The June 19 issue of the Wall Street Journal (subscription required) features an article on how a Yum Brands has used employee surveys as a tool to engage employees and identify problem areas early on.
An important principal is that surveys need to be anonymous. For Yum, employees can call an automated response system, which then aggregates the results before sending them on. For a small practice, as with any small business, it’s best to have a stamped addressed envelope included with the survey, and the questionnaires sent to an independent third party. I’m sure that there are market research companies that can also set up an automated survey for you, and there free and low cost survey services that are web based.
One important survey that is done at Yum Brands: new employees are surveyed as to how well employees have been trained in their job. It’s the manager, who is responsible for staff training, who is really being evaluated. In the areas where this survey has been used, turnover is down, as managers better understand the importance of the basics and of the training.
If you do survey your employees, whether through anonymous surveys or open meetings, you have taken on your own responsibility. You must act on what your staff tells you. It doesn’t mean that every idea has to be implemented, but you have to acknowledge the comments and report back as to whether something will be done or will not/ can not be done and why. You’re asking your staff to trust you and be open with you – you have to be own with them as well. It should go without saying that there is never, ever, to be any retribution for something an employee says.
One resource I found: Business Research Labs, and look for the free online information on the left pane.