How Employee Surveys Can Help Pivot the ‘Moveable Middle’ in Your Organization

SETH WILLIS

Author

CATEGORIES

Categories

In employee surveys, we often see answers that are neither positive nor negative. Some examples of these inconsistent replies are ‘neutral’, ‘undecided’, and ‘neither agree nor disagree’.

The people who pick these middle answer options are what we call the ‘movable middle.’; folks who’ve had inconsistent experiences in their organization. It’s not that these employees never receive positive encounters, more so that the positive experiences are unreliable and unpredictable.

Paying attention to statements and populations with high volumes of inconsistent answers can provide your organization with better insights into employee experiences. Furthermore, identifying these areas for improvement presents an opportunity for rapid growth potential for your business.

I began practicing Muay Thai recently to learn a new skill and get in shape. An unexpected benefit is my coach sharing advice that applies to my everyday life. This morning, he said, “Consistency boils down to two things: how you show up and how often you do it.”

Employee surveys are a key tool for measuring the consistency of your employee experience. Using the Great Place To Work® Trust Index™ Survey, you can identify which demographic groups (such as generations, race/ethnicity, managerial level, department etc.) are having a positive experience and those who need more support.

Be sure to note statements and populations with a high volume of inconsistent responses – those who answer neither positively nor non-positively. We call these folks your “moveable middle,” as they present an opportunity for rapid growth potential.

What is the “moveable middle?”

The Trust Index Survey scale differs from the typical Likert scale (strongly agree to strongly disagree) that employee net promoter score (eNPS) surveys use. The Trust Index Survey does not simply measure whether employees agree with a specific statement.

Bringing it back to my Muay Thai coach, the scale measures consistency – what folks experience and how often it is the case (almost always true to almost always untrue). How often is it true that management keeps you informed? How often is it true that people are treated fairly? How often is it true that people feel like they can be themselves?

Your inconsistent responses are folks answering in the middle answer option: sometimes true or sometimes untrue. It’s not that these survey takers never have positive experiences, but that these positive experiences are inconsistent.

This inconsistency can spark many questions: when do these folks have positive experiences? When do they have non-positive ones? What factors are influencing them? What can we do to impact that change?

For example, you could see a high volume of “moveable middle” responses in statements about compensation. Is it your communications regarding compensation that are the problem? Is there a real opportunity to change the compensation structure?

Filtering these responses is a great way to identify areas with the most potential for meaningful increases. It’s useful to think about survey response data in terms of cause and effect: if employees’ responses are the effect, what are the potential causes?

3 reasons employers should pay close attention to the moveable middle

1. Opportunity to identify areas for improvement

The moveable middle is a population with huge potential for improvement with less of a lift than converting non-positive responses into positive responses.

Outside of identifying gaps to benchmark data, identifying statements and demographics with the largest moveable middle is a great first step in identifying opportunities in your survey results.

2. Potential for increased employee engagement and productivity

Our research shows that engaged employees have business impact. Imagine the productivity and innovation left on the table caused by an inconsistent experience. With a lower barrier to entry than fully disengaged employees, your moveable middle can move your bottom line.

3. Ability to convert ambivalent employees into advocates

People having inconsistent experiences could quickly change from indifferent employees to workplace promoters.

When such employees see leadership take the time to listen and seek feedback, then implement change based on How to analyze the moveable middle’s survey responses

How to analyze the moveable middle’s survey responses

1. Identify trends and patterns

First, recognize which survey statements have your highest volume of responses from your moveable middle and see what connections stand out.

For example, if you have a large moveable middle in psychological safety, do you also have one in work-life balance? How about in space for innovation and bottom-up communication?

Look for relationships between statements to begin painting your employee experience picture.

2. Pinpoint specific areas of concern

Have you made strategic investments in your company culture and not seen the expected impact? Revisit your action plan, create your hypotheses around why the needle hasn’t moved the desired distance, and listen further to determine the gap between where you are and your goal.

