How to Remain Union-Free with Employee Surveys

Organizations must be proactive about remaining union-free because the NLRB has made unionization attempts a question of WHEN and not if. The employee survey is the perfect opportunity to assess your level of readiness but, keep in mind, not all surveys are created equal.

Typical employee survey vendors will claim they have a “union vulnerability” measure to warn of unionization risk – but be careful – these measures are NOT validated and are by no means any type of guarantee of avoiding union risk. In short, measures of vulnerability have limited value.

Can Your Leaders Win?

SMD partnered with an organization that has more than 35 years of keeping organizations union-free (IRI Consultants) to establish proprietary items that assess the level of proactive labor prevention skills and tell you whether your leaders have the skills to win union elections and keep unions out in the first place.

The five key factors they identified are below. It’s critical to make these proprietary indices a part of your annual employee opinion survey.

  1. Management campaign skills
  2. Union-free environment
  3. Effective communication
  4. National Labor Relations Act knowledge
  5. Union vulnerability

Don’t Let Information Sit Idle

Including the items in the survey is a great first step. Don’t stop there. Be sure you have a tool in place to view the results for these key assessments at once so that all leaders may begin taking action organization-wide and locally. It’s ideal to have training content specific to the development needs that can be immediately launched from the action planning tool. Otherwise, you’ve spent time and money on a survey and aren’t directing anyone in the organization to actually take action. We want you to see results, not just reports on your desk (because one you can tout to the C-suite and one you cannot).

For a deeper dive view our white paper here.

Employee Surveys: More is Not Necessarily Better- A Pulse Survey Strategy that Makes Sense

The annual employee survey is under fire because leaders think it doesn’t work well and has little to no value. At the same time, there are thought leaders and vendors purporting that doing MORE of them is the answer!? Our view: strong disagreement. Adamant about results and ROI, we are providing some guidance on when and how to conduct pulse surveys in this post. But, let’s first start with an analogy for any of you monthly pulse-sayers.

Is Continuous Listening to Your Body Effective?

Consider a simple analogy that most anybody can probably relate to – weight loss. Let’s say you set a personal goal to lose 20 pounds over a three-month period. That seems aggressive, but reasonable. Now, by using the same logic as “continuous listening,” you would weigh yourself at least twice a day, every single day. You don’t have to do anything other than weigh yourself more frequently – it can be called “continuous listening to our bodies.” If that is all you do for the next three months, it’s probably safe to say that you won’t meet your goal of losing 20 pounds. The point? Measurement (or listening) by itself is not the desired outcome.

So, continue with the analogy, but with our four steps for employee surveys as the framework: (1) Listen to employees to uncover how you can help the business; (2) Diagnose drivers of business results; (3) Take action to improve those key drivers; and (4) Demonstrate impact. Using this approach, our recommended plan would be as follows:

  1. Listen to your body – Take a baseline measurement and weigh yourself. Let’s say you weigh 200 pounds and want to lose 20 pounds (target weight of 180 pounds).
  2. Identify the drivers of being overweight – Identify root causes of your current weight. For example, you are only working out one day a week and eating no breakfast, a fast-food lunch, and a large dinner on most workdays.
  3. Take action to improve those key drivers – Build an action plan and execute against that plan. You decide to work out three days a week and start eating balanced meals, which include eating breakfast and packing a healthy lunch every day.
  4. Demonstrate impact – Measure to assess the impact of the plan and make adjustments to your action plan for the next three months. At the end of three months, measure yourself again to see if you met your goal of losing 20 pounds. Imagine that you lost 15 pounds and feel much better. At this point you could set a new goal, revisit root causes and make adjustments in your action plan. You know what you did was working since you lost 15 pounds, but you decided to increase your workout routine of three days a week from 45 minutes to an hour, as well as reduce the number of meals eaten out during the weekend.


SMD has found that clients perform best on business outcomes and survey results when they survey annually and in alignment with their fiscal year so that the survey becomes a business process and not an outlier event. A check-in pulse survey at the mid-year point is useful but only if it is going to be used strategically. Just doing a pulse to see if a score is moving will make employees less likely to take the next survey that is asked of them. In the weight loss example, you should probably measure your weight a time or two between the baseline measurement and the target date, but build those check-ins (pulses) based on a strategy. Maybe a once a week weigh-in to check on progress makes sense for the three-month period, but measuring yourself twice a day makes NO sense.

Key Elements & Approaches

The approach in the weight loss example mirrors how everyone should measure employee attitudes. The organization should identify the business objectives of the survey process (and YES this should be around a tangible business outcome – not engagement scores or listening or other NON-business outcomes) and build a measurement process around achieving those business objectives.

So, our recommendation: a pulse survey strategy should be based on two key elements: (1) driving actual business outcomes and (2) helping struggling leaders.

How do you follow these approaches? Read our white paper “More Data or Better Data? A Pulse Survey Strategy That Makes Sense” or reach out directly to our director of research & analytics, Dr. Hannah Spell at to learn how you can make a difference in your organization.

Become 2016’s HR All-Star: How to Utilize Employee Surveys to Transform Your Organization

If you’re ready to crank up your HR skills and make a name for yourself at your company in 2016, keep reading. Research has shown nearly 80 percent of mid-to large organizations conduct employee surveys on a somewhat regular basis (bi-annually or annually). The question is—how many of those organizations can actually speak to the value of the survey? Probably very few because there are certainly barriers to getting there. So for you, we are providing “barrier busters” below to help you remove obstacles and instead enable you to use your employee survey as a way to impact real business outcomes. Ultimately, you’ll set yourself apart as one of the few who isn’t simply checking the employee survey box.

Barrier: Getting Buy-In From the CEO

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.

Barrier: Demonstrating the Value of the 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.

Barrier: Slow Turnaround Time

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 and recommendations quickly upon conclusion of the survey.

Barrier: Activating your Front Line, Not Just the Boardroom

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. 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.

Barrier: Getting the Entire Organization on the Same Page

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 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.

You are now empowered to make a real difference at your organization! Need help on the analytics front? SMD’s patented talent management software, SMD Link, helps organizations harness the full potential of employee surveys by linking survey items to business outcomes. SMD’s tools allow organizations to quantify the impact of employee attitudes on business results. Furthermore, SMD’s Strategic Survey HeatMaps® focus leaders on the critical few drivers that will have the greatest impact on results. To learn more, contact us at