The science behind our Change surveys

Guidance on our Change surveys and the science behind them

Jared Ellis avatar
Written by Jared Ellis
Updated over a week ago

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Guidance on our Change surveys and the science behind them

Who is this guide for?

Account Admins, Survey Admins, Survey Creators

The Culture Amp Change Surveys are optimized for a wide range of organizational changes and for companies of various sizes, compositions and settings. They can be run across an entire organization, within a single business unit/division, or with a subset of teams and departments, depending on where the change is taking place.

Feedback through change helps organizations understand their employees’ views on what is happening during various stages of any change process or transformation, putting real and actionable feedback into the hands of business leaders, people & culture teams, managers, and employees.

“Simple, low-effort surveys can inform employee sentiment throughout a change management process in near real time. These quick-turnaround feedback mechanisms give organizations a line of sight into what is—or is not—working almost at the moment the feelings manifest. For organizations with numerous change initiatives under way, gaining quick feedback is essential to remain agile in these dynamic environments.”

Monaghan, Murphy and Johnson

What is Organizational Change?

Organizational change is a process in which a company or organization changes its working methods or strategy. Examples of organizational change may include:

  • Merger or Acquisition

  • Restructure

  • Operating Model Change

  • Strategy Change

  • Digital Transformation / Introduction of New Technology

  • Agile Transformation

  • Cultural Transformation

  • Rapid Growth

An estimated 70% of organizational change efforts fail to achieve their goals, a statistic that has stayed consistent since the 1970s. Although changes are usually well planned in terms of strategic and operational aspects, much of these poor results have come to be attributed to poor planning and implementation of the people and cultural aspects change.

“When people are truly invested in change, it is 30% more likely to stick.”

Ewenstein, Smith, and Sologar, (2015) McKinsey & Company

With many (if not most!) of our customers planning to implement some form of change in the next 12 months, we knew it was important to create a template that would allow customers to collect, understand, and act on employee feedback throughout change, and to greatly increase the likelihood of success.

Change Survey Design Methodology

Our research and survey design started with a simple question: What is important for organizations to measure and act upon to make change successful?

We firstly examined organizational change and the factors that contribute to making change a success.

Next, we interviewed many of our customers that had already completed change initiatives, or were in the midst of implementing these types of projects. We asked them what mattered most in terms of their people and culture, and successfully integrating the change.

We then studied contemporary academic literature and models of organizational change and reviewed the insights from the theory and applied studies.

Why is it Important to Collect Feedback at Different Stages of Change?

“Gaining insights into how people within the workforce are thinking and feeling, as well as collecting their ideas on how to make the organizational change successful, would all be immensely valuable. That being said, rarely is a forum in place to absorb and act upon such insights. As leaders continue to evolve (and retire) I sense the prioritization of employee surveys to facilitate large scale change will elevate. Eventually I see them becoming the norm.”

Al Adamsen, Thought Leader, Organizational Change

Change initiatives are often well planned from a business strategy and operational perspective, but people and culture can often be forgotten or deprioritized in the process. By utilizing employee feedback, organizations can adopt an evidence-based approach, ‘humanize’ the transformation process, and explicitly address people and culture through change, increasing the likelihood of successfully achieving their goals.

Many business leaders, however, are resistant to collecting employee feedback during times of change, preferring to hold off on surveys until the “dust settles” because they believe they will present poor results. These people are usually correct that there will be lower results in unstable situations. However, without baseline data during the transition, the business will be totally unable to show improvement, or what areas for action will most impact their employee’s belief in the change. In line with Adamsen’s thinking, there is research that points to the importance of surveying employees before, during, and after organizational change takes place so that action can be taken to manage transformation risk.

Before Change

The literature shows that change and the uncertainty of the future state of the organization, whether favorable or unfavorable, produces stress amongst employees. This stress is often due to people’s subjective perceptions rather than objective facts, so identifying the sources of these stressors via employee feedback is a crucial part of the process.

When companies can assess the potential impact of upcoming change on their employees’ attitudes, they can anticipate problems in advance of the change, and plan accordingly.

By surveying employees before organizational change, an environment is created where people have been involved in planning for change implementation. This can help reduce resistance and increase employee commitment to new change efforts.

Gathering and acting on people and culture data before a change is paramount so people can see that their feedback has been heard, helping to build trust in the change process. Communicating any actions that come from this feedback is important to mitigate employee doubts and concerns, and provides an opportunity to highlight the significance of changing. Whilst setting the vision of change is powerful, it is equally important to demonstrate what will remain the same to ensure employee support, therefore improving the likelihood of change success.

The pre-change survey has been designed to use before change takes place, to understand the readiness of your employees to undergo the upcoming transition. The survey can be launched when change is in the planning stages, or has just been announced.

