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Municipality commits to act before conducting a staff survey

If you are going to ask staff for their opinion on how the work environment can be improved you had better be prepared to act on their suggestions. If surveys are conducted and nothing happens as result, people soon adopt a cynical attitude such as the one reflected in this comment:

“I don’t know why I even fill out these surveys. Nothing ever happens! Nothing ever changes!”

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo employee survey project team was always focused on how to use what they heard from staff. This commitment was evident from the time I was invited to assist the group to develop and administer a survey. The project team itself included representatives from the groups who would be completing the survey. Both unions (the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the International Association of Fire Fighters) and exempt staff were represented, along with two members of management. Everyone who joined the team believed that the survey would be a catalyst for action.

The team’s mandate went well beyond developing and conducting a survey. They were expected to inform other staff about the survey, its purpose and the processes being used. After tabulating the survey results, they were to report to all staff and work with the senior leadership to develop an action plan.

“Right from the very beginning there was a strong commitment from the senior leadership team to action the results,” recalls Human Resources Advisor Kelly Maurer, who assumed an informal leadership role on the team.

The purpose of the survey was to find out how staff felt the organization was implementing its strategic plan, identifying both successes and what still needed to be addressed. Most survey questions were developed based on what was heard during four staff focus groups. Participants identified themes and issues that were important to them and could be explored further through the survey.

Several themes emerged, but the team limited the number of topics about which staff would be asked. “We wanted to make it manageable. We wanted to set goals that we would be able to achieve. We wanted there to be some successes from this,” Kelly explains.

Once the results were in, the team listed what had been learned about several aspects of the organization’s practices. Next to each conclusion, the committee noted any related actions that were already underway or even completed and proposed actions (recommendations). “A lot of the feedback we got was in areas where there was already action in progress. It is just a matter of communicating this out to employees,” Kelly says.

During these discussions there was little argument with the results. No one said, “If they only had all the facts they would think differently” or “We tried that once and it didn’t work.” The team was prepared to accept the perceptions of staff and respond to them.

When it was satisfied with its work to that point, the survey project team took its conclusions and recommendations to the senior leadership team. The senior leaders are now using the results to develop an action plan that they will communicate to all staff. If the leadership feels unable to act in some areas, the reasons for not doing so will be explained. In two years, the Municipality will repeat the survey process to gather staff perceptions of how their input has been used and identify other areas for improvement.


About the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo

Covering over 68,000 square kilometers of northeast Alberta, The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo ranks, by area, among the largest municipalities in North America. More than ninety per cent of its 50,000 permanent residents live in Fort McMurray.

The Regional Municipality conducted an employee survey in October, 2003.

  • 410 surveys were distributed
  • 306 competed surveys were returned
  • 75% response rate


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© Nelson Scott.  All rights reserved.

A professional trainer, speaker, and consultant since 1995, Nelson Scott works with organizations that are committed to making the right hiring decisions, developing and retaining productive staff, and strengthening relationships with customers.  Learn more by visiting or e-mailing


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