3. Compare responses with highly engaged and disengaged employees

It’s important to not forget about your positive and non-positive scores as well. Investigating what factors are influencing both sides of this coin can provide color and clarity to your inconsistent experiences. Chances are that the people in the moveable middle are experiencing and balancing a variety of positive and negative factors at once.

3 sure-fire strategies for engaging the moveable middle

Address key areas of concern

Choose which handful (no more than 5) of statements and/or demographics you will focus on. Address this with your executives, then leadership, then the broader business. Be sure to keep all stakeholders aware of where you are in the process and when they can expect to see the action plan come to fruition.

Encourage open communication and feedback

We can see lots of what in survey results, but two-way communication, feedback, and collaboration help us get to why and how.

Create opportunities for your people to share feedback in a confidential way with questions like:

  • What do you see in your day-to-day that leadership doesn’t see?
  • When was the last time you had a positive experience in this area? What did it look like?
  • What do you need from leadership to have this experience more consistently?
  • What things can you do to create this experience for yourself and others more consistently?
Recognize and reward improvements in engagement

Extend gratitude to your people when you start to see behaviors and patterns that foster more stable and positive experiences.

Connect these behaviors directly to your organizational values, demonstrating that they are more than just words on a website; they are the guideposts for actions and a shared code. Recognize and thank folks who actualize these values, thereby transforming abstract ideas into tangible, measurable practices.

How to enhance employee experience by tapping moveable middle responses

Incorporate feedback into organizational policies and processes

While every organization must make top-down decisions, seeking employee voices early and often can have a significant impact on their experience.

As much as possible, shift the messaging from, “Here’s what is going to happen. Any questions?” to “Here’s what we’re thinking of doing. Before we move forward any further, we want to understand how this will affect you.”

This will build trust between leadership and the workforce, creating the environment for them to feel heard. Even if employees wish the final decision went a different way, they won’t feel left out.

Use insights to inform future survey design

By identifying areas with a moveable middle, you can add more pointed statements to future surveys to measure your plan’s effectiveness on a multi-point scale. That way, after you’ve identified the things that may be able to move the needle, you can measure whether (and how well) your solutions are working.

Track progress and adjust strategies as needed

Don’t be afraid to adjust the action plan as you go along. In any organization, agility is a key success behavior. Your humility and communication in moving the levers on your plan will show that the survey is a real avenue to be heard and that it has tangible impacts on their day-to-day at work, ultimately building trust.

Move forward by moving the middle

The moveable middle is a great place to start if you want to know what employee experiences are inconsistent. Instead of starting with zero momentum, you have a chance to understand not only what drives the inconsistency, but also what will create a more consistent experience for all.

Looking to understand your moveable middle and employee experience? Get started in surveying your employees here.

In that feedback, those employees are likely to become advocates – not only in how they see their experience, but also how they share their experience with new hires and their network.

SETH WILLIS

Author

Great Place To Work identifies Best Workplaces™ in Asia by surveying over 1 million employees in Asia and the Middle East about the key factors that create great workplaces for all and analyzing company workplace programs impacting over 4.7 million employees in the region.

To be considered, companies must first be identified as outstanding in their local region by appearing on one or more of our Best Workplaces lists in Greater China (including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, UAE, Vietnam during 2021 or early 2022.

Companies rank in three size categories: Small and Medium (10-499 employees); Large (500+); and Multinational. Multinational organizations are also assessed on their efforts to create great workplaces across multiple countries in the region. They must appear on at least two national lists in Asia and the Middle East and have at least 1,000 employees worldwide with at least 40% (or 5,000) of those employees located outside the headquarters country.

Great Place To Work identifies Best Workplaces in Asia™ by surveying 2.1 million employees in Asia and the Middle East about the key factors that create great workplaces for all and analyzing company workplace programs impacting 5.9 million employees in the region.

To be considered, companies must first be identified as outstanding in their local region by appearing on one or more of our Best Workplaces lists in Bahrain, Greater China (including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan), India, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, UAE, Vietnam during 2022 or early 2023.

