Think of the last time you checked out of a hotel, finished a meal at your favorite restaurant or ended a customer service phone call. Chances are a feedback survey immediately followed. Yet, oftentimes these surveys ask irrelevant questions completely unrelated to the experience, leaving you frustrated and unwilling to even respond. For example, “How would you rate the hotel room service food quality?” But what if you didn’t even order room service?

Surveys are everywhere these days, and for good reason. Feedback – from employees, customers, vendors and anyone else relevant to your business – is vital to the success your organization. Today we’re examining employee surveys, one critical component of feedback. They allow you to evaluate employee engagement, respond to problems or concerns, capitalize on successes and give respondents the opportunity to have a voice and impact change. It also serves as excellent benchmark data to show improvements or decline in satisfaction over time.

However, employee surveys can lead to aggravation if you don’t take the time and effort to administer it correctly. Below are important questions to ask before creating your employee feedback survey to ensure you get reliable, actionable results.

What is the survey’s purpose?

This sounds simple, but it’s actually the hardest part. Determine your primary objectives and clearly define the information you hope to gather. Try this. Instead of coming up with a list of questions you’d like to ask, write down the answers you want and work backward. Forming your questions this way will help you avoid unnecessary questions that don’t match your objectives and will ensure effective answers that are more precise and clear.

Who is my target population?

Define this early in your survey design process. Using language and terminology that resonates with your respondents will yield better response rates. Avoid technical jargon or internal buzzwords that may not make sense to all respondents. For example, your sales team speaks a different language than your engineering group. If you’re surveying both, use common language without oversimplifying the questions. Best-in-class employee survey tools also allow you to create customized surveys available only to certain groups so you’re able to get precise employee feedback that can drive meaningful action.

When will the survey be conducted?

Timing is everything. Sound familiar? When it comes to surveys, it’s true. After you’ve defined your target population, you can determine timing that makes the most sense. Consider upcoming project deadlines, holidays, travel or key meetings. Be sure you provide ample time to complete it, but not too much time so that it’s forgotten.

How will the survey’s response data affect change?

Communicate to your employees the importance of their participation and how the survey will be evaluated. Hold executives and managers accountable for leveraging the data to make improvements. Be sure to include all relevant parties in action planning.

Are you in the midst of creating an employee survey? If so, have thought through these questions? Are there any you would add to this list?

“You did a great job.”

While this bit of employee feedback seems as though it would be helpful – it’s not. Feedback can be a slippery slope. Many things influence how feedback is interpreted by an employee. Determining the best way to help employees improve but also keep morale high is a challenge for managers.

Here are three factors that have a big impact on how feedback should be delivered. (You can get more tips for delivering employee feedback here.) In a follow up post, we’ll share examples of feedback that should be avoided, as well as specific ones that should be emulated.

Length of tenure

How long employees have worked for a company can influence their reaction to feedback. In the case of peer-to-peer feedback, seniority should be acknowledged and taken into consideration when providing constructive criticism. On the other side of the coin, newer managers may lack an understanding of their team’s company history, so it’s important to connect with HR or other longtime managers first so you know which topics to approach with caution.

Personality type

People can be introverts or extroverts, loud or quiet, proactive or reactive, emotional or stoic. Feedback is most successful when it’s delivered in a way that is amenable to a person’s preferences, not those of the manager. Well-intentioned feedback can go horribly wrong when delivered in a way that could be deemed aggressive or negative.

Recent performance

An employee’s recent performance – good or bad – can cloud the judgment of a manager, but it has a bigger effect on employees themselves. High performers who have had a string of bad luck may need more encouragement, as they might have a higher level of sensitivity around receiving feedback. Uncharacteristic performance can also provide subtle clues – a high performer who stops taking initiative could be bored or looking for a new job, or a low performer who is exceeding goals could be responding well to a new team member or project.

In the last few months, workplace diversity has become a regular topic in the news and an urgent priority discussed in boardrooms. As businesses accelerate diversity programs – specifically for women in tech roles — other organizations have stepped up to the plate to offer networking and professional opportunities that would have been unheard of years ago.

Earlier this week two talented members of our engineering team, Marcie Carlos and Nadia Elfarnawani, participated in a WomenHack event here in Chicago. These invite-only events focus on “connecting top female engineers, designers, and product managers with opportunities at tech companies around the world.”

But diversity is nothing new at Kazoo. Since founding the company in 2012, CEO Vip Sandhir, has built a diverse team. Our workforce is 40% female, with the same percentage in leadership roles. Women also fill 30% of the technology roles. We currently have 75 employees and plan to hire another 20 employees by Q1 2018. We believe diverse teams are more creative, innovative and profitable than those that aren’t.

Sound like a place you’d like to work? We’re currently hiring for the following tech roles. If you’re interested, please apply via LinkedIn, visit the Kazoo Careers page or contact [email protected] for more information.

Entry-level Software Engineer

  • Fresh computer science college graduate or 1-2 years of work experience in the software development field.

Senior-level Software Engineer

  • At least 5 years of full-stack software development experience. Ability to lead projects with hands-on coding. Agile methodologies with full SDLC exposure.

Senior-level Mobile Developer

  • At least 5 years of full-stack software development experience. Hybrid mobile development exposure for both iOS/Android platforms.

Mid/Senior-level UI/Web Developer

  • At least 3 years of web development experience. HTML/CSS expertise with exposure to Javascript frameworks.

