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The problem with employee survey norms

by David Zatz, Ph.D., Toolpack Consulting Senior Consultant

In general, the bane of custom surveys is not being able to provide norms.

That might not be as bad as it sounds.

While clients almost invariably ask for, or sometimes demand, norms for employee surveys and even 360° feedback items, we have found significant cultural impact on responses — which is to say that there is variance based solely on the organizational/regional culture where the questions are asked. In some regions/companies, people tend to be more positive than in others, which is a substantial source of bias when looking at norms.

When we do employee surveys, we do have norms; but we try to convince people not to buy them, and if they do, not to use them. Part of the problem is also that it "allows failure" in areas where others do poorly as well. Most organizations have poor communications and power distribution; a norms-based approach would allow shortfalls in those areas because other organizations also do poorly there, whereas a non-norms-based approach would address weaknesses in those critical areas.

This commentary on norms is limited to employee surveys and the like, and is not applicable to things like individual personality assessments, where norming is essential and handled quite differently than the typical employee-survey process.

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