Ethics and culture surveys are fantastic.  They can give you a gauge on how people within the company actually see ethics and compliance in their day-to-day experience on the job.  They can also give you a benchmark from which you can chart how responses change over time, such that you can track trends in the culture of the business.

Many companies use outside service providers to perform these types of surveys.  Outside service providers deliver more than just the results –  they often give context to the results by providing benchmarked data about how your company’s survey compares with other similarly-situated companies.  However, these providers can be expensive.  In a time when many companies are cutting back, this kind of activity may be on the chopping block.  For other companies, especially smaller ones, this type of survey was never in the budget.

If you can’t get the budget to have an outside service provider perform an ethics and culture survey, all hope is not lost.  You can DIY your survey.  Here are some Do’s and Don’ts to ensure you have a successful ethics and compliance/culture survey. 

Do use Branching Logic if You Can

The best questions on an ethics and compliance/culture survey have branching logic.  They allow you to follow a pathway – essentially to ask follow-up questions – if a person answers one way.  For instance, if you ask, “Have you ever observed misconduct at the company?” and the person answers “Yes,” the branching questions should continue as follows:

·       Did you report the misconduct? (Yes/No)

o   If not, why not?

Sample questions are linked for download at the end of this post to give you a head start on drafting your questions.

Don’t Use Negatives or Double-Negatives

Have you ever seen lawyers on TV ask a question that begins with, “Isn’t it true that on the night of November 4th, you did not see Sheila at the Texaco gas station?”  Wait…is it true that I did see her?  Or true that I didn’t?  Which question is being asked? 

When you draft your questions, use affirmative statements.  Instead of, “Do you think your boss will fail to do the right thing if faced with an ethical dilemma?” try “Do you think your boss will do the right thing if faced with an ethical dilemma?”  People read quickly.  In the final assessment of my Wildly Effective Compliance Officer Foundations Course, the questions most frequently answered incorrectly are those that say, “Which of the following is not a best practice?”  People have to think twice and slow down to respond to statements in the negative.  Make it easy for employees and opt for responses to affirmative statements.

Do Use a Reputable Survey Provider

There are myriad services available to help you to collect survey information.  The most popular software is Survey Monkey, but it isn’t the only one out there.  I like Survey Anyplace because it allows you to use your colors, logos, and corporate branding.  As with any outside vendor that will be holding what could potentially be sensitive information, be sure to check with IT and IS before diving in.

Do Look at Participation Rates if the Survey Is Not Mandatory

In many companies, taking the ethics and compliance/culture survey is optional.  This means that employees can choose to take it or not, depending on how they feel.  Look at the survey response rate to see if it is high or low.  A high response rate may indicate interest in engaging with the topics of ethics and culture.  Look at the correlation between the scores and the participation rate.  Neither on their own will give a definitive answer, but together, they may give you a window into the culture throughout the company.

Don’t Give Too Much Weight to Forward-Looking Questions

Most people believe themselves to be courageous.  They believe they would speak up if they saw wrongdoing.  The trouble is that many people don’t actually speak up if they do.  Abstract ideas of heroism become real conundrums when a co-worker’s job is on the line.  Put more weight into answers to questions like, “Have you ever seen misconduct that you did not report?” instead of, “Would you report misconduct if you saw it?”

Do Consider Multiple-Choice Hypotheticals

Since most people think they would do the right thing if they faced an ethical dilemma, one way you can tease out the biggest risk of non-reporting is to put people in a hypothetical situation.  Try a question like, “If you saw misconduct and chose not to report it, what would be the most likely reason?”  The answers can then be statements like, “I would be afraid of retaliation from my boss,” “I would be afraid of being ostracized from my peers,” “I wouldn’t think the company would do anything about it,” and “I would be worried about people finding out that I reported the incident.”  This kind of question can help you learn what people anticipate to be the biggest problem, including retaliation, lack of response, inconsistent response, and confidentiality concerns.

If you include multiple-choice hypotheticals, do not include an answer such as, “I would not be afraid of reporting.”  If you do, you’ll likely get an overwhelming response with this answer, which doesn’t help you to gather helpful information.

Do Use the Engagement Survey if You Can’t Use a Compliance-Only Survey

Many companies worry about survey fatigue.  If you can’t get your company to allow you to send out an ethics and compliance/culture survey, try to get a couple of culture-related questions onto the annual engagement survey.  Of course, not every company has an engagement survey, but for those that do, this can be an easy win.  If you don’t have an engagement survey, great!  That may give you a stronger case for sending out a full ethics and compliance/culture survey.

Do Compare Apples-to-Apples Year-on-Year

When you’ve set a baseline, try to ask the same questions or similarly-worded questions year-on-year.  While it is nice to get new insights, keep the core questions consistent so you can track how culture changes.  By doing so, you’ll be able to respond to concerns and changes in the culture q

There’s no substitute for asking people what they really think about the company’s culture in an anonymous way.  By obtaining this information straight from the source, even if you have to do it yourself, you’ll reap the rewards of greater insight and a stronger program.

CLICK HERE to access 10 sample questions.