Benchmarking Vs Customisation of Survey Questions

We often customise our survey questions to our people for culture fit - this makes external benchmarking harder to do in some areas - are there some areas of questions you suggest not to change? Is external benchmarking more valuable in some areas? How do you use the external benchmarks provided?

What a great and timely question. I was recently asked just this question and also in the context of which benchmark to use as well. So I’ll put these questions together here with my approach to them.

Q. Are there some areas of questions you suggest not to change?
A. I try to keep the questions the same for any key outcomes I am trying to get an external sense check on. A good example would be the Engagement factor questions in an Engagement survey. This means when I am looking at or communicating results on this I have as many options as possible for external comparisons. For other factors I’d try to at least keep a couple of questions as unchanged as possible so that we have a sense of external position for each area in a survey. This will usually leave us with ~70% of questions having external benchmark coverage.

Q. Is external benchmarking more valuable in some areas?
A. Yes indeed. It is most important for areas that you suspect are directly comparable to other workplaces or to common outcomes. Most companies care about Engagement-type things like morale, energy, recommendation and commitment to stay for example. That also means the things we know are very commonly related to those such as learning and development, leadership and recognition are also good candidates for external comparisons. Again, having a few common questions in each area is a safeguard for this purpose.

Q. How do you use the external benchmarks provided?
A. We use them as a sense check in both positive and negative directions about how our organisation might be perceived, experienced and felt by our people. As we grew we found our Engagement scores dropped somewhat but having benchmarked questions allowed us to see that this was in fact quite normal and that while we should focus on parts of our business with lower scores we shouldn’t get too focused on our overall scores. It stopped us jumping at shadows.

Additional questions that I think are relevant and important here:
Q. What benchmark to use?
A. I often find myself using one or two benchmarks and these are informed by asking who are we competing with for attracting and retaining people. This is very different from who you are competing with for customers. Culture Amp hires a lot of engineers and most do not come from Human Resources Tech companies. Finance companies are often digitising and often need to attract people from many different industries with the right and new skills for their future.

Q. When should you use custom questions?
A. You should use them all the time but in different combinations with some benchmark questions where you can. At Culture Amp we survey quite regularly and use benchmark questions in our main surveys and that then gives us more scope to try different and unique questions in other surveys between these main ones. We often ask specific questions about new initiatives, new ideas, current and timely projects or events or things only relevant to us - like our own Learn Yourself Up programmes. We also like to try out new versions of benchmark questions to test new ways of asking things. by asking them alongside a benchmark question we can get a comparison with something known. It’s all about balancing good practice with innovation and future good practice.


Thanks so much @jason for such a comprehensive answer!

I think what we have been doing is changing the questions in our big survey’s twice yearly instead of running smaller surveys in between on new things we have rolled out, that is a great suggestion I am going to look at that so we have more consistency in our surveys over time.

70% is a good figure to aim for thank you for that.

“It stopped us jumping at shadows.” - I think this is important - I am interested in looking at trends over time in some areas rather than just jumping around the place depending on the results from each survey and seeing where you are placed by using the benchmarks might give you a sense of calm rather that constant sense of urgency to change everything immediately.

Thank you much for taking the time to answer my question!! Have a great day :slight_smile: