Startups & Pulse Surveys

Why Startups Should Use Pulse Surveys

Startup life can be frantic and fast. Between growth, ironing out bugs, planning product, seeking runway and generating interest, its easy to forget that your team is your most important asset.

So how do you ensure you are listening to your team, collecting feedback on product, culture and direction, and managing all of your other roles whilst building velocity in your startup?

In this article, I’ll explain why I feel that pulse surveys are a must have in the clever founders toolbox, and how to use them effectively.

What are Pulse Surveys?

A pulse survey is pretty well self described; a short, sharp survey of employees that gets a sense of the ‘pulse’ or heartbeat of the team. They are quickly becoming a typical way many established businesses are either complimenting or replacing their annual employee surveys.

There are many reasons why startups should use pulse surveys. These include…

Save time and resources

Rather than the typical annual survey, which can take weeks and huge budgets to create, and then distribute and then receive results, which can often take weeks or months, a pulse survey gets an indication of how employees are feeling right now, and typically reports back within a very short time period of 1-2 days.

Read more about why we believe annual surveys are as effective as pulse surveys.

Ability to act quickly

As a result of this fast turnaround, management are able to address concerns or reaffirm values and expectations far quicker, than old fashioned annual surveys.

Compare and analyse different groups or teams

Most pulse survey systems, such as ours, allows you to segment employees into locations, teams or roles. This allows further insights into how the San Francisco team is feeling, compared to the New York team, for example.

Connect remote workers

The meteoric rise of remote working, has meant that many startups do not have a traditional office. This means that it is harder to get an overall sense of team mood or individual feedback, when everyone is distributed. Rather than relying on tools not designed for the job, pulse surveys are a great addition to the founders toolbox.

Startup culture tips

Image: Heisenberg Media, Flickr

Stay focused on your startup

Don’t get stuck working through internal conflicts or a high employee turnover issue. If we agree that startups should use pulse surveys, we know then that a founder can get back to what she or he are meant to be doing; working on creating velocity with their startup.

There are plenty of fast moving priorities inside a fast growing startup, and it is hard to keep focus and do everything really well. A pulse survey makes this area of responsibility easier to handle.

Build a stronger culture

The reaffirmation of values and constant reminder of cultural expectations through clever questioning, means that each pulse survey is working towards making your company culture clearer and more visible. A startup may not be consciously working on their culture, however one is being created every day, even if you aren’t paying attention to it.

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh is quoted as saying “Zappos sells shoes and apparel online, but what distinguished us from our competitors was that we’d put our company culture above all else.” Hsieh credits the strong Zappos culture on their successful recruitment strategies of talented employees and great customers.

Overall, pulse surveys are a fantastic measurement of employee engagement.

Engaging employees is one of the most vital elements of any management plan. Without engaged employees, you are likely risking a lot of downtime through absence, and you certainly won’t be as effective in customer service or profitability.

Our article, Employee engagement strategies save money, goes into far more detail on that topic.

Companies with engaged employees outperform those without, by up to 202%.
– Dale Carnegie Training.

What is Employee Engagement?

Employee engagement is the measurement of an individuals motivation to give of their best each day, their motivation to contribute to organisational success, and commitment to the goals and values of their employer.

It is how passionate an employee feels about their role, and the discretionary effort that they will put into their work. Employee engagement is not the same as employee satisfaction. Startups should use pulse surveys to get a sense of their employee engagement.

When should I start using a pulse survey?

We recommend all growing startups should use pulse surveys, the moment your team reaches five remote employees, or 10 employees, remote or otherwise.

Why? Well, there is plenty of research that has shown that the peak management ratio is 10 employees per manager. As a result, the founder suddenly will find themselves removed from the day to day operations and unable to manage all aspects of their business, once they hit around ten employees.

If you are already past the magic 5/10 employees, we recommend you start immediately; there’s no time better than the present.

In this article, Molly Graham (Facebook) states “If you don’t have time to do anything else related to culture — if you’re at 5 to 10 people and sprinting all day long — take the time to do this inventory.

We found that a 5% increase in employee engagement is linked to a 3% increase in revenue growth in the subsequent year.
– Aon Hewitt, 2015

Am I just too late to start a pulse survey?

It is never too late to start a pulse survey program, however as we’ve mentioned above, the earlier the better. The worst thing you could do is do nothing. Start researching your pulse survey suppliers, and trial a few to determine the best software fit for you.

Why don’t I just build one myself?

This is a valid question I’ve heard startup founders say previously. First, you’re building a startup already; keep your focus tight on that and don’t waste your time building other tools that you can get readily available.

The second reason, is no matter how much you try, you will have a hard time convincing employees that the anonymous survey is just that – internally created surveys are treated with distrust by the majority of employees.

This recent trust barometer results shows that out of 33,000 employees taking part in the study, one in three don’t trust their leadership. These sobering statistics reaffirm the need to use a third party, when startups should use pulse surveys.

More about employee pulse surveys

Whilst this article is focused on startups, and startup founders, we have shared plenty of information about employee pulse surveys in the past. For example, this article, Everything you need to know about pulse surveys, goes into far more detail than we have here.

In Summary

I am a strong advocate that startups should use pulse surveys. Founders have a long list of tasks ahead, one of which are retaining key employees, and building a great company culture that will grow as the team expands.

An employee pulse survey is a lean, fast method to get a sense of how teams and individuals are feeling, without losing sight of your startup mission and product. Give them a try, and see the benefits for yourself.