Using Business-Focused Employee Surveys to Show High-Level Impact

May 10, 2016

Using Business-Focused Employee Surveys to Show High-Level Impact

A business-focused approach to employee surveys is grounded in best practices from opinion survey research and has been field-tested in organizations large and small. Below we will outline the key steps in this process, and share a case study example to better illustrate the process and reveal the critical steps for success.

Following the steps in the Business Partner RoadMap is the most effective approach to creating a business-focused employee survey.

Figure 1.The Business Partner RoadMapTM


The key questions to ask at each step in the Business Partner RoadMap are:

  1. Determine critical outcomes. On what outcomes/metrics are the senior leaders in this organization most focused?
  2. Create cross-functional data team. Who owns the specific data/metrics that senior leaders are focused? How do I connect with those individuals to obtain the data?
  3. Assess outcome measures. Are the important business data/metrics collected at the appropriate level for me to make “apples to apples” comparisons (i.e. department level/district level)?
  4. Analyze the data. Do I have the statistical capabilities in-house or do I need to look at a university or consulting firm to help me analyze the data?
  5. Build the program and execute. Based on the linkage analysis, what is the highest priority/ROI project that I should execute first?
  6. Measure and adjust. How do I assess the change that has occurred and make adjustments to maximize effectiveness?

Below is a case study to show the process in action.

Figure 2. Drivers of Patient Satisfaction

Figure 2 shows us that Career Development and Senior Leadership perceptions are the two survey categories that significantly drive patient satisfaction at this healthcare organization. More specifically for Career Development, it was that employees didn’t think they had much opportunity to learn and grow. As employees were able to see themselves growing in their career, their willingness to get involved with HCAHPS-related initiatives increased substantially. Having the facts and data to support the improvement of a critical business outcome (HCAHPS/patient satisfaction), and the ability to show the level of impact and specifically what to work on is what creates those “business partner” opportunities for HR. 



One of the great advantages of applying analytics to people data is the ability to show business impact at a high level. However, it is challenging to turn that level and depth of insight into actionable information for leaders on the front-lines. An important approach/tool that will make your employee opinion survey much more impactful is the use of Strategic Survey HeatMaps.These HeatMaps provide each leader with an easy-to-understand chart which summarizes their local survey data into four areas that prioritize action.


Figure 3. Strategic Survey HeatMapTM


In this example, the outcome was patient satisfaction. By using advanced analytical techniques—like structural equations modeling (not correlations!)—we lined up each manager’s employee opinion survey data with their year-to-date patient satisfaction data. The vertical axis on the HeatMap is the average score that was achieved on each of the categories from the survey. The horizontal axis shows the level of impact that each of the survey categories had on the business outcome (HCAHPS/patient satisfaction). The vertical bolded line near the middle of the HeatMap reveals the cutoff where the impact was significant or not significant. Every survey category to the right of the vertical bold line had a significant impact. Every survey category to the left of the vertical bold line did not have a significant impact.

The horizontal bold line represents the average “overall percent favorable goal” for the entire organization. This was determined by holding a meeting with senior leaders in the organization—it could have been set higher or lower, this all depends on your particular culture and needs. Any survey categories that are above the horizontal bold line are considered strengths. Any survey categories that are below the horizontal line are considered a developmental area.

The four quadrants of the HeatMap help leaders to determine how to combine the level of impact and the level of strength of each survey category and to turn their results into an actionable plan.

Focus. The bottom right quadrant is labeled Focus. This is the most important quadrant because any survey category that falls into this area is 1) scoring below the organizational average as measured by percent favorable, and 2) a significant driver of patient satisfaction. In a nutshell, these two survey categories (Senior Leadership and Retention) are important and this particular leader is not very good at either of them. It makes sense that this particular leader should put these two categories on his/her action plan.

Promote. The upper-right quadrant of the HeatMap is labeled Promote because these are the survey categories on which the leader is scoring well, and they are important drivers of business outcomes. For these survey categories, the leader would want to get the word out to her people and ‘brag’ about what she has been doing and the outcomes that her people have achieved.

Monitor. The bottom-left quadrant of the HeatMap is called Monitor because the survey categories that land here represent areas of weakness for this leader, but they are not highly significant to driving the patient satisfaction business outcome. This does not mean that these categories are unimportant, but it does mean that this leader must work on these areas regularly because they are weaknesses.

Maintain. The top-left quadrant of the HeatMap is labeled Maintain. This represents the survey categories where this leader should just keep doing what she is doing. It shows the areas in which the leader is doing a great job, but these survey categories are not highly impactful on the patient satisfaction outcome. Maintaining her approach and intensity on these categories from the survey will keep paying off for this leader.



1. Your Employee Opinion Survey strategy should focus on driving business outcomes.

To get buy-in (and budget!) from the CEO, continue to take the focus off of “engagement” or satisfaction, and put the focus on outcomes that actually matter—retention, customer satisfaction, productivity, etc. Employee engagement is not a business outcome, and it never has been. To be a business-focused HR partner, incorporate analytics that will show the value of conducting a survey for business outcomes that matter to your organization’s leadership.

2. Use data analytics to demonstrate the value of your survey.

Although conducting more sophisticated analysis is complicated, doing so makes the results practical and action-oriented. Use an internal resource with a statistics background, reach out to a local university professor or student to assist with the analysis, or require your vendor to provide these analyses.

3. Reach out to key stakeholders and gather outcome data early in the process.

Getting the right data in the right place at the right level can be a process in and of itself. Reach out cross-functionally ahead of time so that you can turn around your analyses, HeatMaps, and recommendations quickly upon conclusion of the survey.

4. Share the linkage to business outcomes with employees at all levels.

Often the linkage analysis (if done at all) is relegated to the boardroom for review with senior leaders. While this is a great place to get started, execution takes place on the front-lines, so, get the word out about how attitudes drive business results. The Strategic Survey HeatMaps are a focused and relevant way to show each leader exactly what they should work on to drive critical business results. Again, this will take the focus off of the survey as a “let’s see if they are happy” and puts the focus on using employee attitudes as a means to a (profitable) end.

5. Link employee survey data to more than one business outcome, if possible.

As you know, not all of the leaders in your organization are focused on the same business outcome. So, incorporate local, relevant business outcomes into your HeatMaps and senior level presentations so that you get buy-in across the organization. For example, although there may be a strong productivity metric in operations, the focus in corporate IT might be on retention. Provide each function with the data and analysis around outcomes that are most relevant to them—this will drive home the importance of the survey and continue to increase your stature as a business partner.

The Authors: 

Scott Mondore, Ph.D., is a managing partner of Strategic Management
Decisions (SMD) and is the co-author of Investing in What Matters: Linking Employees to Business Outcomes and Business-Focused HR: 11 Processes to Drive Results, both published by SHRM. He can be reached at