If you’ve worked in HR long enough, you’ve had plenty of conversations about “bad employees,” “disengaged workers, “underperformers” and even “bad apples.” Managers often need HR’s help in figuring out what should be done next. But it’s not just about giving a bad employee good feedback, it’s about arming managers with the tools they need to be effective advocates and coaches.

Managers might mistakenly assume underperforming team members are a lost cause. Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) are often put in place as a last resort, but do your team leaders take steps well beforehand to ensure these employees are getting the coaching and guidance they need? In many cases, PIPs are the first time those employees are given consistent feedback about their work. If your managers in your organization have come to you requesting guidance on “problem employees,” maybe they’re not giving enough employee feedback. Ask them these questions first:

How were goals developed? Have they been revisited or updated since they were created?

In many cases, companies take a cascading approach to creating goals where employees are handed a set of pre-determined, static goals once a year. People are the labeled “bad employees” when those goals aren’t achieved. However, annual goal setting makes little sense for the way people work today. An employee shouldn’t be labeled an underperformer when goals aren’t met: priorities change, other projects arise or resource allocation fluctuates. Instead, ask employees to create their own goals and encourage them to revisit them with their managers regularly. Work collaboratively to establish new deadlines and deliverables so the expectations are well defined.

Were those goals aligned to larger business objectives so it’s clear to them where they’re adding value?

Underperformers are almost always disengaged employees. Why? Oftentimes, people become unproductive and unhappy when they don’t feel they’re adding value. Your company mission, vision and values should be clear to all employees and even more importantly, should be tied to their personal objectives. Managers should only be concerned when employees still fail to achieve goals they’ve created even when they’re given all the resources and tools to achieve them, which leads to the next question…

When is the last time you had a 1-on-1 discussion about longer-term career objectives?

Even when individual goals are tied to the company’s strategic vision, it’s possible an employee feels uninspired to complete them. Outside of conversations about specific projects and deadlines, employees and managers should have check-in conversations that are exclusively career-focused. Someone labeled as a “bad apple” might have lost motivation to complete their goals because their long-term career aspirations are now different. Managers should be comfortable asking employees about what’s next for their teams professionally. Other opportunities might be available in the organization more applicable for a problem employee’s professional ambitions. It’s possible one team’s bad employee is another one’s rock star.

Do employees have ways to get feedback from other team members, departments and collaborators?

Some employee feedback comes entirely from one person: their managers. However, today’s work is collaborative and top-down feedback alone is insufficient to accurately assess performance. On top of that, managers can be biased. To even the playing field and give problem employees a more equal shot, feedback should be gathered from their peers, frequent collaborators and even customers. With 360-degree feedback tools in place, employees are not only empowered to solicit feedback on their own, managers have a more well-rounded and complete understanding of both pain points and achievements.

So it’s clear that “bad employees” might have been given a bad rap. To make sure you’re not inundated with any more frenzied emails or conversations with frustrated team leaders, establish an environment where employees and managers work collaboratively on goals, check in regularly and ask for feedback.

Today’s guest post is authored by Petter Andersson, global HR executive, talent development leader and consultant. He is a global thought leader in the field of organizational and talent development with more than 20 years of multinational experience in numerous HR executive, business and consulting roles.

Moving away from annual ratings and rankings might spark worries that your organization is less performance oriented. Some might question if you can still have a “pay for performance” culture and be an organization of meritocracy, where employees’ performance is counted for and rewarded. One way to reduce those worries and make change more understandable, is to think about your employees as professional athletes on a team.

One principle for a professional sports team is the same as for any organization. You win as a team and you lose as a team. Success or failure depends on many variables and everyone plays a part, some more than others. Even with a strong team focus, professional sports teams are often also exceptional in managing individual differentiation in pay, development and growth. How do they do it? I believe it’s through continuous coaching, transparency in evaluation, and ongoing gathering of insights about the athletes, their performance and potential.

A key to acquiring such deep understanding is to foster high intrinsic motivation, a growth mindset (willingness to learn from mistakes), and self-awareness among every professional athlete. Successful athletes on a team do not compete against each other , they compete against themselves. Most set personal goals and collect stats during every game and practice, using the data to understand how they can improve. Together with their coaches, they discuss which strengths to leverage and new ones to develop. The involvement of teammates and others in supporting individual performance aspirations and development is critical.

At a team level, the coach enables a strategy that maximizes on-court capabilities, balancing the players’ strengths with a winning strategy for how to play together.

Everyone has a role to fill and might not be equally successful in doing so. However, ranking players on a team against each other using a five-point scale and a bell curve makes no sense. You risk an inward-looking team occupied with internal competition rather than winning the game. A player’s relative performance against teammates matters less. Most likely, athletes already know how they performed against their personal goals, expectations and how they compare to others. Most likely, the coach understands how the player fits in the game strategy going forward.

One might argue that not all businesses are similar to sport teams and not all employees can are equal to athletes. I’d like to think there are more similarities than differences and lessons to be learned from the sports world for the rest of us who didn’t make it as far on the pitch.

In summary: Eliminating annual rating and ranking doesn’t mean you should stop setting expectations and evaluating employee performance. It doesn’t mean that you disregard data. Instead you will gather and analyze data continuously. Most of all, you are just about to change the principles for whom, how and why you evaluate performance.