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Employee Engagement Surveys in an Inter-Cultural Setting

Updated: May 5, 2023

Part 1 of 2

How to get a good sample when traditional methods don’t cut it.

A few years ago, a company with 15,000 staff decided to do an employee opinion survey to help them identify the thinking of the employees. They hoped to get feedback on current culture and what was and was not working within the organization.

The HR director announced the initiative, and said, "We're doing really well: we’ve got 3,000 responses, and that’s a big enough number that we can look at the data, make decisions, and move forward. I think we’ll close the survey soon." The KnowledgeWorkx consultant on the conference call said to her, “There might be compelling reasons to actually not do that." And she said, "Why?” And he said, "Well, here's what you might want to do: go into the sampling, and check the characteristics of the people who responded first. My prediction is that those first three thousand that responded are more Innocence/Guilt-oriented, and more Individual Accountability-, Directive Destiny-, and Direct Communication-oriented than the rest of the company.”

When the HR director checked, the prediction turned out to be right on the mark. That 20% sample was really only representative of about 20% of the company’s population. This is because traditional email surveys tend to cater to an Innocence/Guilt, Directive Destiny, Individual Accountability, Direct Communication style, which if you stereotype it, is a more western style of doing surveys.

For the inter-cultural space, a bunch of yes/no questions or Likert scale questions in Survey Monkey that are sent out by email is not necessarily going to get you the good sampling of the whole population. So how do you survey an organization in such a way that everybody is likely to contribute?”

Inter-Cultural Intelligence in The Survey Process

What we did previously in Saudi Arabia was to get a good grasp of the organizational dynamics before designing the survey tactics. In this particular organization, trust in the company was not high, there was a lot of Ascribed Status, Directed Destiny, Indirect Communication, and Exclusive Connecting on the 12 Dimensions of Culture, and there was Power/Fear and Honor/Shame, but very little Innocence/Guilt on the Three Colors of Worldview.

Electric Vs. Paper

Based on this constellation of factors, we said, “An electronic survey is not going to work. It is going to cost you more money to do it on paper, but it will help you get a significant response.” They agreed with us, and we started formulating the questions in ways that made it more likely that people in their environment would volunteer answers.

Free-Write Sections

We also recommended that there be room for a free-write section in order to make sure that we got quality information, and so that if people wanted to tell their story there would be room for it. This was another expensive proposition because the processing of free-write questions is time consuming.

The Outcome: 90% Response Rates and Accurate Overviews

When we ran the program, the response was incredible. We got close to 90% of the people responding, and the free-write worked: we got very honest feedback from a very large percentage of the population, which gave us a very accurate overview of what was going on in the organization.

What we shared above aren’t the only things that affected this outcome: our next article will go through language issues specifically focused on Honor/Shame environments, the rituals we used to build trust in the respondents, and how to plan for processing from the start.


This Series: Part 1 Part 2


To learn more about Inter-Cultural Intelligence, the 12 Dimensions of Culture Inventory, Three Colors of Worldview or the many ways in which KnowledgeWorkx can help you run effective employee surveys in the complex global workspace, Contact us or get our mini-ebook: Inter-Cultural Intelligence: from surviving to thriving in the global space.


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