During Change

When organizational change is announced, tension and distrust have been cited as consequences. Studies have shown that it is useful to quantitatively measure the effectiveness of communication during change.

By also measuring employees’ feelings, concerns and what they feel is working well, a survey becomes a two-way conversation that shows that the organization cares. This will help to build trust amongst employees and an organization’s leaders. Employees’ levels of stress can be reduced if they feel that they are being helped to ease into the change, resulting in a smoother transition and adoption.

We form psychological contracts based on the expectations set by the organisation, and the reality of how those contracts are fulfilled can change through a transformation. During Mergers and Acquisitions for example, expectations that an employer will fulfil its informal agreements, such as getting a raise, bonus, or promotion become more uncertain. In the US, half of employees who have been through a merger experienced at least one psychological contract breach, while 12% experienced three or more. Studies have shown, however, that by continuing to involve employees in the process of change, communicating often, and aligning expectations to reality, change success can be enhanced. Surveying during the change process allows organizations to assess the views and expectations of employees.

The during-change survey has been designed to use when change is in motion. This survey can be launched at any time when the change is in progress.

After Change

Now that there is a new normal, it’s important for organizations to collect feedback on how employees feel going forward. By soliciting feedback at this stage, employees will trust that their voices are being heard and action is being taken.

Organizations that collect feedback following a change initiative can learn from their people, target specific groups that may need additional support or training, and continue to embed and integrate new ways of working to sustainably realise the outcomes for which the project was initially launched.

For change initiatives that have had a definitive end, we have included a Change Success factor in the ‘During/Post Survey’ which you may like to use as a retrospective review of the integration to gain insights on what can be improved for any future change and what worked well that can be built upon.

Measuring the factors that matter

“When planning for major change events, it is important to solicit feedback and engage people in the process. This helps build ownership in the change, and makes employees more likely to support the change and even champion it.”

Galbraith (2015)

Our analyses of our customers who have been through change identified key themes that are important for organizations undergoing change to understand. After applying the research, our final surveys comprise 40 questions and assess the following distinct factors:

  • Company Confidence

  • Customers

  • Leadership

  • Communication & Awareness

  • Enablement

  • Collaboration

  • My Team

  • My Manager

  • Alignment & Involvement

  • Belonging

  • Advocacy

  • Engagement

Developing the Change Survey Questions

“Business leaders put people, culture, change management and communication as the top reasons for integration failure, yet few companies completely understand how to tackle those issues head-on.”

Umbeck and Bron (2017)

We reviewed change frameworks, models, research and existing customer data. Informed by those insights, we designed two change surveys - one to use before change takes place, and the other to use during or after the change.

In addition to interviews with subject matter experts (SMEs), L&D professionals, and current executives and senior leaders, our templates and structure were created with insight from the following sources:

  • Kotter’s 8-step process for leading change

  • Lewin’s 3-stage model of change

  • Prosci’s ADKAR change management methodology

  • Kubler-Ross’ change curve

Communication: Why It’s So Important During Change

Research shows that communication is one of the most important parts to a successful change process. It underpins everything that an organization should be doing in all three (pre, during, and post) stages of change. Information overload does not apply during times of change and employees need to be regularly receiving information.

There is a danger if employees do not receive the appropriate information, that they may manufacture it themselves leading to rumours and inaccurate messaging, which can decrease the chances of change success.

Research suggests that regular and honest communication during a change process, even when it is bad news, helps minimize the stress and anxiety felt by employees.

One study noted that employees’ perceptions of organizational readiness for change either facilitated or undermined the change effort, therefore organizations need to communicate its readiness for change.

What we’ve seen work well is a specific internal Communications/PR person or group to help disseminate clear, honest and factual information regarding the change. Studies show that communication increases the coping abilities of employees regarding the change, which will in turn increase their productivity.

It is also important to communicate what is going to stay the same through change. We can, understandably, get heavily focused on what will be changing during transformation, and on getting employees on board and excited about that change. Recent research shows, however, that while setting a vision of change is important, organisations can further minimise employee resistance by demonstrating what will stay the same, and highlighting continuity. As employees we form a connection to the organisational that we value and identify with, so showing employees how the essence of the organisation will remain through change can ensure their support and greater success.

Feedback That Inspires Action

A study of 40 digital transformations showed that companies that focused on culture were five times more likely to achieve sustained (continuing for a minimum of three years) strong or breakthrough performance than companies that neglected culture.

For many organizations, a five-year strategic plan is a thing of the past. Mastering the art of being agile and adaptive is now a critical competitive advantage. Organizations are increasingly engaged in multiple simultaneous change programs, often involving many people across numerous geographies. Digital tools, such as Culture Amp’s Change Surveys, can allow organizations to implement change more successfully.


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