be completed in less than 3 minutes. Most pulse surveys should have about 5-15 questions on average.
 
But even that rule of thumb depends on the kinds of questions used in the survey. If all questions can be answered quickly—such as multiple choice, yes/no, or agreement questions—then 15 questions may be appropriate. But if questions take longer to respond to—such as rank-order or open-ended questions—it should be shorter.

 

4. Keep it simple.

 

Simplicity is key to gathering useful and reliable data—and it comes in many forms. Below are the most important tips to keep in mind when writing simple pulse survey questions:

  • Avoid longer words
  • Use words that have a clear meaning rather than words that could be interpreted in many ways
  • Use everyday language and avoid jargon
  • Write shorter survey questions rather than longer ones
  • Include only one thought per question
  • Avoid negative words, such as “not,” “can’t,” or “don’t”

5. Aim for rich data.

 

To enrich your data, ask yourself these questions as you develop your pulse survey:
 
If you want to ask a yes/no question, does yes/no actually make the most sense?
Yes/no questions are appropriate for participation, attendance, and some forms of usage. But yes/no responses are not specific and are rarely actionable. You can gather richer data if you modify yes/no questions to other question types, such as an agreement scale.
 
If you’ve written a long survey question, can you split it into two or more questions?
One aspect of keeping it simple is to write shorter survey questions. If you've written a survey question with multiple thoughts, try to extract two shorter questions from the longer question.
 
If you want feedback about a past event, how long has it been since that event occurred?
Data will be less accurate the longer the lag is between the event and the survey. Keep your pulse surveys timely and relevant.
 
If you want feedback about a future event, how long will have to process and act on survey results?
If you send a pulse survey a few days before an event, it will be hard to act on the results in time. The survey will feel meaningless to employees and cause them to question why the survey was sent. Time your survey so that you have plenty of time to process results and take action.
 

6. Make sensible response options.

 

Response options will impact how employees interact with the survey. The following tips will strengthen your surveys and the quality of data you gather:
 
Be consistent.
If questions have different response scales, you should keep the number of response options consistent. It can be confusing for employees when one question has five options and another has seven. Maintaining consistency will enhance your survey experience and data quality/analysis.
 
Strike a balance.
Every response option should be meaningful. If you have too few options (only Agree and Disagree) then employees may feel forced to choose an option that doesn't reflect their opinion. Or they might simply skip the question. On the flip side, having too many options makes the question meaningless.
 
We recommend a 4- to 7-point response scale. This allows for enough options to be specific, but not so many that the difference between options is meaningless.
 
Include an "other" option.
For questions with many options, include an open-ended “other” option. Allowing employees to freely generate their own choice can be empowering and may offer new ideas you hadn't considered.
 
Include "out" responses when appropriate.
These include “I don’t know” and some form of non-applicability, like “n/a,” “not applicable,” or “this doesn’t apply to me.” If you don't include these options, you may get inaccurate or missing data.
 
Make sure response options don’t overlap.
This is especially important in questions with numeric response options, such as number of hours. Say you ask a question about how many hours employees worked on a certain project. If your response options are 1-5 hours, 5-10 hours, 10-15 hours, and 15 or more hours, then employees who worked exactly 5, 10, or 15 hours can choose two options.
 
Instead, those response options could be “Less than 5 hours,” “5 – 9 hours,” “10 – 14 hours,” and “15 or more hours.” These options are mutually exclusive and will enhance the accuracy of your data.
 

7. Walk away for a day.

 

So you’ve followed the previous tips and you’ve made a great pulse survey. You may want to send it out right away, but you should take a pause first. It’s often beneficial to set aside the survey for a day, allowing you to think about other tasks and get some mental distance from the survey.

 

By waiting a day for a final read-through, you may catch details or punctuation errors you overlooked, or read a question in a different way that now sounds confusing. This step is critical because it’s easy to get lost in the details and send out a survey that isn’t as polished as it could be.

 


 

These tips will help you create strong pulse surveys that deliver actionable insights. For more information on making surveys even better, check out our free ebook, the All-Encompassing Guide to Pulse Surveys.

 

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