Startup Founder

How to survey your employees – and why it’s so important

Earlier this year, we lost two employees. It was a first for us and it got me thinking: Was there a problem somewhere? Were our employees secretly unhappy?

I needed to find out. So a few weeks ago, we invited our employees to answer an anonymous survey. (See below for a list of questions we asked.)

The results were a real eye-opener, and I would encourage any small business to spend time and effort finding out what its employees really think.

Here’s how we did it – and some of the things we have changed as a result.

Design the survey to get the information you want

We wanted to measure our employees’ satisfaction and their engagement with the company. More specifically, we wanted to know how much they like working at Klipfolio, whether they respect and enjoy working with their peers and with management, and whether there are any retention issues we need to know about.

There are various standard surveys that measure different things. We studied what was out there and designed a survey to measure engagement on the one hand and retention issues on the other.

Make the survey detailed enough to give you information you can use

Although all our 26 questions were meaningful, one thing we learned from our survey was that we didn’t get quite get the granularity we wanted. Most of the questions asked employees to choose one of four possible responses to a statement:

  • Strongly agree
  • Agree
  • Disagree
  • Strongly disagree

But is an answer of “Agree” a positive answer, or merely slightly better than neutral? In our next survey (and we intend to do these surveys twice a year) we want to offer more nuanced choices. So we’re going to add ‘Somewhat agree’ and ‘Somewhat disagree’ to the list.

Tell staff in advance

Don’t spring a survey on staff without warning; you risk setting off alarm bells. Tell people in advance that you’re preparing a survey and explain why. In our case, we want to make Klipfolio a really great place to work - and to do so, we need to fully understand what’s working and what’s not.

Do what you can to make sure you get truthful answers

Getting people to answer truthfully can be a challenge, no matter if you’re big or small. Yet truthful answers are absolutely critical.

To encourage truthfulness, we worked hard on guaranteeing anonymity. We used Survey Monkey to administer the survey instead of paper or email. We created a Survey Monkey account separate from our corporate account just for the survey. And we informed staff that only two people would see the results – me and our head of human resources.

We also did what we could to prevent people from unwittingly revealing their identities. The only identifiable question that was asked was what department they work for, and only two of the questions were open-ended, allowing people to write in their answers.

Encourage people to take the survey

When the survey was ready, we announced it at an all-hands meeting. We reminded employees a few times, and allowed about three weeks for everyone to get to it.

Give some thought to those who didn’t fill in the survey

We got 40 responses out of a possible 52. That’s just under 80 per cent. That’s good, but nevertheless I wonder about those who didn’t answer. Were they people with real issues? Or were they co-op placements who didn’t really have anything to say? I’ll be doing what I can to increase uptake next time.

Analyze and share the results

We learned a ton of stuff. For example, we learned that there are certain things about Klipfolio we should not change. People really like the people, the culture and the openness.

We also learned that there are some things we should change - mostly around increasing communication within the company, between departments and between individuals. We can do that!

Once we were able to summarize the results, we shared them with managers and the executive team individually. Then we held four sessions where we discussed the results with staff. This last point is key - if you are going to run a survey on employee satisfaction and engagement, you need to be ready to share the results with the employees. You’ll be amazed at the amount of goodwill this creates.

Act on the results!

You can’t do a survey if you’re not prepared to act on the results. That’s why we met with the management team before meeting with staff. We wanted to make sure we had something to announce.

It wasn’t hard to follow up. When I met with the managers, they immediately began offering solutions to the issues that were flagged, so that when I met with employees I was able to tell them issues were being addressed – and what action was being taken.

For example, to improve internal communication we have started holding 15-minute talks that anybody can give and everybody can attend. And I have started to make sure all managers do weekly one-on-one meetings with employees, because the survey showed greater satisfaction among employees whose managers met with them personally every week.

The survey also revealed that a lot of ‘soft’ elements really matter. People were more satisfied, for example, if they felt their ideas were heard, if they received praise for work well done, and if they felt they had a friend inside the company.

We also realized that the responsibility for satisfaction does not rest entirely on management. An employee’s peers contribute to making work enjoyable as much as management does. The company as a whole is a community, and as a community it is collectively responsible for the wellbeing of its members.

And that, I think, was for us the biggest surprise.

I’m already looking forward to the results of our next survey.


Here are the questions we asked:

  • I am proud to tell others I work for Klipfolio. 4 point scale.
  • I am optimistic about the future of Klipfolio. 4 point scale.
  • Senior Management seems to be doing a good job. 4 point scale.
  • Allan seems to be doing a good job. 4 point scale.
  • I know what Klipfolio's vision and mission are. 4 point scale.
  • I know what is expected of me at work. 4 point scale.
  • I can see a clear link between my work and Klipfolio's success. 4 point scale.
  • My job provides me with a sense of accomplishment. 4 point scale.
  • I enjoy what I do at work. 4 point scale.
  • I have the tools I need to do my work. 4 point scale.
  • My opinions and ideas are valued. 4 point scale.
  • I am satisfied with my current salary. 4 point scale.
  • I have a good friend at work. 4 point scale.
  • I enjoy working with and respect my colleagues. 4 point scale.
  • I enjoy working with and respect my manager. 4 point scale.
  • My manager or someone at work cares about me personally. 4 point scale.
  • Over the past 3 months someone has talked to me about my progress. 4 point scale.
  • Over the past week, someone has praised me for my work. Yes/No
  • I can picture myself being at Klipfolio a year from now. Yes/No
  • I would recommend Klipfolio to a friend as a place to work. 4 point scale.
  • Over the past 6 months I have had the opportunity to learn and grow. 4 point scale.
  • What is the one thing that you would not change at Klipfolio? Written reply.
  • If you could change one thing at Klipfolio, what would it be? Written reply.
  • I am a member of the following team: Pick list.

Allan Wille is a co-founder of Klipfolio, and its president and CEO. He’s also a designer, a cyclist, a father and a resolute optimist.

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