Companies rank in three size categories: Small and Medium (10-499 employees); Large (500+); and Multinational. Multinational organizations are also assessed on their efforts to create great workplaces across multiple countries in the region. They must appear on at least two national lists in Asia and the Middle East and have at least 1,000 employees worldwide with at least 40% (or 5,000+) of those employees located outside the headquarters country.

For All™ Methodology

Great Place To Work, the global authority on workplace culture, determined the Philippines Best Workplaces™ 2023 List by conducting annual workforce studies through our Trust Index Survey™ and Culture Management platform Emprising®, representing the voices of over 450,000 employees across the Philippines.

Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a great place to work For All™, meaning that the company empowers all individuals to reach their full human potential. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees report about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. We analyze these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce makeup, and what’s typical in their industry and region. The remainder of the evaluation is an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of the company’s values, people’s ability to contribute new ideas, and the effectiveness of their leaders to ensure they’re consistently experienced.

To ensure surveys truly represent all employees, we require enough people in each organization to respond that results are accurate to a 95% confidence level and 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news, and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

For All™ Methodology

Great Place to Work, the global authority on workplace culture, determined the Philippines Best Workplaces™ 2022 List by conducting annual workforce studies through our Trust Index Survey™ and Culture Management platform Emprising®, representing the voices of over 130,000 employees across the Philippines.

Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a great place to work For All™, meaning that the company empowers all individuals to reach their full human potential. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees report about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. We analyze these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce makeup, and what’s typical in their industry and region. The remainder of the evaluation is an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of the company’s values, people’s ability to contribute new ideas, and the effectiveness of their leaders to ensure they’re consistently experienced.

To ensure surveys truly represent all employees, we require enough people in each organization to respond that results are accurate to a 95% confidence level and 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news, and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

Categories:
These organizations’ assessment is based 100% on employee responses to the Trust Index survey.

  • Small 10-99 Employees

For larger organizations with more than 100 employees, we also use our Culture Audit™ tool, asking organizations to share with us their practices, policies, and programs to create a great workplace For All™ and evaluate the approach they take.

  • Medium 100-999 Employees
  • Large 1000+ Employees

Why do you say in one place your national list scoring is based on 85%/15% and in another place that it is 75%/25%?

We are explaining two different things:
1.  The criteria we evaluate

  •  85% concerned with Trust and Maximizing Human Potential and
  • 15% concerned with everything else

2.  Where the data comes from

  • 100% Trust Index for organizations with less than 100 employees
  • 75% based on the Trust Index survey analytics and 25% based on responses to the Culture Audit for organizations with more than 100 employees.
For All™ Methodology

Great Place To Work, the global authority on workplace culture, determined the Philippines Best Workplaces™ 2023 List by conducting annual workforce studies through our Trust Index Survey™ and Culture Management platform Emprising®, representing the voices of over 450,000 employees across the Philippines.

Employees responded to over 60 survey questions describing the extent to which their organization creates a great place to work For All™, meaning that the company empowers all individuals to reach their full human potential. Eighty-five percent of the evaluation is based on what employees report about their experiences of trust and reaching their full human potential as part of their organization, no matter who they are or what they do. We analyze these experiences relative to each organization’s size, workforce makeup, and what’s typical in their industry and region. The remainder of the evaluation is an assessment of all employees’ daily experiences of the company’s values, people’s ability to contribute new ideas, and the effectiveness of their leaders to ensure they’re consistently experienced.

To ensure surveys truly represent all employees, we require enough people in each organization to respond that results are accurate to a 95% confidence level and 5% margin of error or better. We review any anomalies in survey responses, news, and financial performance to ensure there aren’t any extraordinary reasons to believe we couldn’t trust a company’s survey results.

Categories:
These organizations’ assessment is based 100% on employee responses to the Trust Index survey.

  • Small 10-99 Employees

For larger organizations with more than 100 employees, we also use our Culture Audit™ tool, asking organizations to share with us their practices, policies, and programs to create a great workplace For All™ and evaluate the approach they take.

  • Medium 100-999 Employees
  • Large 1000+ Employees