Survey Feedback as an Organizational Development Tool

The study of Survey Feedback played an important role in formation and history of Organizational Development (OD). Developed as an organization wide intervention by Mann and his associates (1957-1965), survey feedback is a process in which organizational members complete questionnaires on various organizational issues, receive feedback on the results, then take appropriate actions to address the critical needs and concerns.

Though some type of survey method was prevalent in various organizations earlier, Institute for Social Research (ISR) of University of Michigan, USA developed a comprehensive questionnaire for conducting survey in different aspects of an organization. The basic objectives of survey feedback method are as follows:

  1. To assist the organization in diagnosing its problems and developing action plan for problem-solving.
  2. To assist the group members to improve the relationships through discussion of common problems.

Process of Survey Feedback

Survey feedback method usually proceeds with sequential activities involving data collection, feedback of information, developing action plans based on feedback, and follow up.

  1. Data Collection: The first step in survey feedback is data collection usually by a consultant based on a structured questionnaire. The questionnaire may include different aspects of organizational functioning. ISR has prepared a questionnaire which includes questions on leadership – managerial support, managerial goal emphasis, managerial work facilitation, peer support, peer goal emphasis, peer work facilitation, and peer interaction facilitation, organizational climate-communication with the company, motivation, decision-making, control within the company, co-ordination between departments, and general management, and satisfaction-satisfaction with the company, satisfaction with the supervisor, satisfaction with the job, satisfaction with the pay, and satisfaction with the work group. The questionnaire is administered personally either by the members of consulting firm or by organization’s personnel. After the questionnaires are completed, data are classified, tabulated, and analysis is made to arrive at some meaningful conclusions.
  2. Feedback of Information: After the data are analyzed, feedback is given to the persons who have participated in the fulfilling up of questionnaire. The feedback may be given either orally or in a written form. In oral system of feedback, it is provided through group discussion or problem-solving sessions conducted by the consultant. Alternatively, feedback may be given in the form of a written summary of findings. Whatever the method of giving feedback is adopted, it should be constructive and suggestive, rather, threatening and emotion-hurting as survey feedback is aimed at identifying weaknesses which must be overcome through follow-up actions and not the fault-finding technique for criticism.
  3. Follow-up Action: Survey feedback programme is not meaningful unless some follow-up action is taken based on the data collected. One such follow-up action may be to advise the participants to develop their own action plans to overcome the problems revealed through a feedback or as is more commonly the case, follow-up action may be in the form of developing some specific OD interventions particularly process consultation and team-building, by the consultant.

Evaluation of Survey Feedback

Survey feedback provides a base for many managerial actions which has been confirmed by various research studies. In particular, survey feedback contributes in the following manner:

  1. It is cost-effective means of implementing a comprehensive OD programme making it a highly desirable technique.
  2. It generates great amount of information efficiently and quickly which can be used in solving problems faced by the organization and its members.
  3. Decision-making and problem-solving abilities of organization can be improved tremendously because this approach applies the competence and knowledge throughout the organization and the problems faced by it.

However, effectiveness of survey feedback depends on two factors. First, questionnaire used and method adopted for its administration should be reliable and valid. If it is biased, all attempts to diagnose the problems will be abortive and futile. Second, even if valid and reliable information is collected, it is of no use unless follow-up action is taken based on the information. A survey feedback is not a technique in itself for change; it provides base for action for change.

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