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What’s the difference between validated and unvalidated employee surveys?

Employee surveys can be valided or not validated, and both have their purpose when assessing organizational culture.

3 min read


What's the difference between validated and unvalidated employee surveys?


A new client asked recently, “Are the survey instruments used in your culture process validated assessments?”

I explained that our custom values survey and the executive team effectiveness survey are not validated — intentionally so.

Why is that? The surveys we build for clients are anecdotal. They are customized to each client’s unique values behaviors. These customized surveys provide valuable feedback to clients on the degree to which leaders demonstrate desired behaviors across their organization.

This anecdotal information is powerful and actionable. Though not scientific, this feedback provides the hard data required for leaders to hold themselves and others accountable for respectful interactions daily.

Validated surveys go through an extensive analysis to compare every survey question to past validated questions on similar surveys. That’s a good thing – because it ensures that the questions asked have been proven to be reliable measures of similar concepts over time.

The problem is, once validated, you can’t modify the questions in that survey — for a client’s unique valued behaviors, for example — without destroying the validation.

That doesn’t help our clients coach towards desired specific behaviors.

Here’s an example of a validated question. It’s from Gallup’s Q12 engagement assessment and states, “At work, my opinions seem to count.”

Clearly you’d want team members to answer “yes” to this question. Having opinions count is a sign of respect. High scores on this item have been proven to boost employee engagement.

However, this question does not provide specific feedback on leader behaviors that are happening right now in your work culture.

A customized values question would ask team members to rate their boss on a measurable behavior from one of your company values. For example, one client’s respect value includes this behavior: “I genuinely listen to others’ opinions.”

Two separate customized values survey items were listed to measure this leader behavior. The first reads, “My direct supervisor seeks out others’ opinions.” The second reads, “My direct supervisor genuinely listens to others’ opinions.”

These two questions gather team members’ perceptions of how their leader models this desired valued behavior. The leader’s alignment or misalignment to desired valued behaviors is clear.

You may benefit by using both validated surveys and customized surveys as you refine your organization’s work culture.

If you find the health of your work culture lacking, it’s time to engage your senior leaders in culture refinement — by defining, aligning, and refining your desired work culture. Learn more at Good Comes First.

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