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Strategic Surveying in the Global Marketplace and the Role of Vitality Measures
Jeffrey M. Saltzman and Scott M. Brooks
As the global economy descended into recession in 2008, organizations struggled for survival. For many, short-term performance became the only focus. Long-term performance would not matter should an organization perish. Very few industries and very few corners of the planet were spared from financial threat.
As the recession seemed to stabilize, many organizations realized—at least in the abstract—that the economic lull could be used to build the discipline of becoming more effective. Certainly cost cutting forces prioritization of what an organization values. But questions loomed: What kinds of cuts satisfied the needs of current performance, and what kinds sacrificed future potential? What kinds of opportunity could emerge from this crisis?
Although these questions are brought into sharper focus by the recession, they highlight the general objective of optimizing present-day operations while investing in the innovation required to remain vital into the future. In fact, according to the Random House Dictionary (Dictionary.com, 2009), the second definition of vitality is the ‘‘capacity for survival or for the continuation of a meaningful or purposeful existence: the vitality of an institution’’ (italics in original). Some of the data we have seen suggests that many organizations in this time period are more strongly focusing
on getting their internal houses in order, reorganizing, slimming down, cutting their way to prosperity (perhaps in their view), and putting somewhat less emphasis on modifying products and services to meet current customer desires. Other organizations are striking more of a balance between internal efficiencies and retooling products and services to increase their appeal given the current market conditions.
Although there can be many metrics to address the vitality of an organization, this chapter deals with what employees can tell us that helps to predict and manage future success. We will begin with an illustration of global research addressing employee confidence, a construct which taps directly into employee evaluations of the future. Results from countries representing the world’s dozen largest economies will highlight a fundamental message: While cultural and national differences may challenge our ability to compare employee opinions across countries, there is still very valuable information remaining enabling us to predict performance, to draw conclusions, and correspondingly to manage the global workplace.
We will then draw the lessons of employee confidence into a larger model of organizational vitality, built from a cross-pollination of organizational literatures. There are direct implications from this model for monitoring and managing global organizations via employee survey techniques.
Setting the Global Stage
For multinational organizations, one goal of a strategic employee survey is to collect a uniform metric that can be used as business intelligence, information gathering, or a monitoring measure to determine how the organization is performing and where the organization canmost benefit from interventions. There are many challenges to the successful completion of this goal, and among them is the nature of globalization itself—the attempt to apply in a uniform fashion a measure to an environment that is anything but uniform. The word globalization often implies a uniformity that is just not there, rather than diversity and interdependence.
However, if we concluded that the extent of global diversity prevented any kind of systematic comparison across global units, then we would be at an impasse. One fundamental premise of this chapter is that people are more the same than different, and that although multinational organizations spread across a significant array of cultural, economic, functional, and legal differences, an organization by literal definition is attempting to assert a degree of ‘‘sameness’’ or consistent governance across the enterprise.
In general, if one is on a search for cultural differences, they can be found. The larger question is, however, are those differences of enough substance within the workplace that they should affect day-to-day management decision making and the operational characteristics of an organization? More concretely, do they impinge on our ability to predict traditional measures of financial performance? This point is explored in the program of research discussed in the following section.
Global, multinational surveys are difficult. But they are simply a microcosm of all efforts designed to respond to organizational challenges and to improve organizational functioning in some way. With this in mind, the major themes of this chapter can be wrapped up in a handful of key points:
Organizational surveys, perhaps especially those in large, global organizations, need to drive toward improving effectiveness.
Accordingly, the purpose of surveys is not to characterize differences in work climate or culture. There is no denying the impact of culture. However, it is more important to focus on the common ‘‘something’’ that the organization pursues.
Thus, a survey strategy, if truly strategic, is part of a larger organizational change strategy, one that maps into the five enduring
challenges reflected by leadership, quality processes, employee engagement, innovation, and customer loyalty. Employee confidence provides one example of such a measure.
Thinking of surveys in this way parallels the evolution of Human Resources, with the ongoing efforts of HR professionals to become increasingly strategic business partners. HR interests and objectives are more and more defined first by the needs of their line management clients and second by their human resources functional requirements (Vosburgh, 2007). As mentioned in the introduction, vitality is the ‘‘capacity for survival or for the continuation of a meaningful or purposeful existence,’’ and thereby reflects this notion of starting with the end in mind. Building this capacity is about nurturing the overarching disciplines of resiliency and ambidexterity