Your size fits you

 Session B2 – Aligning your Approach to Employee Feedback with your Engagement Strategy.

Since starting to work in the field of employee experience myself, I’m seeing first hand the fall from favour of the traditional model annual (or even longer interval) engagement survey.   With the pace of organisational, technological and societal change increasing seemingly by the day, a snapshot of employee opinion at such an interval no longer meets the needs of many organisations.

The session was tabled in the conference programme as using the case studies to show how the companies in question have selected new feedback approaches, focusing on:

  • the role of organisational values and how to build them through survey mechanisms
  • how to enhance traditional engagement surveys to make them meaningful
  • adopting and implementing new real-time feedback models

So how have Ella’s Kitchen and Cath Kidston gone “beyond the annual survey”?

Catherine Allen (Head of Keeping People Happy) – Ella’s Kitchen

Ella’s Kitchen is a close knit and family feel business, with 74 staff.  They run their own survey 3 times a year with regular 95-97% completion rates.  They are also one of the “Times Best Companies” to work for (small employer category) which entails a separate survey.

The company values play a big part in day to day life at Ella’s.  For example, team meetings will highlight examples of people living the values and they form part of the 360 feedback process, as well as being core to the regular surveys.

An Ella’s Kitchen survey is designed to be relevant, simple and quick.  It will have no more than 10 questions, and the cycle from survey launch to action plan will be 3-4 weeks maximum.  Significantly, the shorter and simpler Ella’s survey has a better response rate than the longer and more detailed Times Best Companies survey (consistently a 10% gap).

But the Ella’s approach is much more than surveys, they aim to gather feedback at multiple points and by different means, such as:

  1. My Big Chat and My Little Chat – the annual appraisal and 6-month check-in.
  2. Show and Tell – the employee forum involving a representative from each team in the business, for feedback but also to test new ideas.
  3. The Postbox – the good old-fashioned suggestion/feedback box in the corner at monthly meetings.
  4. Annual 360s.
  5. Exit interviews.

With all of these feedback channels in place, Catherine and her team has a rich source of data to draw from.  It’s really important, she reminds us, to use the information wisely and do what you say you were going to do with the feedback.  Every time they launch an Ella’s Kitchen Survey, part of the process is to report back to the staff what has happened with the feedback from the last survey and from other channels.  In that way, staff can see that their feedback is valued and acted upon.


Alex Snelling (People Director) – Cath Kidston 

Cath Kidston is Private Equity owned, and has approximately 250 staff in the UK with another 250 globally.


When Alex joined in 2014, he knew he wanted to gauge staff opinion by running a survey.  Having looked at the traditional model, he knew he didn’t want an 80-question survey that would return a response rate of typically no more than 50%, and for which he would then have to wait 3-6 months for analysis and an action plan to ensue.


He chose to try a Canadian pulse platform called Office Vibe (other providers are available, ahem 😉).

A completely different approach to the traditional model, this solutions asks 3-4 quantitative questions of most Cath Kidston staff weekly or fortnightly (unfortunately the store staff who don’t have company email can’t be included on the platform).

The frequency of the pulse survey has generated huge amounts of feedback, and some interesting challenges (for example, a comparison of engagement scores between teams is not necessarily a motivator for managers!). Response rates have remained consistently good – fatigue has not set in, which Alex attributes to the speed with which the survey can be completed on each occasion.


They have found that engagement varies by team rather than across the company, and will vary sometimes even from week to week depending on what is going on within teams.  A compelling argument, in his view, for the move away from the traditional model.

People have been very direct in using the platform, what Alex refers to as “unvarnished insight”.  It has changed the tone, quantity and quality of dialogue at Cath Kidston.  On the whole, this has been a positive experience for the company and he would recommend organisations serious about finding out what employees really think, consider a pulse solution.

These were 2 very different approaches to harnessing feedback, both of which depart from the traditional model.  Both speakers were keen to point out that every organisation should think carefully about what works for them bearing in mind their size, culture and other relevant factors.  Cutting and pasting the above approaches will not be a guarantee for success by any means!

As is so often the case at #cipdACE17, the refreshing honesty and generosity of the speakers in sharing their learning points, will help others in the room to start their own journey from a position of knowledge.   

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