Measuring HR is a mean – not an end!

I was speaking with an executive HR person the other day. He told me that one of the things he measured – and which was a KPI for him – was the response rate for the semi-annual employee satisfaction survey. His target was 90%. At the time when I spoke with him the response rate was only 80% and he was telling me all the things he needed done to get the response rate up to 90%. He had to find out which departments had low rates and speak with the head of each department. He had to send individual reminders out the employees. He would write about it in the next edition of the internal personnel magazine. He was even considering getting the CEO engaged in the project.

There is nothing wrong in aiming for a high response rate in a employee satisfaction survey. However,  it is worth questioning the motive behind such as wish. Surely the goal is to create a high(er) level of job satisfaction. The mean is therefore to perform a survey to understand what the level is and why it is low (or high) and what should be done about it. A good survey can do that. But the survey is not an end in itself – it is a mean to understand what to change to increase job satisfaction.

For the purpose of finding out what the satisfaction level is in the organisation and why it really doesn’t matter  if the response rate is 80% or 90%. I seriously doubt that the remaining 10% will say something completely different. Statically it has little influence. So the KPI should not focus on the response rate but on the outcome i.e. job satisfaction.

The wrong focus can lead to the wrong actions. This HR executive is about to spend a lot of energy on improving the response rate instead of increasing the job satisfaction. A waste.

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