Case Study: Conducting a Pulse Check Survey

To identify the way forward for a small company

Written by Deanna Hunter

The CEO of a small company I have been working with was interested in what his employees were thinking and whether there were any hot button issues that could be resolved in order to keep his team engaged.  The organization had just doubled in size, from 11 to 24 in less than six months, and was continuing to grow. The CEO knew that retention of his current high performing team was critical to achieve some incredibly top priority business targets that needed to be met, including a new product that needed to be developed and out to market in the next 18 months.  As with most good leaders, the CEO had a sense of where the pain points were.  However, he wanted to validate his thinking before he jumped into action.  The worst thing a leader can do is guess what employees are thinking, and then act on something that may be totally off base.

Working closely with the CEO, I put together a simple 5 step process to ‘check in’ with employees about their perceptions around the fast growth, the aggressive pace and the many changes taking place.  The information gathered from the ‘Pulse Check’ would then be used to devise a tailored retention plan.

Step 1: Clarify the goals of the Pulse Check

The main goal of the Pulse Check was to get a read on employee satisfaction and gather information to support retention and high performance.  To find out what was going well and what required improvement so that the management team could focus time, energy and money on the right things for their employees.  A secondary goal was to gather feedback from the CEO’s direct reports to identify their engagement level and opportunities to enhance his own effectiveness as a leader.

Step 2:  Agree on the method and process for gathering feedback

We agreed that it was important to create a process where employees felt comfortable to be open and honest about what they were thinking, and to use a method that would allow participants to provide context for their answers along with examples, rather than just numerical scores and data points.  Confidentiality was paramount to ensure feedback was honest and could be used to make a real difference.  As a neutral third party, I would conduct a series of individual interviews over a two week period.  At a Town Hall Meeting a few weeks prior to the interviews, the CEO would share the goal, the process and introduce my role in the project to put them at ease and promote buy-in.

Step 3:  Conduct the Survey

Employee interview questions were designed to cover three basic conversation points:

  1. General – questions that focussed on the company as an employer and how well employees like working with the organization.
  2. Employee needs – how people feel about working in their specific job and whether they are getting what they need from the manager and the senior managers.
  3. Compensation – questions to gather input on satisfaction with compensation, benefits and perks.

Employees were asked to book an interview time that was most appropriate for them.  Interviews were scheduled for 60 minutes but the vast majority took between 35-45 minutes.  I spent the first few minutes of each interview explaining the process, talking about how the individual information would be kept confidential and that only themes and trends would be reported to the CEO.  They were safe in sharing with me.

Step 4:  Compile findings and action items

Once all the surveys were completed, I reviewed the comments, stories and examples employees shared and identified themes within each of the categories.  This was my most critical task.  I needed to get this right so that the CEO could succeed.   From this work I identified four recommendations that could be acted on to ensure retention of employees.

These findings were used to draft a full report that I shared with the CEO and one of his key leaders.  The resulting discussion yielded two immediate action items and two longer term goals that would require additional time and resources to be tackled.

Step 5: Communicate and get to work!

The CEO communicated the high level findings of the Pulse Check to the team at the next Town Hall.  He thanked everyone for their feedback and participation and shared the steps that were going to be taken to address the opportunities identified.  Execution of the action items is currently in progress.


The entire Pulse Check exercise took 4 weeks from beginning to end.   It was quick with no disruption to the workplace.  And it was highly effective.  The CEO got exactly what he was looking for – a clear idea of what matters to his employees and a clear plan that he can execute to support retention of his staff.

If you are interested in ways to engage and retain your staff, but don’t know where to start, a Pulse Check survey might be the answer.

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